Russia’s fear of embarrassment of its low-ranked national team has been ill-founded and Stanislav Cherchesov’s team has added to the entertainment, clinging on to share the spoils with mighty Spain in the first half of its pre-quarterfinal game.
The host, defied anticipations, to steamroll its early group opponents, and the likes of Aleksandr Golovin, Roman Zobnin and Denis Cheryshev, who strangely started on the bench, will have plenty of suitors as the summer transfer business reopens. Spain, seeking to rewrite its luck against any host nation (the side is yet to beat a host since going down to Guiseppe Mezza-inspired Italy in 1934), failed to create many opening, despite enjoying the bulk of possession.
Fernando Hierro’s, the caretaker manager, decision to add the workmanlike qualities of Koke and Marcos Asensio over the inventive brilliance of Andres Iniesta and Thiago Alcantara in the midfield defied logic.
Isco, with his creative comrades missing, drove the initial Spanish play with Russia failing on its plan to squeeze the game. Nacho, showing his virtue with some tireless running, earned a free-kick on the right in the 11 minute and Asensio’s curler was bundled in for a own goal by Sergey Ignashevich who was involved in a game of wrestling with Sergio Ramos, the original infant terrible.
The extra defensive duties offered by the two newcomers allowed Spain to control the game with the its midfield purring on to control 66 percent of possession, but chances to score were few and far between. The host’s only way to the game was set pieces but the experienced Yury Zhirokov’s deliveries eluded him when his country needed them the most.
Dzyuba, Roman Zobnin and Golovin combined well to pass around the Spanish box in the 36 minute but the latter’s left-footer frizzed wide, providing no danger to David de Gea. But the Spanish goalkeeper was soon beaten when Dzyuba converted a penalty in the 42 minute after Gerard Pique used his dangling arm to block the goal-scorer’s header from a Alexander Samedov corner.
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