MOSCOW — We have a saying in Russia, Stanislav Cherchesov had told reporters from behind his fearsome mustache on Saturday afternoon.
“Anyone,” said Cherchesov, the coach of Russia’s World Cup team, “can be a god if he tries.”
The statement — a day before Russia would play Spain in the World Cup’s round of 16 — was both pushback and premonition. Cherchesov knew what everyone was thinking: that his Russia team, the lowest-ranked in the field, had done well surpassed expectations as the host of the World Cup, but would surely reach the end of the line when it took on Spain, a former world and European champion.
But Cherchesov seemed to know better. He thought his team had more to give. And he was right.
In a stunning upset, Russia eliminated Spain on penalty kicks, 4-3, after a 1-1 tie on Sunday that extended through 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time.
The long day finally ended when the Russian goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, kicked away Iago Aspas’s fifth penalty attempt for Spain after Russia had converted its first four. The Russians had been dominated throughout the game, but a penalty kick by Artem Dzyuba before halftime allowed them to tie the score at 1-1 and a gritty, disciplined, defensive effort ultimately led to the penalty shootout — and to a result that many had considered unthinkable.
Cherchesov and Russia now have any number of players to toast as they begin to look ahead to their next game, on Saturday in Sochi, where they will play the winner of the Croatia-Denmark game in the quarterfinals.
One hero, for sure, is Akinfeev, who saved two of Spain’s five penalties. Then there is Dzyuba, who created and then converted the penalty that drew Russia level in a game in which it appeared comically overmatched at times. And maybe Sergey Ignashevich, the 38-year-old center back, who was drafted into the World Cup late in Russia’s preparations. He has played every minute of this tournament, and he provided the five-man defensive back line he anchored with the leadership and the structure to hold off Spain again and again.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” midfielder Aleksandr Golovin said. “To be honest, I do not even know what to do right now. We are in some kind of dream, a fairy tale.”
To say Russia played Spain to a draw was technically true. But in reality Spain played and Russia chased for most of the match inside the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium, with Spain content to keep possession of the ball after an early goal and Russia, well, content to let Spain have it.
For 10, 15, 20 passes at a stretch, Spain worked the ball around the field at will — a game of keepaway disguised as a World Cup elimination match. The pro-Russian crowd whistled its disapproval early and repeatedly, and urged its team on with all its might whenever it managed — even briefly — to steal the ball away from the Spaniards. But Spain, inevitably and repeatedly, simply took the ball back. And kept it.
“We knew that Spain would play the ball in the match and leave it to them: We were prepared for this,” Golovin said. “We knew that we would keep them as far away from the penalty area as possible.”
Spain was so dominant in the first half that it nearly made it to halftime with a one-goal lead despite taking no shots: its opening goal came off the right ankle of Ignashevich, who unwittingly scored this World Cup’s 10th own goal — a record total that continues to increase — as he fell to the ground while tangling with Spain’s Sergio Ramos on a free kick in the 12th minute.
Staked to the early lead it sought, Spain continued to pass and Russia continued to chase. The game quickly devolved into a high-stakes training session.
And then, in the 40th minute, everything changed. Russia won a corner, Alexander Samedov fired it in and Dzyuba headed it directly onto the arm of Spain’s Gerard Piqué — who for some reason had jumped to challenge him with his back turned and one arm over his head.
The Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, called a hand ball. Dzyuba buried it past David De Gea and just like that, Russia — and its crowd — came to life.
Russia had ridden that kind of full-throated support right through its first three games at the tournament. Its maximum effort and early success — two victories in its first three games — had quickly got its countrymen on board, easing fears that the tournament might be an afterthought for the host country if the Russian team exited early.
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Dzyuba’s goal seemed to revive those fans on Sunday, and let them think victory might just be possible. The start of the second half was more even, and the free kicks and corners Russia won — with increasing frequency — soon began to create two and three half-chances before Spain forced the ball clear.
