Russia got the miracle they were hoping for on Sunday as they eliminated 2010 winners Spain in penalties for a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
For Spain, it was another anguish as they re-enacted their terrible record against host nations at major finals. It was their ninth loss. Coach Fernando Hierro was on the receiving end of a stunning defeat by minnows South Korea on penalties as a player in 2002.
Underdogs Russia and the least ranked in the tournament had now dealt them a similar blow, like the Koreans.
Russia came into the tournament derided by their own supporters after a string of defeats in warm-up matches but they thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their opener and then swept aside Egypt 3-1.
A comprehensive defeat to Uruguay provided a reality check.
Russia however went into the game in the 80,000-crowd Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow determined to teach Spain’s stars such as Andres Iniesta, Isco and Diego Costa, some lessons.
They held Spain 1-1 all through 120 minutes, even though they had an average of 25 per cent possession. Then in the penalties, had a memorable victory, winning 4-3.
Russia are the lowest-ranked nation in the tournament — a lowly 70th in the world — and were not expected to progress beyond the first round but they now find themselves in the last eight.
“We were hoping for penalties,” Akinfeev said after the match ended 1-1 after extra time, following a Sergei Ignashevich own goal and an assured Artem Dzyuba penalty.
“We are having a fantastic World Cup. Not just our fans, but the fans of other countries are getting a sense of this atmosphere and understood that Russians really know how to play football and want to play football.”
The result is a disaster for Spain, whose preparations for the World Cup were wrecked when their manager Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament after he took the vacant Real Madrid coach’s job.
Spain shipped five goals in their three group matches and there were major questions over the form of goalkeeper David de Gea coming into the knockout phase.
Hierro rejected any suggestion the team would have fared better had the Spanish federation not decided to axe Lopetegui after arriving in Russia.
“We had opportunities to win this match but we ended up in a penalty shootout which is basically a lottery, and we weren’t lucky,” he said.
“I don’t think you can talk about the team breaking down or there being any sort of collapse,” the former Real Madrid captain said. “In football there’s a fine line between winning and losing.”
There was more penalty drama in the later match in Nizhny Novgorod, with Croatia coming out on top 3-2 just minutes after Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had saved a penalty at the end of extra-time.
Five spot-kicks were saved during the nail-biting shootout, two by Schmeichel and three by Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
Earlier, Mathias Jorgensen gave Denmark the lead after just 58 seconds but Mario Mandzukic levelled for Croatia in the fourth minute and the sides remained locked at 1-1 at the end of extra time.