Four years after his blunder against South Korea cost Russia a potential place in the knockout rounds, Igor Akinfeev stood like a wall thwarting waves of Spain attack and helped the home team enter the World Cup quarter-finals at the expense of the 2010 champions. (FIFA World Cup 2018 Round of 16 highlights: Russia vs Spain)
With the scoreline 1-1 after regulation time and extra time at the Luzhiniki Stadium —- Spain led through a Sergei Ignashevich own goal and Russia equalised from Artem Dzyuba’s penalty —- Akinfeev saved spot kicks from Koke and Iago Aspas to help Russia win the shootout 4-3.
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The game began to loud boos as Spain controlled possession from kick-off. Russia patiently sat back and allowed their fancied opponents to do that.
Spain directed the raids through Isco but had little to show for their domination because Russia kept things tight at the back.
Then Yuri Zhirkov had clattered into Nacho on the right. Marco Asensio’s delivery was inadvertently slotted into goal by veteran centre-back Sergei Ignashevich who, with his back to the ball, was grappling with Sergio Ramos inside the box.
Despite trailing, Russia stuck to the plan of trying to suffocate Spain’s creative engines in midfield. It wasn’t till the 36th minute that Russia had their first chance. Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Golovin combined to feed Roman Zobnin. Golovin got the ball back, dodged a block and tried a curler. It went wide but was met with a huge roar.
Almost immediately, Russia sprang into life. They earned a corner a couple of minutes later. As Dzyuba met the delivery with his head, Gerard Pique’s raised arm diverted the ball. Dzyuba, who had been actively involved in defensive duties as well, equalized from the penalty spot.
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Parity restored, Russia continued to frustrate Spain. Diego Costa managed a shot from a tight angle right before half-time but Akinfeev stood firm.
So far, the game had gone just the way Dzyuba had described on Friday: an experienced boxer against a young and daring one. In the second half though, it seemed the ‘daring’ fighter was cornered as Spain camped in the Russia’s half.
With Isco running out of steam, Hierro threw in Andres Iniesta. The Barcelona great almost did the job for Spain, as he thumped the ball from the edge of the box in the 86th minute. His low, powerful shot was met by an equally good save by Akinfeev.
The hosts continued to feel the pressure in extra time. Every successful tackle, every save and every clearance from Cherchesov’s side was met with deafening cheers. Every time Spain had the ball, they were jeered.
Russia’s stubbornness forced the game into penalties and Akinfeev ensured a quarter-final berth wasn’t an impossible dream anymore. Cue beer cups being hurled around the ground. Even the media tribune wasn’t spared.
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