Spain still ruled the statistics — it completed 1,029 passes to Russia’s 202 by the end of the match — but it stubbornly refused to adjust its style even after it became clear Russia would not yield. It had good chances — a long-range shot by Andres Iniesta in the second half, a dangerous run by the substitute Rodrigo in the second extra period — but the goal never came.
The defeat will be a bitter one to swallow for Spain. The team had rallied after stunningly firing its coach, Julien Lopetegui, only days before its opening match here, and it had emerged from the group stage without a defeat and with a favorable path to the final. Fernando Hierro, the former Spain player who had taken over for Lopetegui, tried to shield his players from blame — “I can look them all in the eyes” — but could not hide his disappointment.
“How do you think we are feeling?” Hierro said to a question about the team’s postgame mood. “We are feeling like all Spaniards are feeling this evening.”
Having reached the penalty-kick shootout, Russia seized its chance and finished the job. Fyodor Smolov, then Ignashevich, then Alexsandr Golovin, then Russia’s Denis Cheryshev, all beat De Gea.
Akinfeev did the rest, stopping Koke on Spain’s third attempt and Aspas on the fifth. Cherchesov, the coach, watched none of it, banking his emotions for what’s to come. “I believe this is only the beginning,” he said, “so I have to save my emotions for the future.”
He did not join the celebrations as Akinfeev kicked the ball high into the air with his trailing foot to seal the victory. That was for the players, who dogpiled their goalkeeper as the crowd of 78,011 made a sound louder than any heard yet at this World Cup.
Those fans will get at least one more chance to cheer their heroes.
Here’s how Russia beat Spain:
Russia Goes Wild!
The Russian team goes crazy as a jubilant Moscow crowd cheers on their advancement to the quarterfinals. Russia was considered one of the weakest teams in the tournament, and Spain one of the favorites. But in 120 minutes Spain could only force one own goal, and when it comes down to penalties anybody can beat anybody.
Andrew Das: Stunning finish there as Akinfeev kicks away the last attempt by Aspas. The Russians pour toward him and he dives, fists outstretched into the grass to absorb their love. The crowd has gone absolutely bonkers in here.
PK: Russia 4, Spain 3
MISS Spain! Akinfeev dives the wrong way but gets a foot on Iago Aspas’s penalty!
PK: Russia 4, Spain 3
GOAL Russia! Denis Cheryshev goes down the middle as David de Gea dives to his side.
PK: Russia 3, Spain 3
GOAL Spain! Sergio Ramos with exaggerated slow steps and sends Akinfeev the wrong way.
PK: Russia 3, Spain 2
GOAL Russia! Aleksandr Golovin powers the ball under a diving de Gea.
PK: Russia 2, Spain 2
MISS Spain! Koke’s shot isn’t enough to the side, and Akinfeev dives to his right and stops it.
PK: Spain 2, Russia 2
GOAL Russia! Sergey Ignashevich’s stutter step sends de Gea the wrong direction.
PK: Spain 2, Russia 1
GOAL Spain! Gerard Pique powers his shot into the bottom left corner as Akinfeev once again dives the wrong way.
PK: Spain 1, Russia 1
GOAL Russia! David de Gea gets his right hand onto it, but Fedor Smolov’s shot is too powerful.
PK: Spain 1, Russia 0
GOAL Spain! Andres Iniesta easily puts it into the back of the net as Akinfeev dives the wrong way.
PK: Spain Goes First
Spain wins the coin toss, and captain Sergio Ramos elects for Spain to shoot first.
Penalty Kicks On Tap
EXTRA TIME IS OVER! The referee blows his whistle, and we are going to penalties!
121’: One Last Chance for Spain!
Rodrigo gets off a low shot from the top of the box, but Akinfeev easily falls to his side and saves it.
117’: Spain Clears Russian Corner
Russia gets a corner kick but the ball is deflected out of danger. Just a few minutes left for Spain to get a winner here.
If you are wondering how attacking Russia has been for the last hour and change, the answer is: Not very!
