World Cup: Scares and Upsets

Iago Aspas and Koke misfired from the penalty spot for Spain as Russia went the distance to defeat the 2010 World Champions in Moscow 4-3 on penalty kicks. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev ‘s two stops in the penalty kick stage clinched the Russians a spot in the quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history.

Saturday the hosts will face Croatia (The Blazers) in Sochi. The Croatians also snuck into the quarter-finals with a 3-2 shootout victory of their own over Denmark. Two goals inside four minutes from each team set off what would be an enticing bout.

Despite being heavy favorites, Croatia were intelligently contested Sunday. Over the 120 minutes of play and penalty kicks, both goalkeepers displayed fine saves to keep their teams in the game. Kasper Schmeichel’s 116th minute block of Luka Modric’s penalty kick propelled Denmark to the shootout round.

In penalties, the Dane would go on to block two more. Unfortunately, Croatia’s keeper Danijel Subasic managed to keep three shots out of his net, winning the game for The Blazers.

Croatia will face an inspired Russian squad that has nothing to lose and has already exceeded expectations. Knocking Spain out in the Round of 16 earned the host nation a true underdog title. Its 60 spot difference (Spain no. 10, Russia no. 70) in FIFA Rankings is the largest margin a dark horse has bounced a higher ranking.

Russia had 25% possession in the match against Spain who also had four times more connected passes than the hosts. Russia’s 16 tackles, 10 blocks, and 47 clearances however demonstrated the squad’s resilience.

The Blazers should expect more of the same come Saturday from a Russia who look to continue its simple tactics if they are to carry on.