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From being written off by their press to causing World Cup giants distress, Russia have penned another tale in a tournament that just keeps giving.
Ilya Kutepov and Sergei Ignashevich – discounting his spear tackle on Sergio Ramos for the own goal – were the warriors at the back but Igor Akinfeev was the general.
On the occasion of his 110th cap, Akinfeev stood firm for 120 minutes and then kept out Koke and finally Iago Aspas in the penalty shootout to send Moscow into ecstasy.
Spain completed more than 1,000 passes yet it led to just nine shots on target in full-time and extra-time combined.
Akinfeev may not have been called upon to make save after save, but smart stops from Andres Iniesta and Rodrigo in particular as tired Russian legs became a factor.
He then outshone David De Gea, supposedly one of the best goalkeepers in the world, in the penalty shootout. Akinfeev let in a howler against South Korea back in Brazil – he’s gone from zero to hero in four years.
Keeping cool – It would be wrong to describe Akinfeev as unflappable as he has certainly been prone to a few flaps in his career. At the Luzhniki Stadium though he maintained his concentration, only came out when he was required and there could be no quibbles about his handling.
Intelligent saves – Iniesta’s half-volley was the only effort that coaxed out true brilliance from Akinfeev in open play, a sprawling save to his right that he pushed far clear from danger. Indeed, there was never any threat of a frustrated Spain gobbling up a rebound.
His penalty save from Koke, given that he went the right way, was simple enough but his second, and winning, stop was Jerzy Dudek-esque for Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final.
The CSKA Moscow stopper left his left leg hanging high to boot the ball far, far away from his goal and Spain out of the World Cup.
Given that Russia showed little to none attacking intent in the face of Spain’s passing by a thousand cuts approach, the hosts needed Akinfeev to prove a supreme leader.
Though he can’t take all the credit as the Russians formed a white wall that was only breached on occasion, the 32-year-old radiated calmness and was the coolest man on the pitch at the very end.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev said his side’s penalties win over Spain in the World Cup round of 16 was the result of a deliberate strategy to play for a shootout.
The tournament hosts had to withstand wave after wave of Spanish pressure after they had fought back to level the scores 1-1 at halftime.
Russia gifted Spain the opening goal through an own goal, but the 2010 champions returned the favour as Gerard Pique’s handball gave the hosts a penalty which Artem Dzyuba converted just before the first half ended.
But Spain were unable to break through in the second half or extra time, as Russia gamely held on for penalties, where they would emerge triumphant.
“We were hoping for penalties, “Akinfeev said.
“We are having a fantastic World Cup. Not just our fans, but the fans of other countries are getting a sense of this atmosphere and understood that Russians really know how to play football and want to play football.”
The veteran goalkeeper saved two penalties in the shootout, including from Iago Aspas to clinch a dramatic win.
A delighted Russia manager Stanislav Cherch added: “we spent two years working on this and did a good job”.
Hosts Russia caused a massive upset at the World Cup on Sunday as they knocked out Spain after winning 4-3 on penalties.
Here we take a look at player ratings for both teams.
David De Gea – 6 – Had hardly anything to do but his distribution wasn’t great. Could save any of Russia’s penalties despite getting close.
Nacho – 6 – Won the free-kick for the opening goal and was solid down the right before going off with a knee problem.
Gerard Pique – 6 – Conceded a silly penalty, otherwise did a decent enough job and crashed home his penalty off the post.
Sergio Ramos – 7 – Produced his usual battering ram job from a set-piece, forcing Ignashevich into the own goal. Scored his penalty.
Jordi Alba – 6 – Covered Russia’s occasional counter-attacks well and tried to help in attack but struggled to provide penetration.
Koke – 5 – Did a good job defensively but very limited on the ball. Missed his penalty in the shoot-out.
Sergio Busquets – 6 – Sat in front of the back four and played in simple, rarely pressured as Russia sat deep.
Isco – 7 – Buzzed everywhere from his starting position on the left wing, always looking Spain’s most – or only – dangerous creative source.
David Silva – 4 – Another very disappointing game for the veteran, who again couldn’t get on the ball and was rightly replaced.
Marco Asensio – 4 – Brought in to provide creativity down the right but failed to do so. Nice free-kick for the opener but little else.
Diego Costa – 5 – Starved of service and lacking space to attack, this just wasn’t his game. Became slightly more involved after the break before being subbed.
Andres Iniesta – 6 – Came on midway through the second half and came close to a winner with a fierce 20-yard strike. Scored his penalty.
Dani Carvajal – 6 – Took over from Nacho in right-back duties and tried to be more attacking, but with little effect.
Iago Aspas – 6 – Replaced Costa and provided a different threat with his busy movement, but saw the decisive spot-kick saved.
Rodrigo – 7 – Came on as a second striker in extra time and added much-needed energy, nearly grabbing a winner.
Igor Akinfeev – 8 – Largely untroubled but made a pair of good saves from Iniesta and Rodrigo and a great shoot-out stop from Aspas.
Ilya Kutepov – 8 – Looked nervy early on but improved to deliver an excellent performance, anticipating well and acting decisively.
Sergei Ignashevich – 6 – Defended poorly to score an own goal, allowing himself to be bullied out of position, but otherwise solid and scored his penalty.
Fyodor Kudryashov – 7 – Solid job in defence, keeping disciplined to prevent any space from opening up for Spain’s probing attacks.
Mario Fernandes – 8 – Excellent job down the right, limiting the attacking impact of Alba and getting forward whenever he could.
Daler Kuzyaev – 5 – Did he play? Barely noticed until he made a footnote of history by being involved in Russia’s fourth substitution.
Roman Zobnin – 5 – Another anonymous presence in midfield, forced to sacrifice any ball-playing intentions and do a chasing job.
Yuri Zhirkov – 4 – Remarkably only had 15 touches before he was replaced at half-time. Completely anonymous.
Aleksandr Samedov – 5 – Billed as one of Russia’s most creative presences but he had little impact and was replaced after an hour.
Aleksandr Golovin – 7 – By far the most dangerous of Russia’s attackers, though that wasn’t difficult. Fired home a low penalty.
Artem Dzyuba – 6 – Battled for everything in the air including a header to win the penalty in normal time, which he converted crisply. Later subbed.
Vladimir Granat – 5 – Came on at half-time but was almost as invisible as the man he replaced, doing nothing but defending.
Denis Cheryshev – 5 – Came on at some point and did very little until nervelessly netting his team’s fourth penalty.
Fyodor Smolov – 5 – Curled a late shot narrowly wide in a rare attacking burst. Fired penalty into left corner.
Aleksandr Erokhin – 5 – Added more physical presence after being introduced in the extra period, getting in the way a few times.