Akinfeev says fans inspired the team against Spain

AFP  Getty Images

AFP Getty Images

Host Russia beat Spain 4-3 on penalties thanks to two saves by its goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev Sunday to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals where it will face either Denmark or Croatia.

The first goal highlighted this quality discrepancy early on, as abysmal Russian Federation defending gave Spain the lead.

Russia's captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saved spot-kicks from Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion and Iago Aspas, while all four Russian shooters scored. Spain is certainly one of the biggest contenders for the World Cup this year, and they should have enough to see off the hosts. France, South Korea, Germany and Brazil have also won shootouts since 1998.

No problem - Akinfeev denied him with his foot, pushing the ball away, out of danger. The Atletico Madrid midfielder lifted his shirt over his eyes in dismay.

Rewarded with a sponsor's trophy, Akinfeev acknowledged the part played by an 78,000 crowd in Moscow: "I'm not the man of the match, the man of the match is our team - and our fans".

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

Russia's defence-first approach echoed the Iceland team which beat England at EURO 2016 or the Greeks who won the European title in 2004.

Spain stopped Russia's European Championship run in 2008 - the country's best tournament performance since the end of the Soviet Union - and also played to a 3-3 friendly draw a year ago, though one in which Spain didn't field a full-strength team.

Star midfielder Luka Modric offers passing with a objective that Spain lacked, while Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic have a versatility Russian Federation didn't face in the round of 16. Turmoil erupted two days before the opening game, when the federation fired the head coach.

"We are insanely happy", he said.

Defeat Sunday likely spells the end of Andres Iniesta's career. The 34-year-old Barcelona midfielder came off the bench and nearly won the game with an 85th-minute shot well saved by Akinfeev.

Spain was more urgent in extra time after being too passive when it dominated the ball in the 90 minutes of regular time.

Sergei Ignashevich had unwittingly handed the 2010 champions a 12th-minute lead after tussling with Sergio Ramos, only for Artem Dzyuba to cancel out the own goal with a well-struck penalty (41) after Gerard Pique was punished for handball. He knows instantly he's gone the wrong way and is just hoping to get something on it, and he did.

However, they also have a habit of struggling when their style of play does not have the desired impact, shown in their most recent outing in the 2-2 draw against Morocco. "Today we had to endure, endure and endure everything, go through pain and cramps". We played against Julen Lopetegui's team and we are seeing changes under Hierro.

For the first time in a World Cup, teams will be allowed to make a fourth substitution in extra time. Spain will have to put forward a stronger display against the host nation, who will have a tremendous backing this afternoon.

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