116’: Spain Dodges Trouble
Another Spanish error almost frees Russia. Pique tried to navigate out of trouble in his own box and loses the ball, but Spain clears.
Andrew Das: Dramatically cooler in here suddenly as the weather changes — just what the tiring Russians needed. What they needed more was the corner they just won.
114’: Penalty? No.
A beautiful Spanish free kick drifts achingly beyond three Spanish players, and they IMMEDIATELY sprint to referee Bjorn Kuipers to argue that Pique and Ramos were held and deserve a penalty.
Andrew Das: That really should have been a penalty for the hold on Ramos. He couldn’t get free of his man and the ball sailed within a few feet of him. Nope. Kuipers waves play on.
112’: Spain Keeps Hammering Away
Spain is generating a good chance every two minutes. If there were an hour left in this game they would surely score, but Russia might be able to hold out for just 10 minutes more.
Andrew Das: Did they chant “Russ-see-ya!” this much in Rocky IV?
111’: Russia Playing for Penalties
Russia with a free kick just inside their own half … and it is kicked out for a Spanish goal kick. You almost get the sense that Russia doesn’t care one bit about trying to score.
Andrew Das: There is something you have to respect about the stubborn way Spain plays on days like this. It’s as if they’re refusing to change — flatly refusing — in the face of overwhelming evidence what they’re doing isn’t working.
“We will win our way,” they seem to be saying. “However long it takes.” The trust, the belief, inherent in that is admirable. The question is: will it be successful?
109’: Spain on the Attack, but Russia Firm
Rodrigo with a beautiful dummy along the sideline, and he sprints forward in the most pulsing move a Spanish player has made all day. But his tight angle shot is blocked by Akinfeev, and Dani Carvajal can’t get a strong shot on the rebound.
Andrew Das: Was that Spain’s best chance to win it before penalties? Maybe. Rodrigo loses his man with a brilliant dummy in the open field, but Carvajal lashed the rebound into a defender. Soooooo close there.
106’: Spain Needs to Push
Fifteen more minutes before we go to penalties. A basically 50/50 chance at winning on penalties would be a great outcome for Russia, so perhaps Spain is going to push even higher for a winning goal?
Andrew Das: You have to wonder if the crowd is giving Russia a vital lift here. Let’s be honest: Spain’s the better team, and they’re quicker. But Russia isn’t breaking, isn’t surrendering a yard. And every time they need someone to make a play, he makes it. That’s infectious, especially as this thing goes on and on and on ….
105’: Free Kick for Spain
Spain earns a free kick in the final minute of the first period of extra time, and Pique gets a head to Koke’s ball, but it is straight at Akinfeev.
Andrew Das: Pique’s header is saved and the crowd rises and cheers as one. They really believe now.
102’: Aspas Provides Some Energy
Iago Aspas attempted to go one-on-four but his shot was blocked. At least he went for it though!
Andrew Das: The 38-year-old Ignashevich fighting off the substitute Aspas — twice — to clear on that break just now is the most tangible sign of how much Russia is willing to give here today. Disciplined, noble effort under sustained pressure. They can be proud, however it ends.
100’: Akinfeev Handles Asensio
Marco Asensio gets a clear shot, but a soft kick from 20 yards out goes right into Igor Akinfeev’s hands.
Andrew Das: Asensio follows up Koke’s long-range attempt with one of his own. Maybe one of those will shake something loose here, but it telegraphs that Spain realizes it might want to score soon rather than leave this to PKs in a hostile stadium. Momentum in those can do funny things.
97’: Koke Lets One Fly
Koke with the most un-Spain moment of the day there, firing off a shot from 35 yards. Maybe he’s had enough, too. That was a frustration ball that landed 35 rows up.
92’: Spain Strikes First
Isco immediately plays a piercing ball through to Aspas who cuts it back for Dani Carvajal, but his shot is blocked.
91’: Who’ll Tire First?
We are back underway. It is a hot day in Moscow and a few players have cramped up already. This game may come down to one side making a tired mistake.
