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Spain won’t be missed at the World Cup...


Spain were knocked out on penalties from a World Cup where, to be truthful, we’re not going to be that badly missed. Spain didn’t play well in any of their games. But it’s also true to say things might have finished better yesterday for Hierro’s men. The team dillydallied their way through 80 minutes of the match, as if all of them, save Isco, had been bitten by a tsetse fly. But then, with the entrance of Iago Aspas, Spain woke up. And in extra-time, when he was accompanied by Rodrigo, there was even more of an attacking edge. It somewhat made up for the previous loitering around, but, although Russia were knackered having run more than the Spaniards, their goalkeeper Akinfeev seized the moment. He took his team to the penalty shoot-out. And saved two.

Spain thought they'd done enough

The truth of the matter is, Spain scored first, a good free-kick from Asensio to the back post, where Ramos was tussling with Ignasievich, who took his eye off the ball, went to bring the Spaniard down and ended up knocking the ball into his own net. Sergio Ramos ran off, the sound of the Triumphal March from Verde’s Aida playing in his head, to celebrate a goal he hadn’t scored, in what seemed to me to an excessive manner. The problem was that Spain believed this was going to be enough and dozed off. Russia drew level with an avoidable handball from Piqué, leading to a penalty which Dzyuba converted. Afterwards, Spain indulged in a very long spell of doing very, very little, until Iago Aspas appeared, full of drive, to activate the group. Aspas and sheer necessity.

Russia, the hosts, celebrate

Russia celebrated getting to the penalty shootout. And with that feeling about them they scored four and their keeper stopped two. They didn’t need to score their fifth. What a shame the final miss was from Aspas, who was, in addition to Isco, Spain’s best in their sorry spell in Russia. It’s difficult to knock the home side out. The VAR hasn’t changed that. Kuipers gave a fair penalty against us, from Piqué’s hand, but he was a lot less strict with the pull on Ramos at the end. A question of ‘interpretation’ which the VAR didn’t get involved in. To knock the hosts out you need to do more than against other sides. Because in the case of doubt the referee will always blow one way.