Spain and Russia will meet in the Round of 16 as both look to advance to the quarter-finals. The Spanish would have been considered strong favourites on paper ahead of the tournament. However, the hosts have not been as poor as others may have expected.
Spain v Russia
The Spanish have suffered with their problems too. The farcical sacking of Julen Lopetegui seems to have had an effect. The players are not playing as well as many would have expected. Those performances saw them just scrape through Group B, despite topping the group.
The Russians were rather prolific in their first two games, admittedly against Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They were soon found out against Uruguay in their final match which showed their vulnerability at the back.
Spain Need to Improve Defensively
As mentioned, La Rioja were considered one of the pre-tournament favourites to lift the trophy. They will be wanting to make sure they improve immediately and will have a chance against the hosts to show they mean business.
However, their record against host nations in major tournaments is one that does not read easy. In eight games that they have played against a host country, they have never recorded a victory and have just drawn once.
Fernando Hierro will have the whole squad available to choose from. This will give him plenty of options to consider and changes could be made following their draw with Morocco.
One area La Rioja will need to improve on Sunday is their defence. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique have looked vulnerable at the back and there is an opportunity for their opponents to get in behind.
Diego Costa, who is currently the country’s top scorer with three goals, will need to be firing his adopted nation through to the next round. The Atletico Madrid hitman netted twice against Portugal, as well as the winner against Iran, but found life difficult against Morocco.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Carvajal, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Koke, Iniesta, Isco; Costa, Aspas.
Russia Could Prove a Test
Russia will be heading into the Luzhniki with some confidence following their group exploits. They are currently one of the highest goalscorers in the competition and will want to make the most of Spain’s rocky defence.
They were found out in their last match of the tournament against Uruguay; a disappointing 3-0 defeat that looked to show they still had major problems.
The Russians will look to learn from their mistakes and will be focused on the fact that their opponents have not been in the best form either.
Aleksandr Golovin will be the main man on Sunday as he continues to light up the football world. The 22-year-old has been attracting interest around Europe and if he plays well, Russia could be in with a chance of a shock.
Predicted XI: Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov; Zobnin, Kuzyaev, Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba.