Spain 1-1 Russia (3-4 pens): Form Loses to Essence as Hosts Shock La Roja

If football is more than merely a sport – art or even a way of life – then a philosophical description of the match at Luzhniki between Spain and Russia is befitting.  

Aristotle and Plato were the first ones to touch on the subject of essence, which in philosophical terms is the property that makes substance what it is in it’s fundamental core, compared to form which in the simplest of terms is a reflection of essence.

Apply it to the match in which the host nation of the World Cup successfully eliminated one of the remaining favourites to lift the title and you’ll see a victory of essence over form in a dramatic penalty shootout.

The Spanish expedition was quick to take the lead after only twelve minutes of play. Sergei Ignashevich redirected Marco Asensio’s free-kick, leaving Igor Akinfeev without a chance of collecting the ball as La Roja set sail towards what was expected to be a clear-cut victory. 

Spain dominated proceedings and completed 1,029 passes in total compared to Russia’s 202. La Roja directed the play, held the reins for the majority of the game but the form of their play ultimately fell victim to the essence of the hosts.

Some call it anti-football, others refer to it as pragmatism, but Russia’s rearguard paid dividends in the end, pushing them through to the World Cup quarterfinals. Finesse and fancy footwork was undone by tenacity and stubbornness as Russia refused to crack down under pressure and ended up celebrating another upset at the tournament. In the end, no one remembers the team that played well but the one that won. The essence. Right there.

Russia’s hard-fought win, however, was more than a triumph of tenacity. It was a victory of mental strength, and of not cracking under pressure. It was also a win largely achieved by three outstanding individuals – Ilya Kutepov, Igor Akinfeev and Mario Fernandes.

Though the Twelve rating generator placed them in fourth, sixth and seventh place, respectively, a deeper insight into the contribution of these players paints a more illustrative picture.

Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksandr Golovin and Artem Dzuba are all ahead of our highlighted trio but that’s largely down to the fact they were all successful from the white spot in the shoot out, which led to them collecting a huge chunk of their overall ratings. As we all know, a goal provides a very significant 1,000 points.

A simple tap on the defence tab paints an entirely different picture, though.

The 24-year-old Spartak Moscow centre-back Ilya Kutepov emerged as Stanislav Cherchesov’s first-choice defender alongside the old dog Sergey Ignashevich. His commanding presence has allowed Kutepov to flourish at this World Cup.

The total of 1,553 points accumulated by the Russian defender during 126 minutes of play against Spain serves as proof of a successfully passed test, which saw Kutepov resist Spanish advances a number of times at different positions. He roamed through the defensive line to cover up spaces, and ended up losing just one aerial duel and committing two fouls in an otherwise impeccable display.

Widely perceived as one of the best goalkeepers around though he never took up a chance to play outside Russia, Igor Akinfeev once again proved his quality on Sunday night. Often criticised and his value downplayed, the CSKA Moscow custodian made nine key saves in a close to flawless display.

The experienced shot-stopper had a direct hand in pushing the Russians through, as two stopped penalties saw Akinfeev emerge as his nation’s hero from the dramatic penalty shootout.

Let’s also have a look at how Mario Fernandes – a man who doesn’t speak a word of Russian – helped his team go through to the quarter-finals. The Brazil-born defender’s path to prominence makes a remarkable story, and one which depicts how the true power of football transcends the language barriers.

The CSKA Moscow man made the most touches for Russia and was the most attack-minded player who attempted to break lines running up and down the right hand-side touchline. Unlock the ‘only important actions’ slider in the widget above and enjoy the heat map.

His consistent attempts to make something happen outshone Aleksandr Samedov – primarily in charge of the creating part – whereas the 1,324 points awarded by Twelve are indeed a clear indicator of his growing influence at this tournament.