Spain will feel the heat when they face host Russia in the last 16 of the 2018 Fifa World Cup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Sunday. The Spaniards will be taking part in their first knockout stage match in eight years.
More than anything else, Spain manager Fernando Hierro will be looking to overcome the host nation curse for the La Furia Roja. He was on the field when the Spaniards lost 5-3 on penalties against co-host South Korea in the 2002 quarter-final, although the tie was marred by dubious refereeing. Spain also lost against host Italy in the 1934 quarter-final and suffered a 6-1 defeat at the hands of home side Brazil in the group stage in 1950.
Spain and Russia advanced to the last 16 after contrasting group stage campaigns. The Spaniards had a tough time against the likes of Portugal, Iran and Morocco before eventually qualifying for the Round of 16 after some last day drama.
Russia, who previously took part in the greatest show on earth as Soviet Union, made a dream start in Group A, thrashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 and Egypt 3-1 but failed to make an impact against Uruguay. Russia have drawn up some plans in order to stifle the Spaniards, who are one of the title contenders.
It was learned that Russia assistant coach Miroslav Romaschenko has given some in-depth instructions to his charges regarding their playing positions, with the wingers expected to feature heavily.
"Spain (are) a team on the highest level. But that's the beauty of football: one day any team can beat any other team," said Russia striker Artem Dzyuba, who was quite positive while talking to Fifa TV Friday.
For Spain, Diego Costa has been clinical so far. The Atletico Madrid forward has already scored three goals in the Russia World Cup, including a brace against Portugal in the group stage. Midfielder David Silva and Andres Iniesta are also in good form and will pose a stern test of Russia’s credentials. Besides that, the duo will be expected to supply some delightful deliveries to Costa.
Spain have no injury concerns so Hierro will have the full squad at his disposal.
“The first conclusion I draw is that, despite all these challenges, we were on top, so I need to look at the silver lining. Obviously, there are things we need to improve and we’re going to be self-critical. Five goals (conceded) in three matches is not the way forward and it’s what I’ve told my players. They’re professionals, they understand the situation,” Hierro told the media after the underwhelming draw against Morocco.
Spain: David de Gea; Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Koke, Andres Iniesta, Isco; Diego Costa, Iago Aspas.
Russia: Igor Akinfeev; Mario Fernandes, Ilya Kutepov, Sergey Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov; Roman Zobnin, Daler Kuzyaev; Aleksandr Samedov, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev; Artem Dzyuba.