KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Every World Cup depends on the host nation making significant progress. Russia have achieved that by reaching the quarter-finals of the 2018 finals after defeating Spain 4-3 in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 extra-time draw.
Central defender Sergey Ignashevich put through his own goal in the 12th minute but Russia levelled with a penalty by Artem Dzyuba shortly before half-time and then held a below-par Spain at bay for the rest of the 120 minutes to earn the shootout.
Russia’s four marksmen all scored but Koke saw Spain’s third kick saved by Russian captain Igor Akinfeyev and Iago Aspas pulled their fifth kick wide.
Russia were playing without the supporting presence of President Vladimir Putin who, having noted that his team reached the knockout stage without his presence since the Opening Match, was again absent.
Perhaps he and his advisers understood, after the Russians had finished second in Group A on being trounced in their third match by Uruguay, that the prospects did not augur well against the 2010 World Cup winners.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov had decided to leave Spain-raised Denys Cheryshev on the subs’ bench. The coincidence did not go unnoticed that this followed revelations by the player’s father of his past use of a growth hormone.
That assault came to nothing and thus Spain took the lead in the 12th minute. Raiding rightback Nacho was yanked off his feet by Yury Zhirkov and Marco Asensio’s free kick was deflected into goal by Ignashevich who had been trying to hold Sergio Ramos at bay.
Both teams, as the first half ran on,struggled to come to grips with the pitch which cut up badly and appeared to have been over-watered in misguided compensation, prompting players on both sides to slip and slide.
Spain were better able to adjust, both through the application of their patient passing game but also, of course, because they were in the lead. The challenge was all about what Russia could do to force a path back into contention or join Argentina and Portugal in the exit row.
The game had running for 35 minutes before Roman Zobnin fashioned enough space and time to deliver the first deliberate shot of the match, which flew wide of David De Gea’s left-hand post.
Russia pressed again and were rewarded with an equaliser from the penalty spot. Alexander Samedevov’s right-wing corner was headed goalwards by Dzyuba but was blocked by the upraised arm of Gerard Pique – as if the Barcelona defender were trying to halt traffic.
Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers booked Pique, dismissed a raft of Spanish protests and Dzyuba duly thumped home the penalty.
Russia brought on Vladimir Granat into the centre of defence and pushed Kutepov wide to the exclusion of Zhirkov at the start of a second half which saw plenty of Russian energy and determination but nothing more in the way of serious goal opportunities.
Cherchesov, needing more impact up front, responded by bringing on Villarreal’s Cheryshev and Krasnodar’s Fedor Smolov instead of Samedov and Dzyuba; Spain’s emergency boss Fernando Hierro brought on Andres Iniesta instead of David Silva who had run busily but to little effect.
Spain now camped in the Russian half, content to play keep-ball and draw the sting out of the Russian effort. They also created the first worthwhile chance of the second half, a low drive from Iniesta being well saved by Akinfeyev, dropping to his right.
So to extra time. Both coaches had used three substitutes but could now bring on a fourth for the first time in the World Cup finals. Alesandr Erkhin duly makes history as he replaces Dair Kuziaev six minutes into the extra halfhour.
In the second half Spain had an appeal for holding at a free kick rejected by a quick reference to the video referee team before referee Bjorn Kuipers signalled the end of extra time and the need for a penalty shootout.