As a reminder, for the first time in the World Cup, the teams will be given a fourth substitute to hopefully spice up the extra time period.
Andrew Das: That could be big for Russia, which used its first three early (by the 65th minute).
Passes in regulation: Spain 854, Russia 227
Passes completed: Spain 772, Russia 169.
The key category, as always, is goals. And that one’s 1-1.
90 +5’: Extra Time!
Spain gets one last cross in, but it is headed clear, and the referee blows his whistle!
After a short break, we’ll have 30 more minutes of Spain passing it among themselves.
90 +3’: Chance for Russia … Wide
Russia perhaps gets their final chance of regular time, but Fedor Smolov curls his shot well wide.
Andrew Das: The Russian fans are on their feet at the Luzhniki; they think they’ve won the 90 minutes even if they’ve lost the statistics on points, and want to try to steal it here.
90’: Spain Wastes Three Corners
Spain gets three corners in a row, but can’t get a good shot off. The fourth official signals four minutes of extra time.
84’: Two Chances for Spain Blocked
Aspas chests a pass back to Iniesta, and his low on-target shot is parried aside. The rebound comes to Aspas, but his shot is dragged wide. Spain looks much more dangerous and direct with Iniesta and Aspas on, making you wonder why it took until the 80th minute for them both to be on.
Andrew Das: Akinfeev may just have kept Russia in the World Cup. Dove right to stop Iniesta’s shot from the top of the area, pushing it right, then scrambled up to paw away Aspas’s follow shot with his left hand. Super play.
82’: No Hand Ball
The ensuing corner sort of awkwardly bounces through the box without being touched, though there are appeals for a hand ball. The video assistant referee takes a look, but sees the ball only hit Sergey Ignashevic’s shoulder, not arm.
Andrew Das: That’s a good use of V.A.R. there; Kuipers stops the throw while they look for a hand ball on the replay, but when it shows the ball his Ignashevich in the chest, he takes the V.A.R.’s word and waves play to continue. A few seconds delay to get the call right.
80’: Costa Takes a Seat
Spain makes their final change, and it’s an interesting one. Iago Aspas, who is a sort of hybrid striker/winger, comes in for Diego Costa. He scored the late equalizer against Morocco.
Andrew Das: That’s the most movement we’ve seen from Costa in an hour as he sprints to the sideline to be replaced by Aspas. Hierro really needed to do something, or at least send on someone will to run around a bit more, cause some confusion. Let’s hope those were the instructions to Aspas.
76’: Playing Keepaway
Spain currently running the world’s largest, most boring rondo: just encircling a Russian team that doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to get the ball back. It is as if Spain thinks the first team to 1,000 passes automatically wins.
72’: Spain Gives It Away
A long Koke pass goes high over Marco Asensio’s head and out of bounds, which is a good metaphor of how dangerous Spain’s attack has been.
Andrew Das: Spain still looks like it’s going to have to pass its way through a picket fence here; all the possession lately is around the outside, ringing the Russians but not probing the center. That’s fine for keepaway. It’s significantly harder to score a goal that way, though, especially if the Russians refuse to be drawn out of their compact shape. “Want the ball way out wide?” they seem to be saying. “Go ahead, have the ball outside.”
71’: Yellow for Zobnin
Jordi Alba is taken down by Roman Zobnin, who gets a yellow card for his troubles.
70’: Spain Turns to Dani Carvajal
Right back Nacho makes way for Dani Carvajal, who started each of the last two games.
Andrew Das: It’s amazing how Spain never seems to run out of Real Madrid or Barcelona players to bring on.
67’: Iniesta Replaces Silva for Spain
It’s David Silva who makes way for Iniesta.
Andrew Das: Silva didn’t really show much today. If anyone can sort Spain out, create something out of nothing, it’s probably Iniesta.
Iniesta, 34, is surely in his last World Cup. And after all he’s won, he absolutely does not want to go out to Russia in the round of 16.
