29th of June 2018 Author: Johnny Karp
Host nation Russia will have to fight against the odds on Sunday, when they face former World Champions Spain at Luzhniki Arena in the first knockout round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The two teams have met in a friendly match last year and it was quite a spectacular one, it ended 3-3 in Saint Petersburg. They have also met twice at the 2008 European Championship, Spain won 4-1 in the group stage with a hat-trick from David Villa and then 3-0 in the semi-finals. Russia have not won any of their five matches against Spain in all competitions.
Spain were not very impressive in the group stage, they suffered quite heavily to qualify from a group that seemed a lot easier on paper. They started with a 3-3 draw against Portugal, then grabbed a narrow 1-0 victory over minnows Iran and in the last group match they avoided defeat against Morocco with a stoppage-time goal from substitute Iago Aspas. The 2-2 draw against Morocco allowed Spain to finish top of the group ahead of Portugal, but they will need to play a lot better if they want to reach the quarter-finals. Backup goalkeeper Pepe Reina is an injury doubt, David De Gea had very weak performances so far, so maybe head coach Fernando Hierro will give young goalie Kepa Arrizabalaga a chance this time.
Russia earned their place in the last sixteen with a game to spare as they won their first group stage matches, 6-0 over Saudi Arabia and 3-1 against Egypt. However, Uruguay taught them a pretty harsh lesson in the final group stage match, the South Americans won 3-0 and exposed the weaknesses in the Russian side. Igor Smolnikov is suspended for this match after being sent off against Uruguay, while Alan Dzagoev won't be able to play again at the 2018 World Cup due to an injury he picked up in the opening match.
Spain: Arrizabalaga - Carvajal, Pique, Ramos, Alba - Busquets, Niguez - Asensio, Isco, Iniesta - Costa
Russia: Akinfeev - Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov - Gazinskyi, Zobnin - Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev - Dzyuba
My prediction: Spain to win 1-0, Russia are not strong enough to reach the quarter-finals.
Here are the odds for the match at Bet365:
Spain win - 1.57
Draw - 4.00
Russia win - 7.00
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