MOSCOW (Reuters) – Hosts Russia beat Spain 4-3 on penalties thanks to two saves by their goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev on Sunday to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals where they will face either Denmark or Croatia.
The 32-year-old keeper saved Koke’s and Iago Aspas’ spot kicks after both teams had scored two apiece in what was Russia’s first ever World Cup penalty shootout, to send his team to the last eight after a lackluster 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
But there was high drama in the shootout for the 78,000 spectators at Luzhniki Stadium, with all four Russian penalty-takers keeping their cool and Muscovite Akinfeev, who has only played for CSKA Moscow his entire career, doing well to deny Koke’s effort.
He then kicked Aspas’ penalty high and wide to trigger wild celebrations.
“In the second half, we were trying to defend. We were hoping for penalties and that’s what happened, thank God,” Akinfeev said. “We are having a fantastic World Cup.”
It was a painful World Cup exit for Spain and their coach Fernando Hierro, who took over at the last minute to replace Julen Lopetegui, fired on the eve of the tournament after accepting Real Madrid’s offer to be their manager.
“We did everything possible,” said Spain captain Sergio Ramos, who scored his penalty. “It’s difficult, very painful.”
Spain, who have never beaten a host at World Cups or Euros, went ahead after 12 minutes when 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich bundled into Ramos at the far post, knocking a free kick in with his heel for the 10th own goal of the tournament.
The 2010 world champions controlled the game with their slick passing but failed to add to their lead as the Russians defended with discipline.
They also looked, however, toothless up front, with Aleksandr Golovin’s curled effort their only noteworthy opportunity until Gerard Pique’s handball gave them a chance to level with a penalty.
Forward Artem Dzyuba buried the 41st-minute penalty for his third goal of the tournament, sending Spain keeper David de Gea the wrong way to equalize and awaken the subdued crowd.
The game lacked pace and tempo even after the break with the Russians playing without an out-and-out striker after the substitution of Dzyuba.
Despite 75 percent possession and more than 1,000 passes, Spain’s famed tiki-taka game rarely carried them into the box and 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 as Spain were in charge.
Akinfeev came to the rescue again to deny Rodrigo after his fine sprint in the second half of extra time before becoming a national hero by saving the two spot kicks to send the hosts into the last eight.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Christian Radnedge