SAINT PETERSBURG, Russian Federation, Jul 2 – Penalties dominated the second day of last 16 action at the World Cup as hosts Russia shocked Spain to set up a quarter-final meeting with Croatia, who advanced on spot-kicks over Denmark.
Here, AFP Sports looks at three things we learned today at the World Cup.
The hosts started their tournament with trepidation over how a side that had failed to win a game in eight months would cope on the biggest stage.
Those fears have proved unfounded as for the first time since 1970 when the Soviet Union reached the last eight, Russia has a World Cup quarter-final to look forward to.
Russia’s awareness of their own limitations helped thwart and frustrate Spain for 120 minutes as despite enjoying just 26 percent possession they held out for penalties after a 1-1 draw.
And from the spot, Fyodor Smolov, Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev held their nerve, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev provoked jubilant scenes of celebration stretching from 80,000 at the Luzhniki around the country with his two saves.
Iniesta’s sad farewell
He will forever be remembered for the most important goal in Spain’s history to win the World Cup eight years ago, but Andres Iniesta’s international career ended in sad fashion among delirium for the hosts in Moscow.
Dropped to bench for a tournament game for the first time in 12 years, Iniesta still nearly won the game with Spain’s best effort to break down the mass ranks of Russia resistence.
His low strike from the edge of the box produced one of precious few good saves from Akinfeev before penalties.
His final touch after 131 caps was to put Spain in front in the shootout with the calm assuredness that has personified a stunning international career.
But it wasn’t enough as Koke and Iago Aspas were denied by Akinfeev from the spot.
“Sometimes the endings aren’t the ones you dreamed of,” said Iniesta.
Croatia captain Luka Modric has had a difficult year in his homeland.
Charged with giving false testimony for his role in a corruption case that saw former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison last month, Modric’s popularity has dipped despite continued brilliance on the field for his club Real Madrid and country.
His despair was therefore understandable when he missed a penalty three minutes from the end of extra-time that could have cost Croatia a place in the last eight.
Modric didn’t hide in the penalty shootout. His second effort was one of just three of Croatia’s six spot-kicks on the night to beat Kasper Schmeichel as the Dane’s heroics couldn’t prevent a 3-2 shootout defeat thanks to three stunning saves from Danijel Subasic.
Croatia now have a golden chance to match their previous golden generation’s run to the semi-finals in 1998 when they meet Russia in Sochi on Saturday.