Spain 1 Russia 1 (aet, Russia won 4-3 on penalties)
When the moment came, nerves taking hold of the Luzhniki Stadium, 144 million Russians and so many more across the globe looking upon him, Igor Akinfeev flew one way and the ball flew the other. But when it appeared that he might be beaten somehow he, like his team, found a way to win. His left leg swung to kick Iago Aspas's penalty clear and send the host country through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Suddenly, white shirts flooded the pitch and in the stands the crowd erupted, celebrating the most improbable success.
It had been said that they were the worst team in Russia’s history but they are still here, in their own tournament. It has been said that their opponents were the best team in Spain’s history, but no more. This was almost certainly Andrés Iniesta’s final international and others will follow the man who scored the winning goal in 2010, the last of their golden generation.
Ultimately it had been an epic, historic night. It had been a long one too, exhaustion and anxiety preparing an explosion. To resist is to win, as Juan Negrín, president during the Spanish civil war, famously declared. Russia had resisted, all right.
Spain passed the ball 1,137 times but they could not pass Russia. There had been an own goal and a penalty and not much else until, at the last, there were nine more penalties, the first shootout of the World Cup. One of them, Russia’s last, was scored by Denis Cheryshev, raised in Spain; two were saved by Akinfeev. Koke and Aspas missed them. It was not to be. It has been a strange, strange World Cup for Spain, and it was a long evening.
It was 7.45pm when they were finally eliminated. It had been just after 5.30pm when a Mexican wave began to make its way around the Luzhniki, but this was no celebration, and certainly not like the one that would follow later. It was, instead, born of boredom, maybe even a little resignation.
Russia were trailing, their plan to resist damaged by an own goal which arrived after just 11 minutes, and any hope of a place in the quarter-finals which few of them had really believed was possible, slipping bloodlessly away. As supporters stood, sat and stood again, the wave circulating the stands while in front of them the ball circulated on the pitch. A little slower, perhaps, but it did. And always at the feet of Spain.
It was a recurring scene. Spain’s players passing, Russia’s waiting. No one in any kind of hurry, moves tending to break down on a technicality or when it went to the one Spain player with no intention of passing short – David de Gea. At that time the count said 231-58, and it was slowly rising. Suddenly, though, a long ball up the pitch saw Artem Dzyuba leap with Sergio Ramos, beating him to the ball and Russia were running, Roman Zobnin bending a shot just past a post – a warning that there was a game going on here.
Until then, there virtually had not been. Perhaps they had been stung by the Mexican wave. Something shifted certainly: there was an intent now that had been absent before, and soon the scoreline would shift; now there really was a game. And then, once they had levelled, they tried to make sure there was not a game again.
Mario Fernandes ran up the right and drew a corner. Aleksandr Samedov took it and Dzyuba leapt to head. Gerard Piqué jumped with an arm raised above his head, inviting trouble. The ball rebounded from it and the referee, Björn Kuipers, pointed to the spot, from where Dzyuba finished calmly. It was 1-1, and it was only Russia's second shot on target. Spain had none. Diego Costa had barely touched the ball, the penalty areas virtually untrodden territory. They had led early when Ramos tumbled with Sergei Ignashevich, the ball rebounding off the Russian's foot and into the net.
It appeared the perfect start, and Spain took control. As Russia sat deep, a five-man defence reluctant to step out, there appeared to be no danger for Spain – which might just have been the most dangerous thing about it. The Luzhniki was lulled into a warm afternoon snooze, virtually nothing of note happening bar the occasional touch from Isco, until the wave awoke them all, and the goal following soon after.
Shocked, Spain had more chances in the final two minutes of the first half than in the previous 43, but if that seemed to herald something a little swifter, some intent, it did not. And so it continued, sapping the life out of everyone.
Time ticked, Spain pushed, but this drifted. Spain sent on Aspas, the man most adept at accelerating, the saviour against Morocco. He was quickly involved here, but a cruel fate awaited. Aspas cleverly laid off for Iniesta with his chest, the shot from the edge of the area drawing a sharp save from Akinfeev, but from the rebound Aspas struck just wide.
Time passed slowly. The best opportunity, if it can be called that, fell to Fedor Smolov, who cut inside and swung a shot wide of the far post, but it was Spain who carried the ball forward. As they did Russia’s fans whistled for the referee to blow; that meant 30 more minutes to endure, for everyone, but the prize at the end was gigantic.
Rodrigo was sent on, he turned sharply, raced up the right, into the area, and drew a sharp save from Akinfeev, then saw the rebound fall to Daniel Carvajal dashing into the area. His shot, though, was blocked. This was into the second period of extra time now and for the first time, it was getting frantic.
The rain came down, exhaustion gripped, and Spain demanded the VAR as Ramos fell in the area, held as he went. Up in the VAR room they did not see anything much of note. Rather like the rest of the people in the stadium, then. That said, they no longer wanted to. They just wanted this to end.
Russia’s target drew closer: penalties. They had sought them from the start. Twelve seconds after the clock showed 120 minutes, they were almost denied, Rodrigo’s low shot saved by Akinfeev. And then, at last, the whistle went. And Akinfeev flew. – Guardian service
SPAIN (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Nacho (Carvajal, 70 mins), Pique, Ramos, Alba; Koke, Busquets; Silva (Iniesta, 67 mins),Isco, Asensio (Rodrigo, 104 mins); Costa (Aspas, 80 mins). Booked: Pique.
RUSSIA (5-3-2): Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kudryashov, Zhirkov (Granat, 46 mins); Samedov (Cheryshev, 61 mins), Zobnin, Kuzyaev (Erokhin, 97 mins); Dzyuba (Smolov, 65 mins), Golovin. Booked: Kutepov, Zobnin.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands).