Fernando Hierro's big Andres Iniesta gamble backfires as Spain crash out of World Cup

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Fernando Hierro saw his Spain side crash out on penalties to Russia.

Fernando Hierro’s chance of joining the ranks of the great and successful interim bosses went up in smoke on Sunday as his heavily favoured Spain side crashed out on penalties to World Cup hosts Russia in the round of 16.

Spain dominated the game but were held to a 1-1 draw over 90 minutes and extra time, with the temporary head coach left devastated as he failed to deliver the expected win.

Here’s an in-depth look at Hierro’s big selectorial gamble and tactics:

BASIC STATS

Goals – 1 

Shots – 23

Possession – 79% 

Pass Accuracy – 90%

Successful Passes – 1006

30-SECOND REPORT

It’s hard to say what Hierro got wrong, or what he could have differently. He took the big call of dropping Iniesta, but it wasn’t as if Spain missed a beat without the veteran, as they settled into their usual metronomic passing. Nonetheless, that decision will always be second-guessed now that his side have crashed out of the World Cup.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

In dropping Iniesta, Hierro made a slight tweak to Spain’s usual 4-3-3 formation. Marco Asensio’s inclusion made Spain’s set-up more a nominal 4-2-3-1 on the day. In theory, this should have meant more naturally attacking players for Spain’s midfield to pass to. It didn’t quite work that way. If anything, this was a game crying out for someone like Cesc Fabregas or Juan Mata, and there was nothing Hierro could have done about their absence.

VERDICT

Again, all people will remember is the call to drop Iniesta. It takes serious guts to make a call like that, right or wrong. What will go against Hierro is that he made the decision and then Spain lost, which means it’s all anyone will talk about. And given that the man Hierro entrusted to replace Iniesta, Asensio, had little impact on the game, minus serving up the free-kick for Sergei Ignashevich’s own goal, critics will wonder what purpose the decision served.

RATING – 6/10

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Belgium boss Roberto Martinez aware of Japan threat

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Belgium manager Roberto Martinez says he is wary of a Japan team with “incredible energy” ahead of Monday’s World Cup last-16 clash.

The free-scoring Belgians go in as firm favourites, taking with them a 100 per cent record from the group phase and netting nine goals in beating Panama, Tunisia and England.

With players like Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku at his disposal, Martinez’s team have more than enough quality to match their achievement at the last World Cup and secure a place in the quarter-finals, where Brazil could await.

Most pundits are predicting a comfortable Belgium win, but Martinez has short shrift for such a theory.

“They are footballers with an incredible energy and a great capacity to get really high up the pitch very quickly,” he said at his pre-match press conference.

“This Japan team shows a lot of good experience, a lot of players who have played in big leagues in Europe for a long time. They know what it takes to win a game of this calibre.

“This is a group of players that know what they are doing. I expect a very difficult game.

“They are capable of creating problems due to the dynamic approach that they have.”

Martinez, though, expects to select from a full squad, with Lukaku and Vincent Kompany both available, and he added: “The group is in a very good moment.

“Mentally and physically, you just get the feeling the players are desperate to be on the pitch. I feel the players are ready to get their rhythm as quick as they can.”

Hazard will be instrumental to Belgium’s hopes of progressing, and he knows it is a case of seizing the moment.

“We will take this match as seriously as possible,” the Chelsea playmaker said. “What is important is to progress and to reach the quarter-finals.

“We need to be very serious and focused right from the beginning of the game.”

A Brazil-Belgium quarter-final could be one of the games of the tournament, but Hazard added: “We are not thinking about a game against Brazil.

“All we are doing is thinking of tomorrow’s game. We have top players, we play as a group, and it is in our hands.

“We just need to play together and give everything.”

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World Cup tactics: Belgium vs Japan

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Belgium manager Roberto Martinez says he is wary of a Japan team with “incredible energy” ahead of Monday’s World Cup last-16 clash.

The free-scoring Belgians go in as firm favourites, taking with them a 100 per cent record from the group phase and netting nine goals in beating Panama, Tunisia and England.

With players like Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku at his disposal, Martinez’s team have more than enough quality to match their achievement at the last World Cup and secure a place in the quarter-finals, where Brazil could await.

Here, we take a look into the tactical battle between Belgium and Japan ahead of their clash.

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