Tue, Jul 03, 2018 - Page 16 News List

World Cup: Russia win ‘only the beginning’: coach

END OF AN ERA:The defeat also marked the end of the Spain career of Andres Iniesta, who was brought in the second half for his 131st and final appearance

AFP, MOSCOW

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saves a penalty against Spain in the shoot-out of their FIFA World Cup round-of-16 match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov believes the World Cup hosts’ shock victory over title contenders Spain on penalties following a 1-1 draw “is only the beginning.”

Captain Igor Akinfeev on Sunday saved two penalties as Russia triumphed 4-3 in a dramatic shoot-out in Moscow to reach a first quarter-final since the end of the Soviet Union.

“I’m not the man of the match, the man of the match is our team and our fans,” said Akinfeev, after each converted penalty, and his saves from Koke and Iago Aspas, were greeted with a deafening roar from a crowd of 78,011 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Russia were largely expected to just make up the numbers at their own tournament after entering with a seven-match winless run and ranked the lowest of the 32 teams.

Cherchesov has masterminded a remarkable upturn in fortunes, with back-to-back wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt to launch their campaign sparking a wave of national euphoria.

They rode that support, and occasionally their luck, to recover from falling behind to a 12th-minute own-goal by Sergei Ignashevich.

Artem Dzyuba equalized with a penalty shortly before halftime after Spain defender Gerard Pique was punished for a handball.

Russia’s defense then held firm as Spain dominated possession before the heroics of Akinfeev triggered wild celebrations in the rain.

However, Cherchesov refused to get carried away and spoke like a man on a mission after his side booked a quarter-final clash with Croatia.

“I believe that it’s only the beginning so I have to save my emotions for the future,” said Cherchesov, who at times gestured toward the crowd to lift the noise levels. “Today we found the right place at the right time and we achieved the maximum we could. Now it’s over and I’m thinking only about the next game. These are very simple, not very sophisticated emotions.”

“It wasn’t open football on our part,” he said. “They are better than us in many ways so I don’t believe we should risk going forward and I think we chose the correct tactic.”

Spain joined fellow heavyweights Germany and Argentina in making a premature exit, raising questions as to the wisdom of sacking Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the competition.

Lopetegui was axed by the Spanish federation with the team already in Russia after agreeing a deal to become Real Madrid coach next season.

Spain arrived at the finals unbeaten in 20 matches since Lopetegui took over following Euro 2016, with the 2010 world champions winning just once in four games with Fernando Hierro at the helm.

“I accept the responsibility, I am the head coach. If anyone needs to shoulder this responsibility it’s me,” Hierro said. “I have nothing to hold against anybody. I put my reputation out there because that’s what my job required.”

Hierro was a risky choice given his lack of coaching experience — just one season in charge of second-tier Real Oviedo — but he was reluctant to reflect on Spain’s chaotic start to the tournament.

“We can’t start finger-pointing at anyone and laying any blame here,” he said. “We need to be realistic. The situation was what it was and we need to call a spade a spade.”

“We had opportunities to win this match, but we ended up in a penalty shoot-out which is basically a lottery and we weren’t lucky,” he added.

The defeat also marked the end a of glittering international career for Andres Iniesta, who was brought on midway through the second half for his 131st and final appearance for Spain.

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