A Wish Granted: A Tale of Penalty Kicks for Russia, Spain

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 01: The Russia team celebrate with Aleksandr Erokhin of Russia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Spain and Russia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 1, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Editorial (July, 5, 2018) — The nation’s capital of Russia boasts 11.92 million people, according to Russia’s last census.

However, only 81,000 people are allowed admittence to the Luzhniki Stadium. It’s the largest football stadium in Russia, a vast country that is the largest in the world. While 78,011 fans filled the seats on Sunday for Russia’s tilt against Spain, the majority of fans were in red, white and blue.

A Wish Granted: A Tale of Penalty Kicks for Russia, Spain

No, the U.S. National Team isn’t at the World Cup.

It’s a different red, white and blue. It’s the Russian flag that boasts the same colors. Russia relied on their fans — and penalty kicks — to carry the Cinderella run to the Quarterfinals.

Russia did the unthinkable, beating 2010 FIFA World Cup champion, Spain. The Spanish team completed over 1,000 passes, but none of their nine shots on goal could get past Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Akinfeev’s day wasn’t finished though.

The veteran goalkeeper — who features in the nation’s capital for CSKA Moscow and is Russia’s team captain — denied penalty kicks from Koke and Iago Aspas.

The later was more impressive. With every inch of himself, Akinfeev reached his leg out to deflect Aspas’ shot over the crossbar. Akinfeev’s teammates rushed to his side and embraced their team captain.

Even Russian fans in the stadium were stunned.

After the match, Akinfeev admitted that his side wanted the match to go to penalty kicks. Akinfeev also said he felt “emptied out” after the match.

“I did not train on penalties, as we were planning to win in regulation time, although I knew how each Spanish player would shoot,” Akinfeev said. “In the shots that I rejected, the Spaniards shot right where I thought. I was lucky and that’s it, this is a success for the whole Russian team, we should not highlight anyone.”

“The national team has given everyone a party, but that’s history, we want something more.”

The Perfect Russians

Members taking penalty kicks for Russia weren’t flashy.

There were hardly any stutter steps or bedazzled moves. Players didn’t even celebrate with flips and twists. Instead, after successfully completing the job — which was sending shots past David De Gea — Russian penalty kick takers simply pumped their fists in the air and yelled for joy.

Fedor Smolov lined up first and then Sergey Ignashevich, Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev followed. Russia didn’t even need a fifth penalty kick taker.

The Russians proved that De Gea isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.

After having a monster season in the English Premier League with Manchester United, De Gea had a disastrous World Cup.

Out of seven shots on goal, that De Gea faced, by any of Spain’s opponents, six went past him.

De Gea will return to England and wonder what went wrong. Could it have been Spain’s sudden manager shift before the tournament? Was Sergio Ramos just not good enough?

Questions will be surrounding Spain for the coming months. But right now, the Russians are still partying. Even if Russia falls to Croatia on Saturday, there will still be a party in the host country.

Aleksandr Golovin makes his name known

While Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba are taking turns scoring goals, Aleksandr Golovin is providing the assists.

Akinfeev’s teammate at CSKA Moscow, Golovin is only 22-years-old. He’s making a name for himself, already being in the midst of transfer rumors. Right now, he’s on the world’s biggest scouting stage.

Golovin has been everywhere on the pitch for Russia. He features in the midfield, but is a regular fixture as a defensive midfielder and has even starred up top. He and Dzyuba, despite the lack of appearances together, have formed a solid partnership.

During the World Cup, Golovin has recorded one goal and two assists. He’ll need to stay at his top form against Croatia and Luka Modric.

What’s Next?

The Quarterfinals.

Russia has a date in Sochi — the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics — with Croatia. How Croatia got to the quarterfinals was a penalty shoot out victory over Denmark.

The match will begin at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

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