By Olawale Alabi
Moscow – 2010 champions Spain crashed out of the ongoing 2018 FIFA World Cup on Sunday after failing to make their dominance and ball possession count against hosts Russia in Moscow.
The hosts put 10 men behind the ball for almost 80 minutes of the second round match at the Luzhniki Stadium and were rewarded with a 4-3 penalty kicks win.
For the game’s first 45 minutes, the hosts looked contented to sit back and soak the pressure, and they never shifted gears even after putting the Spaniards on the back foot.
But the situation dragged on into extra time in such fashion because the Spaniards were not adventurous and creative, choosing to hold possession and wait patiently for Russian defensive mistakes.
After 120 minutes, Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev came to the match’s rescue by saving the penalty kicks by Koke and Iago Aspas to send the host nation into a long night.
Spain went ahead after 12 minutes in an uncharacterstic manner, benefitting from an own goal in spite of holding advantage through 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich who also made history with his blunder.
He bundled into Spain captain Sergio Ramos at the far post, knocking a free kick in with his heel for the 10th own goal of the tournament.
But he also became the oldest player to score an own goal at a World Cup, a record nobody should want.
Spain, who have never beaten a host at the World Cups or Euro Championships, controlled the game with their slick passing.
But they did little more, failing to create another scoring chance in the first half, with Russia looking equally toothless up front.
Aleksandr Golovin’s curled effort was their only noteworthy opportunity until Gerard Pique’s handball gave them a chance to level with a penalty kick in the 42nd minute.
Artem Dzyuba scored it for his third goal of the tournament, sending David de Gea the wrong way to awaken the subdued crowd who had been affected by the game.
The game lacked pace and tempo, even after the break, as both teams were cautious and afraid to concede too much space and Spain just passing the ball laterally.
The Russians were clear with their intentions, playing without an out-and-out striker after Dzyuba’s substitution and desperately defending.
In spite of 75 percent possession, and passing the ball more than four times their opponents did, Spain’s famed tiki-taka passing game rarely carried them into the penalty box.
They had to wait until the 85th minute to test Akinfeev with a low drive from substitute Andres Iniesta.
Having long run out of steam and with several players cramping, Russia were reduced to desperately defending in extra time.
Akinfeev, after denying Rodrigo in extra time’s second half, became a national hero by saving two spot kicks as Iniesta, Pique and Ramos scored and four of his teammates also scored.