65’: Russia Takes Off Dzyuba
Russia makes their final substitution, taking off goal scorer Artem Dzyuba for Fedor Smolov. Spain still has all three of their substitutions left, but Andres Iniesta is coming on shortly.
Andrew Das: Russia has used all three of its subs now. They’ve also grabbed a bit more of the momentum, though they’ve still been out-passed today by nearly three to one. Last I checked, Spain had completed about 600 passes, Russian just under 200.
64’: Costa Offside
Diego Costa thought he had a little breakaway going against the Russian defense, but the offside flag is up. He just know it.
62’: Russia Brings on Cheryshev
Here comes Denis Cheryshev, on for Aleksandr Samedov at attacking midfielder. Cheryshev has played in Spain since he was 12, and would love to score against this team full of Real Madrid and Barcelona players.
60’: Silva Misses
A great chance for Spain and David Silva. He creates a little bit of space to get his head on a cross, but sends it wide of the left post.
59’: Corner for Spain
Diego Costa gets a nice through ball behind the defense, but his cutback is blocked out. Russia clears the subsequent corner away.
56’: Not Quite the Classic Spain
Spain looks like a version of classic Spain that has been run through the copier. It’s definitely Spain, but they’re lacking the edge, the detail and the definition that made them Spain.
It’s not possession to intentionally lull Russia to sleep, or possession that is constantly probing for openings. It’s possession that isn’t creative enough to regularly trouble Russia.
50’: Will Spain Attack?
For Russia, the plan is simple: Keep doing what they’re doing. For Spain, the decision is much harder: When, if ever, do they try something new? Spain has always been supremely confident in sticking to their game plan, assuming the goal is coming eventually. But they could go more direct to Diego Costa, or bring players like Andres Iniesta, Thiago or Iago Aspas off the bench.
48’: Spain Changes Strategy
Spain immediately on the attack, with Isco doing most of the hard work. The ball eventually skips to a wide open Jordi Alba, but it’s at an awkward height and he’s only able to thrust a quadriceps at it.
46’: Russia Makes a Change
We are underway! Russia has brought Vladimir Granat on for Yury Zhirkov.
Russia stays in the 5-4-1 though. No change in formation.
Halftime: Spain 1, Russia 1
Spain and Russia go into the half all even 1-1, as the World Cup of strange goals continues. Spain’s came on a free kick own goal, while Russia’s was from a yellow card after a hand ball in the box.
Spain has dominated possession but failed to generate many chances, while Russia has sat back and looked to score on the counter.
Andrew Das: Spain must be kicking itself for not pressing harder for a second goal before halftime. They were in total control, and Russia was willing to lie back and take whatever they did. But content in possession, Spain was happy to play keepaway — a winning strategy unless, you know, you somehow give up the tying goal and let the hosts and the crowd roar back to life.
Now Russia will probably go into the locker room thinking, “You know …….”
45+2’: Russian Counterattack Fizzles
The half ends with a Diego Costa header and a Russian counterattack, but neither amount to anything.
45’: Spain Finally Takes a Shot
In the final minute of the first half, Spain takes their first shot. It’s from Marco Asensio outside the box, and it is blocked.
43’: Spain’s Shaky Defense
Spain’s defense has been uncharacteristically error-prone this World Cup, but at some point it stops being uncharacteristic and is simply the reality of the situation: David de Gea’s fumbled shot in the opener, Ramos and Iniesta’s miscommunication against Morocco and now Pique’s hand ball for a goal here.
41’: GOAL! Russia Equalizes
Artem Dzyuba slams the ball into the corner as de Gea dives the wrong way. The Moscow stadium sounds deafening.
Strange arguments from Spain over the penalty: Pique rose with his arm over his head. Even with his back turned, that’s an unnatural position that’s indefensible when he got an advantage from it. The score is even, though the game surely has not been.
Penalty kick for Russia! Big Artem Dzyuba rose highest on the corner kick, and headed the ball off of Gerard Pique’s arm, which was sticking up straight in the air.
