For too many times over the entire 120 minutes, that familiar arc in front of Russia’s box showed up from Jordi Alba to Nacho (Dani Carvajal replaced him in the 70th minute) via the supremely talented midfielders; the ball shifting from one Spanish boot to another.
That Spain raked in 1029 passes would not have been entirely surprising, this was a team ingrained with the culture of passing teams to submission. They had been very successful with it at the Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, so it was only logical when Fernando Hierro at his first news conference as the coach of Spain said he was going to change as little as possible.
How much could he realistically change? He had only come in to the side on the eve of the World Cup after Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales sacked Julen Lopetegui two days before the opening game against Portugal.
The Spanish team did not hit the pre-tournament height that was expected with their assortment of well-blended technicians. The exciting opening game draw against Portugal showed cracks in the side, the suspect defending and disappointing goalkeeping.
The win against Iran was labored and the goal was as ‘Unspainly’ as ever; a clearance that went in off Diego Costa. It took a bit of VAR magic for the side to battle to a draw against Morocco. The signs were there.