Instead of the end of the World Cup host's run, Sunday marked the biggest surprise we've seen yet in Russia.
Russia defeated Spain 4-3 in penalty kicks after 120 minutes of 1-1 play, overcoming an early own goal by Sergei Ignashevich with an Artem Dzyuba penalty kick and defending for its lives while Spain possessed over three-quarters of the ball at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. It's Russia, the lowest-ranked team at this World Cup, going onto the quarterfinals to face either Croatia or Denmark, while Spain's title hopes are finished.
Andres Iniesta opened the PK round with a conversion, but he was answered by Fyodor Smolov. Gerard Pique followed with a second conversion for Spain, but Sergei Ignashevich followed suit, with a bit of a hestiation in his run that made David De Gea show his hand.
Spain was the first to misfire, as Koke had the favorites' third spot kick saved by Igor Akinfeev. Aleksandr Golovin gave the hosts the edge, beating De Gea to make it 3-2 after three rounds. Sergio Ramos's conversion was matched by Denis Cheryshev's, forcing Spain to make its fifth kick to stay alive. That didn't happen. Iago Aspas had his blast down the middle stonewalled by a kick save, sending Russia through to the quarterfinals.
Both teams revealed some lineup surprises, with Russia opting for five in the back and benching top scorer Cheryshev–who plays in La Liga–while Spain opted to sit Iniesta and Dani Carvajal, instead starting Marco Asensio and Nacho.
Spain dominated the possession in the opening minutes, as plenty expected, but it was Russia that had the match's first semi-dangerous chance. Golovin burst down the right channel, beating Pique for pace and earning a corner when his cross was blocked. Nothing came of it, but it was a statement of intent from the Russians, who were set up to defend and counter with their lineup choice.
Spain took the lead in the 12th minute on an Asensio set piece. With Ramos and Ignashevich tangling at the doorstep and going to ground, the ball hit off the Russia defender, whose back was to the play, and in for the own goal, giving La Furia Roja a 1-0 edge.
From there, it was a slow death by possession for the hosts. With Spain seizing the early momentum and the home crowd not as boistrous as in the opening moments, Spain exerted its control over the ball and the game, comfortably nursing its lead.
Russia earned the chance it needed in the 36th minute. Enjoying a rare bout of possession in the attacking third, Russia had Spain's defense scrambling to clear, and the ball fell to Golovin at the top of the box. He took a touch to set up his right foot and whipped in a curling shot, aiming to tuck it inside the far post, but it went inches wide of the mark and a diving De Gea, keeping the score 1-0.
The equalizer came soon after, though. Off a Russia corner kick, Pique was whistled for a handball, with his arm extended as he jumped to defend it. Dzyuba converted from the spot in the 42nd minute, bringing the Luzhniki back to life and bringing Russia back on level standing.
Spain looked to retake the advantage early in the second half, pushing forward into the final third. Asensio sent in a cross that looped to Jordi Alba, but took an odd hop, with Alba only able to get an awkward knee to it and send it lofted toward the far post. Akinfeev was forced into a diving save to his left, and the veteran goalkeeper made the clean stop.
The second half continued to develop like most of the first, with Spain possessing and passing without much of a purpose and Russia seeking to counter and score off set pieces. Russia turned to its bench at the hour mark, bringing on Cheryshev at last, while Spain, too, brought in a surprise substitute as Iniesta entered to try and inject something more decisive into the attacking half.
It was Iniesta who came closest to a winner late. The former Barcelona legend had the ball laid off to him at the edge of the box, and he lashed in a low, right-footed volley in the 85th minute. Akinfeev got down to make the stop, and Aspas, on as a late substitute for Diego Costa, put his chance off the rebound well wide of the mark from a tight left-sided angle.
The match remained level through 90 minutes and stoppage time, sending the proceedings to extra time for a first time at this World Cup. That allowed for a bit of history, as with the new rule change, allowing teams a fourth substitution once things moved beyond regulation, Aleksandr Erokhin came on as Russia's fourth sub of the match.
In terms of the action, Spain continued to carry the possession without much to show for it. Asensio got free for a 20-yard shot at goal, but it was hit right to Akinfeev, who made the save. A few minutes later, Asensio was taken off as Spain made its fourth substitute, as seldom-used Rodrigo came on in his place.
Rodrigo made an instant impact, too, turning on his defender, then turning on the jets down the right-hand side. He fired from a tight angle, but Akinfeev was equal to it, parrying the shot away. Spain had a chance on the rebound, but the follow-up chance was blocked, keeping Russia even at 1-1.
Spain though it had a shout for a penalty in the 114th minute. Both Pique and Ramos appeared to be yanked down on a free kick, and even though the referee listened in as VAR reviewed the play, he waved the match to continue on, resisting despite Spain's most fervent claims.
Rodrigo forced another save in the 120th minute, putting a left-footed shot on frame from 20 yards, but nothing too troubling for Akinfeev.
From there, Akinfeev became the hero, making his two saves in penalties to keep Russia's dream run on home soil going.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad)
Midfielders: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Isco (Real Madrid)
Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)
Manager: Fernando Hierro
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Aleksandr Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Aleksandr Yerokhin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow)
Forwards: Artem Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar)
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov