Remember the date, 1st July 2018. This was the day that the World Cup in Russia really came alive. Not that it had been a bad World Cup so far. In truth, it has been pretty decent, but with the exception of Germany not qualifying from their group, there wasn’t really any massive surprises.
The Round of 16
Enter the Round of 16 and already we have seen 2 heavyweights felled. 1st, we had Argentina losing to France, although this was not a huge upset by any means.
Still, it was an entertaining first match of the last 16 nonetheless. Then we had Uruguay beating Portugal 2-1 which was somewhat of a surprise given that Portugal are the European 2016 Winners and a group of talented individuals.
What happened in the first of the 2 matches today was a major upset. The 2010 World Cup Champions and much fancied choice of many for this years’ event, Spain, were held to a draw after extra time by Russia and ultimately beaten on the dreaded penalty shootout.
Nobody Saw The Russia Result Coming!
Nobody had seen this coming. Not even the Russian media or most of their fans gave them a cat in hells chance. Yet they went toe to toe with Spain, a team full of some of the best Real Madrid and Barcelona talent, and held firm.
Even Spain’s goal had a slice of good fortune about it as poor Ignashevich netted an own goal, when he was so concentrated on marking Sergio Ramos at the far post rather than looking at the ball. Too bad for Ignashevich, that the ball hit the back of his heel and went into his own net. From this point in the 12th minute, it seemed their would only be one outcome, a comfortable Spain victory.
Russia Had Other Ideas
Russia had a game plan and they executed it to perfection. Russia had obviously realised as most of the world realises, that Spain are a possession based team and they play their special brand of tika taka. Pass, pass, pass just like the good old Liverpool days of the 1970s and 1980’s.
Russia were disciplined and kept their shape and relied on posing a threat from set pieces. When a corner was swung in on 40 minutes, Russia were awarded a penalty after Pique jumped to head the ball clear, only for the ball to hit his flailing arm. A clear cut penalty was awarded to Russia and Dzyuba made no mistake in converting from the spot.
The Rest of the match was a stalemate with Spain enjoying almost exclusive possession of the ball, but in truth Russia were pretty comfortable throughout as Spain did not open them up hardly at all.
Kudryashov in particular, who had been excellent throughout, suffered badly with cramp towards the latter part of the second half and somehow managed to last the full 120 minutes including extra time! There was a few other tired legs in the Russian team and it is a no wonder with the way this Spain team work the ball and keep possession. Up stepped Cheryshev to convert and now Spain had to score their 5th and final penalty to stay in this shootout.
The Day of Penalty Shoot Outs
The final whistle of extra time had blown, and it was to be the dreaded penalty shootout and the Russia team and their fans alike celebrated like they had already won the World Cup. And why not, for they had already exceeded expectation, but what was to follow was even more high drama as Koke stepped up to take Spain’s 3rd penalty with the score 2-2 and it was saved by Akinfeev.
Russia scored their 3rd penalty through Golovin and Sergio Ramos equalised to make it 3-3, but now Russia had a penalty in hand. Iago Aspas, once of Liverpool stepped up and struck it fairly well down the left of the centre, but the outstretched left shin of Akinfeev deflected the ball away from the goal to the delirium of the Russian team and fans alike.
The Luzhniki Stadium went mental and emotions were pouring out from both sides. For Russia, it was sheer ecstasy of what they had just achieved and for Spain it was complete heartbreak. The Russia World Cup 2018 had finally arrived!
Much fancied dark horses Croatia who were slight favourites to beat Denmark in the 2nd fixture of the day were up next. But it was the Danes who opened the scoring int he first minute of the match through Mathias Joergensen. It only took 3 minutes for parity to be restored with an equaliser through Mario Mandzukic. The rest of the match was intriguing and became more and more intense as the clock ticked away.
The teams could not be separated after 90 minutes and yet another 30 minutes of extra time was to be played for the 2nd time in the same day! The World Cup was really starting to get exciting and tense. Both teams canceled each other out for the most part, but with only 4 minutes of the 2nd period of extra time remaining, Luka Modric split the Danish defense apart and set Ante Rebic through one on one with the keeper. Rebic rounded the keeper and only had to tap the ball into the net, but as he was preparing to do just that, Mathias Joergensen’s attempted challenge from behind brought him down and it was a clear penalty. Luka Modric was charged with the responsibility of winning the match for Croatia from the penalty spot, but unbelievably saw his spot kick saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
The 2nd Penalty Shootout of the Day
The 2nd penalty shootout of the day proved to be just as nerve wracking as the first. In this shootout both Christian Erikson of Denmark and Milan Badelj of Croatia saw their penalties saved expertly by two top keepers in Danijel Subasic of Croatia and the Danes Kasper Schmeichel. Schmeichel had now saved two penalties in a row including the first near the end of extra time.
The next two penalties were scored for both teams. Incredibly, Lasse Schoene then saw his penalty saved by Subasic, and Schmeichel saved Pivaric effort leaving the score at 2-2 on penalties going into the 5th penalty.
Nicolai Joergensen had to score for Denmark to put them ahead in the shootout but once again Subasic was equal to the effort and decisively saved it. This now meant Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona could win the tie for Croatia and he calmly dispatched the penalty to Schmeichel ‘s right-hand side sending the keep the wrong way.
Like the end of the Russia v Spain match, the Croatia team and fans went absolutely wild with delirium and poor old Denmark were reduced to tears much like Spain had been earlier. The Round of 16 was proving to be quite the memorable occasion.
The Half Way Point
Unbelievably, we are only half-way through the Round of 16 with Brazil and Mexico and Belgium v Japan to come on the 2nd July. On the 3rd July we will see England v Columbia and Sweden versus Switzerland.
If it’s half as dramatic as the first 4 fixtures of the Round of 16, we will be in for quite a treat. To summarise, we have now lost Germany, Argentina and Spain already. This year’s World Cup is starting to become very unpredictable in Russia!