Russia vs Spain: Cometh the hour, cometh the captain
Skipper Igor Akinfeev’s heroics in the penalty shootout takes Russia to the quarters; beats Spain 3-4 on penalties
Moscow: It was supposed to be a glory day for Spain, exactly six years after they defended their European Championship to write their names in the history books. But, all hell broke loose, literally and figuratively, in the final 15 minutes of the game at the iconic Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow here on Sunday.
Russia's captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev became the hero for the home country as he saved two Spain penalties after a nerve wrecking encounter ended in 1-1 draw.
Spain's 74 per cent possession and 1029 completed passes compared to mere 202 passes strung together by the hosts counted for nothing as they failed to score with their own boot throughout the 120 minutes of action.
Sergey Ignashevich's 12th-minute own goal and Arten Dzyuba's 39th-minute penalty had taken the encounter in the penalties.
In the shootout, Andres Iniesta, who was surprisingly dropped from the starting XI, opened the scoring, before Fedor Smolov sent Spain keeper David de Gea wrong way. Gerard Pique and Sergey Ignashevich then found the back of the net to make things 2-2 before the complexion of the game changed.
Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke fired his penalty down the middle but the 32-year-old custodian timed his dive perfectly to keep the ball out, sending the capacity crowd inside the stadium into a frenzy. Koke buried his head in his shirt.
Aleksandr Golovin then fired his shot into the net to put Russia 3-2 ahead as Spain and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos stepped up and restored the parity. Talisman of Russia's World Cup campaign Denis Cheryshev then curled his effort into the back of the net, sending Manchester United stopper the wrong way.
Needing to score to keep Spain alive in the tie, Celta Vigo frontman Iago Aspas stepped up to take the penalty and chose to go down the middle again, as Akinfeev dived to his right, but recovered well as his trailing leg ballooned the ball up in the sky.
The ear-deafening noise and chants of 'Russia Russia' filled the atmosphere as the team who nobody had given chance had knocked out the Spanish Armada 3-4 on penalties, to continue their dream run in the sports' biggest tournament.
The World Cup of upsets claimed another victim as the 2010 champions' turbulent and unconvincing World Cup campaign which began with the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui ended in the Russian capital.
The telling statistic of 1029 completed passes in the course of 120 minutes tells the story of the match as La Roja dominated the possession from the word go, irking the Russian crowd as early as fifth minute, who filled the stadium with boos while cheering for every single counter-attack by Russia.
Spain took the lead in the 12th minute after they earned the freekick on the right flank.
Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio swung the ball in towards the far post where Sergio Ramos and Sergey Ignashevich went to the ground fighting for the ball. As they went down, the ball ended up in the far corner of the net with the last touch coming off the Russian defender.
The parity was restored before half-time after the Dutch referee awarded Russia a penalty after Gerard Pique handled the ball while defending the corner. Spain pleaded for the accidental handball but the referee's decision stayed after a brief consultation with Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
29-year-old Artem Dyzuba stepped up and calmly converted the penalty slotting the ball into the right corner in the 41st minute.
The second-half was a no different story as Spain launched waves of attacks after attacks without troubling Akinfeev much, except in the 86th minute when he had to make a diving save to keep Iniesta's volley from the edge of the box.
Russia will continue their fairytale journey in the quarter-final to be played in Sochi between the winner of Belgium and Japan while another big name 'Spain' will head home, defeated on the Russian land.