FIFA World Cup – Knockouts: Russia vs Spain #mytake

Another fancied nation bit the dust in this world cup while playing a much lesser footballing nation. While the match was tactically brilliant, it probably was not good to see as a football viewer. Quality wise, player to player, Spain is much ahead of Russia, but still they could not score the winning goal due to a wrong strategy?

However, we had all the nuances of the “first-timers” in this match in this world cup – the first match that went to extra time in the knockout round, the first match that saw the 4th substitution in the extra time based on a new rule of FIFA, the first match that went to tiebreakers as well.

I am also sharing some statistics posted at the end of this article, from where you can make your own judgement. Now, coming to my take of this match:

  1. As I have been pointing out in many matches in this world cup, possession of the ball is good but not good enough. It is good PROVIDED you have genuine attacking elements to drive home some goals. You are having 74% possession for entire first half and yet you just have 3 shots at goal? You play 438 passes with 90% accuracy and yet you have a minimal shots at goal? This means all your passes are effectively not breaking the defense of your opponents. Now, if your opponent is patient and strong in defense, your strengths of controlling the game just goes out of the window. This is exactly what happened to Spain in this match.Even as the match progressed, their possession, passes played just increased in numbers with a not so increase in the effective number of shots at goal. On the other hand, if you see Russia’s statistics, you will see them relatively more effective. With just 1/5th of the possession, you are managing 1/3rd of the number of shots at goal as compared to Spain.
  2. Russia’s defense was organized with 5 in the last line with an additional screen of 3 or sometimes 4 in their own midfield. So, all the predictable passing was being thwarted by the Russians easily. They also showed enough patience and maintained the defensive formation throughout the match. Showed lots of maturity by the Russians and this meant the Russian strategy was working quite fine.
  3. The speed and pace of the Spanish attack was again quite slow and pathetic in most of the times. While France showed pace in their attacks against Argentina, Spain failed to do so. Having young players like Asensio, Isco failed to increase the pace of the play, which was quite surprising to me. Maybe, the players are so used to this style of slow passing, they are unable to switch gears easily.
  4. Playing with one striker, Diego Costa was totally ineffective when there were not enough wing play for him to engage in physical battles and headers. He just had 2 shots on target in the 80 minutes he played in the match. It’s not his fault, but the fault of not playing enough through the wings and giving those crosses for him to show his strength as a classical striker.
  5. All big teams playing this kind of possession football without much pace (like Argentina, Germany, Spain, etc) have got big shocks in this world cup. Maybe all weaker opponents have read the strategy well and have effectively built alternate strategies to counter this one. Net-net, this strategy is no longer effective and it’s time the big coaches and teams think of alternate ones.

Key statistics:

Spain Russia
At half time 74% 26%
After end of the 90 minutes 78% 22%
At the end of extra time 79% 21%
Passes Played / Pass accuracy
Spain Russia
At half time 438 / 90% 144 / 70%
After end of the 90 minutes 770 / 90% 162 / 70%
At the end of extra time 1114 / 90% 290 / 66%
Total shots / Shots on target
Spain Russia
At half time 3 / 2 5 / 1
After end of the 90 minutes 12 / 5 6 / 1
At the end of extra time 24 / 9 7 / 1


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