Spain v Russia: Match Preview
The Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup 2018 begins this Saturday. The following afternoon, Sunday 1st July, Spain will take on the hosts, Russia. Kick-off at 3:00pm (UK time).
Spain have been a mixed bag so far at the tournament, while still being arguably the strongest side in Russia. They put on a very strong second half display in the thrilling 3-3 opener with Portugal, bar a few mistakes from individuals in the first half. Spain's second game v Iran was a tough test against a seriously stubborn defense, they scraped through with a 1-0 win, which was probably a fair result based on the game. The final group game against Morocco was filled with sloppiness and errors, although they just had enough quality to finish top, rescuing a late 2-2 draw.
Spain have been very hot and cold thus far. While having so much individual quality all over the pitch, they still seem complacent and shaky at the back, there's been mistakes from numerous players, David de Gea most notably, Gerard Pique, and a mix-up between Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta in the final game.
Russia started off very strong in front of their home crowd. They brushed aside Saudi Arabia 5-0, with great performances from Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev. Russia then followed up with a strong performance knocking out Egypt, 3-1, only conceding to a late penalty from Mohamed Salah.
The real test came when they face Uruguay, which their team spirit fell apart, Russia went 2-0 down early on in the match, then defender Igor Smolnikov also was red carded. They limped into second place in the group, the stern test facing the Uruguayans seemed a step too far.
SPAIN (4-3-3): De Gea; Carvajal, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Koke, Iniesta; Asensio, Isco, Costa.
RUSSIA (4-2-3-1): Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov; Gazinskiy, Zobnin; Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba.
Spain will dominate the possession for large spells of the match, but it's obvious that under new management, Fernando Hierro, they aren't completely comfortably defensively, or when they're defending under fast transitions. The Russians should trouble Spain numerous times in the 90 minutes, with their trickery and speed on the break.
Spain cannot afford any individual errors at the back, but you would trust the experienced players to raise the level of their game in the World Cup knockouts stage. Koke should come in to add extra solidity to the midfield, replacing the technically-gifted Thiago Alcantara.
As shown in the previous match against Uruguay, Russia will struggle against top quality opposition. Spain is certainly one of the biggest contenders for the World Cup this year, and they should have enough to see off the hosts.
RESULT: Spain 2-1 Russia
MAN OF THE MATCH: Isco