Host nation Russia square of versus Spain in a round of 16 match-up that will reveal whether the Russian team is in the midst of a footballing renaissance, or whether they are frauds. Both teams play a box-to-box style which should result in an entertaining, free flowing match. Spain topped Group B with 5 points and a goal differential of +1, earned through a win versus Iran and two thrilling draws. Russia were runners up in Group A with 6 points and a goal differential of +4, earned through two convincing wins and blowout loss.
Russia opened the world cup with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia-the lowest ranked team in field of 32. Continued with another blowout of weaker opposition in Egypt. Russia's weaknesses in the centre of their defence were exposed when matched up against a quality opponent in Uruguay where they lost 3-0. Russia have shown some attacking flair and a willingness to press forward in the final third. Midfielder Denis Cheryshev has been impressive with 3 goals in the group phase. Yuri Zhirkov is a veteran defender who offers Russia's back line some stability. However the 34-year old will need some help in dealing with the unique threat posed by Diego Costa. Fedor Smolov is Russia's top striker, however he has yet to find the back of the net this tournament.
Spain entered the tourney with some uncertainty after firing manager Julen Lopetegui, 48 hours before start of the World Cup and replacing him with Fernando Hierro. This remarkable personnel move seemingly hasn't affected the team, as there is continuity and experience in the squad and the veteran players have taken on a larger share of the leadership duties on the pitch. Spain have been the dominant force in World football of this era. Winning titles in three consecutive tournaments: Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, they clearly have championship pedigree. With star players Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, Gerrard Piqué and Sergio Ramos in their 30s, this may be Spain's last hurrah. David de Gea is arguably, the number 1 goalkeeper in the world. However, he has allowed 5 goals in three matches and has looked far from sharp. Diego Costa has been a force in front of goal, using his physicality to frustrate defenders. Spain's superior advantage is in the midfield. Iniesta is still the lynchpin who pulls all the strings and his link up play with David Silva has spurred Spain's attack. The x-factor for Spain may be Francisco ‘Isco’ Alarcón, the young star has been Spain's most consistent performer.
Russia will have 80,000 fans in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium behind them, but will it provide enough of a boost to get past Spain?
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