The Philippine Star
WORLD CUP KO STAGE
RUSSIAN TANKS OUT TO BLAST SPANISH ARMADA
MOSCOW – A World Cup last-16 match between Spain and Russia would have seemed like a woeful mismatch a month ago but Sunday’s game in Moscow is now much more difficult to call thanks to the 2010 winner’s underwhelming campaign and the host’s blistering start.
Spain’s World Cup preparations were thrown into turmoil after coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked and replaced by Fernando Hierro just days before the start of the tournament.
Hierro’s side topped Group B but picked up only five points.
Russia, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, dispelled the doom and gloom by blitzing Saudi Arabia 5-0 and beating Egypt 3-1 to reach the knockout phase for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
While Stanislav Cherchesov’s side was brought back to earth by a 3-0 defeat to Uruguay, they could cause Spain problems at a partisan Luhzniki stadium if they can rediscover the energy that propelled them to those first two group wins.
Spanish defender Dani Carvajal says his side, which drew 3-3 with Portugal and 2-2 with Morocco, must tighten up at the back against the Russians.
“On Sunday we have a very difficult game against the host nation, which scored eight goals in two games and which will have the whole country behind it,” Carvajal said.
“Russia is a strong and quick team and we have to be very wary of giving the ball away. We have to be very focused and set ourselves up to exploit their weaknesses and capitalize on their errors.”
However, Carvajal said teams will be forced to attack more in the knockout stages, where he expects Spain to come out from the shadows and up its game.
“From now on the games are life or death, you can’t play for a draw, you either win or you go home,” he said.
“I think these games are going to be different and we will recover our best form.”
Spain and Russia played out a thrilling 3-3 draw in a friendly last November, while their last competitive meeting came at the Euro 2008 semifinals, where the Spaniards ran out 3-0 winners.
Russia’s veteran defender Sergei Ignashevich is one of three surviving members of that team in the current squad, and he said his side had studied how Iran and Morocco managed to trouble Spain defensively.
“Their defenders try to get high up the pitch and that leads to a lot of free space and allows you to create danger on the counterattack,” he said.