Spain went wafting out of the World Cup at the last-16 stage after succumbing to hosts Russia on penalties inside a cacophonous Luzhniki Stadium.
The hosts stuck to what you might call a ‘stubborn’ game plan against the 2010 champions, packing their defensive and watched on from a distance as Spain amassed thousands of completed passes in the middle third – patient, attritional and superior in their minds; completely ineffective in reality.
Isco made 132 passes tonight. Twelve of them went forwards.
— Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) July 1, 2018
Sure enough, Spain weren’t even directly responsible for scoring their opening goal, which came when Sergio Ramos and Sergei Ignashevich wrestled beneath a deep Marco Asensio freekick only for the ball to strike the latter’s heel and ricochet into the Russian net with 10 minutes played.
Russia continued to sit deep and hit Spain on the counter-attack once in a while, which eventually paid off when they equalised five minutes before half-time with the only shot on target they managed in 120 minutes of open play.
Even that was a Artem Dzyuba penalty, which was awarded for Gerard Pique’s rather clear and obvious handball…
The second half was similarly dull, with Spain playing at walking pace as the minutes ticked away and a meagre smattering of chances went begging.
In fairness, La Roja did have a strong claim for a penalty turned down in the closing minutes of normal time when both Ramos and Pique were manhandled by their markers but, following a brief VAR review, no-nonsense referee Bjorn Kuipers signalled for play to carry on.
Even with Andres Iniesta added to the mix, extra-time then came and went in much the same fashion as Fernando Hierro’s side racked up 74% possession overall but forced Russian ‘keeper Igor Akinfeev into just two saves of note.
As was the case from roughly half-time-ish onwards, penalties were inevitable and, after Koke had missed earlier in the shootout, a flailing foot from Akinfeev was enough to deny Iago Aspas and send Russia through to the quarters…
As you might expect, the noise levels inside the Luhzniki instantly went from ‘intoxicatingly loud’ to ‘bloody nuclear’ as the natives (and a fair few neutrals) erupted.
Indeed, we think the general reaction to the full-time whistle was eloquently summed up by this member of the Russian team staff…
Oh, and just for the record, Spain absolutely deserved to slink off in tears. They were a mess, both collectively and individually, and only served to play themselves out of the competition.
The age of tiki-taka is officially dead. It’s time for something new.