Day seventeen of the World Cup saw the second set of the round of 16 ties. As Spain faced the lowest ranked side at the World Cup (no competitive fixtures for two years granted but it still remains a fact), and hosts, Russia.
In a quite extra-ordinary match, Spain became the first team since records began to accumulate over 1000 passes in a World Cup match. Spain’s dominance was rewarded by an own goal from the 38-year-old CSKA defensive stalwart and Russia’s most capped player,
Sergei Ignashevich. After a free-kick was swung in from the right side of the box by Marco Asensio. When the ball reached the six-yard box Ignashevich had hold of Spain captain Sergio Ramos and as Ramos tumbled the ball bounced off Ignashevich’s leg, in what would have been a certain penalty had there not been a goal.
However, Spain’s dominance was undone by a poor piece of defending by Pique, who followed suit of his Barcelona teammate Samuel Umtiti in giving away a penalty from a raised hand. Giant Artem Dzyuba capitalised as he managed to slot home the resulting spot kick. (Side note: have you ever seen a player scream mid-table Premier League side more than the 6-foot 5-inch behemoth, if only Tony Pulis was still managing in the Premier League, shame we’ll have to settle for him at Burnley.) Nouse Sport had pinned Spain to go out early this tournament giving their lack of pace and width from wide areas. With their wide players acting as wide play-makers rather than archetypical wingers that they were so successful with Pedro and even Jesus Navas coming off the bench. Stale and predictable Spain were unable to break down Russia’s deep block. Possession without penetration, Spain’s play lacked energy, urgency and purpose. The complete encapsulation of Pep Guardiola’s “I hate Tiki-Taka” quote, possession for possession’s sake is completely pointless and that proved to be the moral of the story in Moscow. Spain did look better in extra-time with the willing runners of Rodrigo (yes, the one from Bolton) and Iago Aspas (yes, the one from Liverpool), yet it was too little too late, with Russia willed on by the home crowd and the desire to achieve their best result since 1970.
Russia managed to hold on to take the game to penalties. Football Manager legend Igor Akinfeev finally lived up to his in-game reputation to become one of the best goalkeepers at this World Cup. Pulling off two great saves, especially the one with his legs from Aspas but also the one from Koke, as Spain’s tumultuous start to the World Cup ended up with them crashing out the World Cup to the 70th best team in the world.
The other round of 16 tie on day seventeen saw Croatia take on Denmark. With Denmark scoring in a Rory Delap throwback long throw (oh God please don’t remind me) after only a minute in. Mathias Jørgensen or Zanka, scrambled home after a messy scrap for the ball in the penalty area. More madness ensued when a Danish defender clattered a clearance off Dortmund new boy Thomas Delaney only a few minutes later, with the ball falling perfectly for Mario Mandzukic to stab home to draw the scores level. After two goals in four minutes you just knew that the game would not see any more action and continue all the way through to penalties. Whilst this was nearly true, we did see a penalty awarded to Croatia in the last minute of extra-time, only for Kasper Schmeichel to deny the Real Madrid player, after Ante Rebic was brought down by Jørgensen in what would have been a certain goal had he not fouled him, this gamble paid off with Jørgensen receiving a yellow (as per double jeopardy rule) and Denmark given another chance to get through to the quarters.
The penalty shoot-out was pretty spectacular, though, it has to be said. With Subasic in the Croatian goal saving three penalties whereas Schmeichel saved two to add to his earlier one. It also happened to be, remarkably, 12 years to the day that the only other time this has happened in World Cup history. But the less we speak about Ricardo and that 2006 shoot-out, the better. Croatia advanced to the quarter-final, the first time they have made it past the round of 16 stage since they heroically made the semi-finals in 1998.