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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
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