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Spanish Lullabye

Posted July 2nd, 2018, 11:17 AM IST

Spanish Lullabye

Moscow: The unthinkable has happened. The hosts have done it; the party isn’t over yet. In one of the greatest upsets in the history of the World Cup, Russia put out former champions Spain 4-3 on penalties after the match had ended 1-1 in open play here on Sunday to reach the quarterfinals. The Russian fairy tale continues.

Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was Russia’s hero as he pulled off two superb saves to sink the Spanish armada in a sea of red. The 21st edition of the World Cup is proving to be a graveyard for reputation. After Germany, Argentina and Portugal, it’s the turn of Spain, whose dubious record of never having beaten the hosts at the World Cup continues.

No football fan in the world could have foreseen an exit for Spain on Sunday because the contest was unequal on all fronts. Spain, veritable football aristocrats, are ranked 10 in the world to Russia’s 70. Most of the Spanish players turn out for Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two biggest clubs in the world. Russia’s squad, on the other hand, is entirely based at home except for two.

Akinfeev dived his right to save Koke’s effort, which was Spain’s third, before he stopped the fifth from substitute Iago Aspas brilliantly to trigger an explosion of joy in the stadium. Many pundits had predicted a first round demise for the hosts, but Stanislav Cherchesov’s team have stormed into the quarters.

Spain tried to pass their opponents into death as they pitched a tent in the opposition’s half throughout second half and extra time but Russia defended as if their borders were at peril. Although Russia did little of note in the attacking half, their heroic defending did the job for them in the end.

Spain took the lead with a bizarre own goal in the 12th minute. Marco Asensio’s free kick from the right went in off Sergey Ignashevich’s leg as the Russian defender lay prone after bundling Spain’s Sergio Ramos to the ground even before the ball had arrived.

Aleksander Golovin shot wastefully wide from the edge of the box after Artem Dzyuba had cushioned the ball, brushing aside the challenge of Ramos. The Russian midfielder could have taken more time as there was no Spanish defender nearby.

The hosts were level three minutes from half-time. Dzyuba stroked home a controversial penalty to send his nearly 70,000 compatriots inside the massive stadium into raptures. Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot, although the ball had touched Pique’s hand from behind. How could one jump without moving his hands?

The first half as horrible as the haircut of Ramos, as neither team showed any ingenuity in the final third. Spain completed three times more passes than Russia but it was only an exercise in futility. The Spanish team can keep possession all right but in incisiveness they are a pirated version of their all-conquering national side that captivated the world from 2008 to 2012.