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Russia Eliminate Spain On Penalties, Advances To The Final 8 In World Cup

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Russia advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals on Sunday with a 4-3 penalty shootout victory over Spain in a dramatic round of 16 clash in Moscow.

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saved the decisive spot-kick from Iago Aspas with his foot after also keeping out Koke’s attempt. Denis Cheryshev, Aleksandr Golovin, Sergei Ignashevich and Fedor Smolov converted each of Russia’s four efforts from the spot.

Earlier, Sergei Ignashevich struck an own goal before Artem Dzyuba equalized for Russia by converting a 41st-minute penalty. The scores were locked 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and remained unchanged after 30 minutes of extra time.

Russia will now play Croatia in the quarterfinals in Sochi on July 7 while Spain are eliminated.

“In the second half we were trying to defend,” a jubilant Akinfeev said.

“We were hoping for penalties and that’s what happened. We are having a fantastic World Cup.”

By reaching the round of 16, the hosts were already guaranteed their best World Cup finish in the post-Soviet era. Now they will be thinking anything is possible as they capitalize on a wide-open draw and fervent support from their home fans.

It was a sad farewell to international football for Spain great Andres Iniesta, who was in tears after the match. Though his powers have waned, Iniesta gave his team a lift when he was introduced as a 67th-minute substitute for David Silva. He also converted his spot-kick in the shootout.

Spain coach Fernando Hierro made three changes to the team that drew 2-2 with Morocco in their last group match. Iniesta was surprisingly left out, replaced by Marco Asensio on the left side of midfield. Nacho came in for Dani Carvajal at right back and Koke was given a chance in midfield in place of Thiago Alcantara.

Russia were without Igor Smolnikov due to suspension and brought in Brazil-born Mario Fernandes to replace him at right wing-back. Yuri Zhirkov was also recalled to the left-side of defence while Daler Kuzyaev and Golovin returned to the midfield. Cheryshev, Russia’s leading scorer in the competition, was left out of the starting lineup by coach Stanislav Cherchesov.

Spain took the lead in the 12th minute when Isco whipped in a free kick from the right and Ignashevich appeared to drag Sergio Ramos to the ground as he inadvertently sent the ball into the net with his heel.

The 2010 champions looked at ease as they controlled possession and barely allowed Russia to advance beyond the halfway line.

On one of the hosts’ rare forays forward, Roman Zobnin forced Koke to clear the ball behind for a corner with a dangerous cross into the box. From the resultant corner Gerard Pique struck the ball with his right hand and referee Bjorn Kuipers did not hesitate to point to the spot.

Dzyuba then kept his cool by sending David de Gea the wrong way and burying his spot-kick into the bottom right corner.

Spain had a chance to regain the lead just before halftime when Diego Costa ran onto Silva’s pass on the right only to see his shot blocked by goalkeeper Akinfeev.

Both sides seemed content to let the match go into extra time as Spain knocked the ball around with little intensity. They had a rare chance to break the deadlock in the 85th minute when Aspas chested a Jordi Alba cross into the path of Iniesta, whose shot forced a lunging save from Akinfeev. Aspas then thrashed an effort across the face of goal from the rebound.

Extra-time did little to create a sense of urgency for either team, although Spain did enjoy the best of the chances. Koke blazed over and Marco Asensio shot straight at Akinfeev after being played into space by Aspas.

The tension was palpable as Spain pressed in the second 15-minute period. Rodrigo turned brilliantly around his marker and made a probing run into the box but his shot was superbly saved by Akinfeev. The rebound fell for Carvajal but Ilya Kutepov was on hand to clear the Real Madrid defender’s shot.

Rodrigo carried Spain’s biggest scoring threat and again forced a smart save from Akinfeev, but Russia stood firm to force the match into a shootout.

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