Hosts Russia sent Spain home on a 4-3 penalties scores, thanks to two saves by their goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev on Sunday to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals and send thousands of ecstatic Russians to the streets to celebrate.
The 32-year-old keeper saved Koke’s and Iago Aspas’ spot kicks after both teams had scored two apiece in Russia’s first ever World Cup penalty shootout, to set up a last eight clash with either Denmark or Croatia, after a lackluster 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
With Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev watching from the stands, Russia’s qualification triggered a wave of enthusiasm for the host nation as thousands celebrated in the capital’s iconic Red Square and beyond.
“Players will not do things just because the coach says so. They have to feel it and tonight they did it,” said Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov.
“To be a strong team is one thing, but you have to be the best on the pitch. Tonight, we were that team at the right place at the right time,” added the coach, who had received a phone call from President Vladimir Putin a few hours before the game.
It may have been a dry 120 minutes but there was high drama in the shootout for the 78,000 spectators at Luzhniki Stadium, with all four Russian penalty-takers keeping their cool and Muscovite Akinfeev doing well to deny Koke’s effort.
Akinfeev, who started his professional career by saving a spot kick in his first ever match, then kicked Aspas’ penalty high and wide to trigger wild celebrations.
“In the second half, we were trying to defend. We were hoping for penalties and that’s what happened, thank God,” the keeper said.
It was a painful World Cup exit for Spain and coach Fernando Hierro, who replaced Julen Lopetegui, fired on the eve of the tournament after accepting Real Madrid’s offer to be their manager.