39’: Russia Takes Control
All of a sudden Russia is on the front foot, and Spain’s defense looks unorganized. Russian corner coming up.
36’: Chance Russia!
Sergio Ramos was unable to deal with a high ball, eventually giving Aleksandr Golovin a shot from 15 yards out, but he curls the ball wide of a diving David de Gea and wide of the post.
32’: Spain Spreads Out
Spain is really trying to stretch Russia out, with Jordi Alba and Nacho practically stuck to the sidelines, and Sergio Ramos pinging balls from sideline to sideline.
28’: Russia Should Go to the Air
If Russia can get some high balls into the box, they would seemingly have an advantage. Forward Artem Dzyuba is enormous, and outside of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, Spain doesn’t really have height or physicality at the back.
Andrew Das: The crowd is turning on Spain’s possession now, whistling as they just toy with the Russians. But Russia isn’t doing much to change the game here, either. Current pass count on that last stoppage: Spain 231, Russia 58. It’s going to get worse.
22’: Spain Leads Without Taking a Shot
Russia’s defense is actually performing quite well. Spain has yet to take a shot, and haven’t really had any dangerous chances except for the free kick. Too bad that free kick resulted in a goal.
17’: Now Russia Must Push
At some point Russia will have to open up in search of a tying goal, but when will that be? Probably not until the second half.
14’: Russia Gets a Chance
Roman Zobnin sees an opening and takes it from midrange. His shot sails over the bar.
12’: GOAL! Spain Leads
Sergio Ramos was defended 1-on-1 at the back post on the free kick, and it looked like he managed to get a foot on the ball while practically being tackled.
On replay, that will be ruled a Sergey Ignashevich own goal. Ramos was swinging at it, but the ball ultimately bounced off the back of Ignashevich’s leg and in. I suppose the lesson here is to not turn your back to the ball while tackling the attacker on a free kick. That’s the second own goal for Russia in this tournament.
Andrew Das: Ramos will claim that goal, scored while he and Ignashevich fell together at the back post. Tough break — Ignashevich knew nothing of it — but fair for Spain, which has dominated so far. That’s the 10th own goal of the tournament by the way, a World Cup record. Far and away the leader for the Golden Boot.
10’: Free Kick for Spain
Yuri Zhirkov’s rough challenge draws a foul from the referee Bjorn Kuipers. Spain will have a dangerous free kick from the wing, as soon as Nacho gets some treatment for taking studs in the leg.
7’: Spain Keeps Possession
So far the game is playing to type. Spain has all of the possession and is attempting to unlock the Russian defense with quick movement and passing, while the one time Russia got the ball they made a break for it and earned a corner.
Andrew Das: Spain in complete control in the first 10 minutes, just passing the ball back and forth, around and around, and probing that back five when there’s a chance. When Russia does break, the crowd roars, and Golovin even won a corner at one point. But Russia did nothing with it, and we’re right back to Spain on the ball. The possession stats are going to be wildly lopsided today
5’: Zhirkov Fires First
Yuri Zhirkov grabs a rebound and lets one fly from long range. Spain gets a body on it. No threat.
3’: Russia Heavy in the Back
Russia has an ultra-defensive setup. They are starting 5 defenders at the back, and their breakout star of this World Cup, Denis Cheryshev, is on the bench. He started the tournament on the bench, but came into the first game early after Alan Dzagoev’s injury.
Andrew Das: Russia is playing five across the back today, with the 38-year-old Sergey Ignashevich holding down the center. Diego Costa already has set up shop in his living room.
3’: Spain Probing
Jordi Alba tries to take it himself for Spain, but Russia’s defense deals with him quickly.
We are underway! Spain is in red, hosts Russia are in white, and 80,000 fans are in Luzhniki Stadium to cheer them on.
Andrew Das: Today’s referee is a veteran Dutchman, Bjorn Kuipers. He’ll know the Spanish players from European games.