MOSCOW – Russia reached a World Cup quarter-final for the first time in 48 years when the hosts beat former champions Spain 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Man-of-the-match Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saved the spot kicks from Koke and and Iago Aspas while Fedor Smolov, Sergey Ignashevich, Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev scored for the hosts.
Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos converted for the 2010 champions who were out after Aspas’ miss which sent the 78,011-crowd at Moscow’s Luzhniki into a frenzy.
Russia now meet Croatia or Denmark Saturday in Sochi, the first quarter-final since the Soviet Union played – and lost – against Uruguay 1970 in Mexico.
“I’m not the man of the match, the man of the match is our team and our fans,” Akinfeev said.
The score was tied after 120 minutes of regulation and extra-time, with both goals also from set pieces.
Spain took a 12th-minute lead off a free-kick from an own-goal by Ignashevich, who two weeks before his 39th birthday became the oldest player to suffer such a mishap in a World Cup match. Russia levelled from a 41st-minute penalty by Artem Dzyuba after Pique handled the ball.
It was Russia’s only chance of the entire match in a destructive game plan which saw them have a mere 26 per cent of possession.
But Spain’s 74 per cent didn’t help them either as they lacked creativity and the deadly final pass under the eyes of Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev and Spanish King Felipe VI, possibly marking the end of an era.
Fernando Hierro, who had taken over as Spain coach after the surprise sacking of Julen Lopetegui two days before their opener against Portugal paid tribute to his side.
“I take responsibility. I am grateful for everything they gave me. It’s been a pleasure to coach them. We had the possession and we had the patience. But sometimes it is very difficult. It’s very difficult when the opposition defend deep. The boys are downcast. I feel for them,” Hierro said.
Ramos said: “Sometimes you do everything you can and you don’t win. We did everything possible. We dominated and we gave everything but we were against a great team. We put everything into it.”
Hierro left veteran playmaker Iniesta on the bench as he chose defensive midfielders Sergio Busquets and Koke behind the offensive trio of Isco, first-time starter Marco Asensio and David Silva.
His Russia counterpart Stanislav Cherchesov surprisingly benched three-time scorer Denis Cheryshev, with Artyom Dzyuba the lone forward.
Spain dominated early possession but as in many matches it took a set piece to open the scoring.
Yuri Zhirkov brought down Nacho on Spain’s right wing, and Asensio’s free-kick sailed to the far post where it was deflected into the net by the veteran Ignashevich who had only paid attention to Ramos.
It was the worst possible start for Russia and its five-man back line, and Spain were happy to kick the ball around outside the Russian area, also not threatening at all from Diego Costa or others.
The first minor Russian chance came in the 36th when Golovin curled inches wide.
But five minutes later Dzyuba’s header hit the arm of Pique as he was jumping in the air, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers only hesitated briefly, and Dzyuba made no mistake from the spot to get the equalizer into the bottom right corner, setting off a deafening roar.
The second half saw no change even though Cherchesov appeared to get a little more adventurous by bringing on three-goal scorer Cheryshev on the hour. Iniesta came on for Silva on the other end, and Aspas took the place of the out-of-sorts Costa.
Iniesta almost scored in the 85th when he found himself unmarked on the edge of his area, but Akinfeev palmed away his low shot, and the keeper was then also on his guard against Aspas in extra-time which set up the shoot-out. -DPA