MOSCOW—Within the years constructing as much as the first-ever World Cup in Russia, organizers cherished to remind those that this was an opportunity to showcase everything about this country: from its delicacies to its tradition to its sheer enormity.
At no level did anybody additionally count on this match to showcase the nationwide soccer staff.
Although it began because the lowest-ranked nation at its personal occasion, Russia has in some way turn out to be the most surprising thing concerning the Russia World Cup. After first surviving the group stage, it scored the largest upset of the match on Sunday by ousting 2010 champion Spain in a penalty shootout. Russia is heading to the quarterfinals.
“I believe it’s only the beginning,” stated Russia’s dour supervisor Stanislav Cherchesov, who spent the shootout trying away from the sphere. “I have to save my emotions for the future.”
In cities throughout the nation, followers confirmed no such reserve. The end result sparked large outpourings of pleasure as drivers blared their horns and followers produced flags out of nowhere. The best irony was that Russia’s most well-known soccer victory because it stopped competing because the Soviet Union got here on the finish of one of many match’s dullest matches.
For 120 minutes, Russia set it itself as much as stand up to Spanish onslaught after Spanish onslaught. Even after it went down 1-Zero inside the primary 10 minutes attributable to a careless personal purpose by Sergei Ignashevich, Russia by no means strayed from its plan. It is a nation, in any case, that is aware of a factor or two about weathering a siege.
Russia caught its greatest break shortly earlier than halftime when, for no motive in any respect, Spain defender Gerard Pique leaped to defend a cross along with his arm excessive in the air. When the ball struck Pique’s arm from behind, he claimed the gesture was unintentional, however it hardly mattered. The referee awarded Russia a penalty kick, which Artem Dzyuba transformed.
And that was all of the Russians wanted.
They had been again on stage phrases and will return to their technique of defending with their lives and hoping for the perfect.
Spain, in its personal manner, was equally cussed. The nation that has turned intricate passing soccer into its soccer signature over the previous decade had all of the area in the world, however refused to alter its method.
By the tip of regulation, Spain had racked up 74% of possession. Russia wasn’t merely failing to carry the ball, it wasn’t even in holding the ball. Content material with the order of issues as they had been, it fortunately slipped into its defensive form the second Spain regrouped. The opposition half appeared so remote to them, they could as properly have given it a 12th Russian time zone.
No staff ever performs for a penalty shootout from the beginning of the second half. It’s too dangerous and calls for an excessive amount of effort, all for the best to determine the sport with what quantities to a coin toss. That stated, Russia appeared to think about nothing else. The penalty shootout wasn’t simply a part of the plan, it was the one plan.
Their dedication to all-out protection nearly turned the ultimate hour of the sport right into a apply sport. Spain went so unmolested in possession that it grew to become the primary staff in not less than 50 years to try greater than 1,000 passes in a World Cup match. Their death-by-a-thousand-cuts method, nonetheless, barely broke Russia’s pores and skin.
Spain produced 9 pictures heading in the right direction and none of them required an enormous quantity of brilliance from Russia’s veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. His actual heroics got here later.
After 120 minutes of stultifying play—exactly what the Russian gamers had needed, if not the followers—the match was settled by penalty shootout.
With the Luzhniki Stadium louder than it has been at any level in this World Cup, Akinfeev blocked efforts from Koke and Iago Aspas to seal Spain’s destiny.
4 years on from depressing exit in the group stage, this was solely barely much less embarrassing to the Spanish gamers. This World Cup had but to see the perfect from them—or not less than, what the theoretical finest for such a proficient squad ought to be—and now it by no means will. Although issues had appeared doomed for them from the beginning when the federation fired the manager days earlier than the match kicked off, there was a way that if any aspect might determine itself out, it was this one.
As a substitute, the final match for the Spanish era that dominated world soccer by profitable the 2008 and 2012 European Championship plus the 2010 World Cup in between merely petered out—in Moscow, in the rain, amid 80,000 screaming Russians.
From his spot in the middle circle, the staff’s biggest ever participant, Andres Iniesta, might barely watch. He spent the moments earlier than Aspas’s miss staring away from the purpose, far off to the opposite finish of the stadium.
All he noticed was one other wall of Russian supporters. And in opposition to all odds, they nonetheless had a World Cup staff to cheer for.
Write to Joshua Robinson at [email protected]