Spain came into this game facing a barrage of criticism with their performances in the group stage verging on the banal despite, somehow, coming to the top of their group.
They had the chance to banish the demons from their below-par qualifying campaign and remind everybody that they were group winners, undefeated in the 2018 World Cup and indeed their previous 23 games.
Sunday’s exit on penalties to a stubborn Russian side proved once again that this Spanish side has lost its stability and its spark due in no uncertain terms to the poor form of some its fundamental players.
The biggest disappointment in this World Cup has been David Silva, normally the fulcrum of the team he contributed diddly squat to the cause.
After two magnificent games on Saturday night, this was the devil incarnate of football matches, with Russia looking forward to the penalty shoot out from the first blow on the referee’s whistle.
Fans were left wondering at the start why stand-in coach Fernando Hierro (who was thrown in at the deep end for this job) had left out his two inventive mid-fielders, Andres Iniesta and Thiago, which meant there was no creativity in the engine room.
Our very own Marco Asensio started in place of Iniesta but apart from laying on the opener (an own goal by some Russian hitman called Ignashevich) from a left-footed free kick he was hardly involved in proceedings. For most of the first half Spain were like David Beckham on the general knowledge section of Mastermind, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, in what was a snooze fest.
The opening goal saw Sergio Ramos being dragged to the ground and the big Russian defender got what he deserved. I mean, come on, imagine anybody trying to get the better of Ramos by skullduggery?!
For some reason Spain looked like they couldn’t, or didn’t want to, attack. One commentator said watching Spain on Sunday passing the ball to death was like being at an airport baggage carousel watching it go round and round and your suitcase never appears! La Roja found little joy against the host nation despite setting team and individual records for passing success, 1137 passes for nothing, there was too much dilly dallying.
Pique absurdly handled in the area, meaning Spain were pegged back by Artem Dzyuba’s spot kick 1-1, a result that stayed that way until the end of extra time. And so to the lottery of penalties, Koke and Aspas missed for Spain, as the team failed to book their place in the quarter finals. It was noticeable that every single visit by the Spanish players to the penalty spot seemed like a death row walk.
SUMMING UP: This was a horrible game of football and not a good watch if you were a Spanish supporter, as complacency edged into their game.
As for Russia they did what they had to do, giving them their first win over “Spanski” since the break up of the Soviet Union.
The Spanish team deserved more from the 120 minutes, they controlled the game from start to finish but hard work by the Russian rearguard made their job incredibly difficult.
La Roja had absolutely no cutting edge for all their intricate passing and Tiki-Taka play, leaving lone striker Diego Costa up against five defenders.
Frustration was the key word for Spain, so many passes were sideways and backwards, Russia just sat back and watched.
For the eagle-eyed viewer, history was made in extra time, both sides brought on a fourth substitute.
This was the first year that teams were allowed to make an additional substitution in extra time. As for Spain, it’s back to the drawing board and they still have the unwanted honour of NEVER beating a host nation at a World Cup or European Championship in nine previous attempts.
Next up for them it’s England at Wembley in October in the new UEFA Nations League.
There is too much talent in the national side to be traumatised for too long by this last 16 exit. However, for a style and a culture that have been beautiful to watch at times, they have now come to an end, pass the panuelos!
Some Spanish pundits said after the game “Would we have done any better if Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez hadn’t sabotaged the team by signing Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup?” We’ll never know. Ex Mallorca manager (twice) Gregorio Manzano is allegedly on the short-list to become the next national coach but the favourite looks likely to be ex Barça boss, Luis Enrique. An appointment is expected in the next fortnight.