Spain 1-1 Russia (3-4 pk)
La Furia Roja were going to live and die with the patient and probing 4-2-3-1, no Andres Iniesta to start the game meant Marco Asensio and David Silva were going to be the flankers who serviced Diego Costa in the box, and Isco was given the important job of being support to Costa trailing in from the center. And when they didn’t have possession, Spain pressed high to get it back. Russia changed things up a bit with a conservative 5-3-2 counterattack, looking to limit Spain’s attacking options in the final third with a five-man backline (which meant no room for leading scorer Denis Cheryshev from the start), get the ball forward quickly to target man Artem Dzyuba holding up things for trailing forward Aleksandr Golovin, both getting service from Yury Zhirkov and Mário Fernandes on the flanks, but the point of attack was going to come through the center as sideline-to-sideline midfielder Aleksandr Golovin pulled the strings.
39-year-old Sergey Ignashevich showed his age early by messing up a defensive set piece on David Silva, putting it in his own goal in the 11th minute. As great as Russia was at set pieces, they were surprisingly horrible at defending them; this was the fourth set piece goal they allowed in the tournament to this point. On the rare occasions when Spain went long into the attacking third, Russia were 6’s and 7’s. If Russia was going to win this game, they needed to press Spain high to get the ball back and limit their possession; they did not. As usual, Spain got comfortable sitting in space, moving the ball from side to side, dictating flow and tempo, waiting for channels to run into, slowly gaining ground, testing their opponent’s resolve. Russia looked good running on Spain the few times they had the ball, but with no real organization or coordination. A rare handball by central defender Gerard Piqué in the box gave Russia a penalty kick in the 41st minute, Dzyuba converted. Russia’s five-man backline was incredibly disciplined and hard to break down; Spain did not have a shot on goal in the first half.
To get more offensive buildup through the center, Spain finally brought in Iniesta for Silva, who had a rather forgettable game. To get more finishing in the box, Russia finally brought in Cheryshev, and Fedor Smolov for help up top, but at the expense of Dzyuba up top, so no target man. There just wasn’t any quality shots on goal for either team through full time. Only Spain actually tried to win this game in extra time, Russia soaked up all the pressure and were clearly just hanging on. An unsatisfying game all around, with an unsatisfying end. For all their talent, Spain has reverted back to their old ways; an immensely talented side with the ability to win it all, coming up with ways to screw it up.
Croatia 1-1 Denmark (3-2 pk)
Croatia is going to play to its strengths in the midfield with a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ivan Rakitic making runs through the middle linking up with talisman Luka Modric going forward, Ivan Perisic making supporting runs from the left, and cultured Mario Mandzukic up top holding up play in the box. Denmark looked to spread things out in a 4-3-3 that played like a covering 4-1-4-1 if they had to drop back in numbers, with midfield creator Christian Erikson playing more centrally bringing the ball forward for the top three of Yussef Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite supporting the top man Andreas Cornelius in the box. Not a good start for the Croats, who were 6’s and 7’s on the set piece in the first minute that Mathias Jørgensen scored, goal I attribute more to goalkeeper error by Croat Danijel Subasic. But they put it to Denmark with a great offensive buildup on their first possession and equalized by Mandzukic, who was not going to miss from six yards out in the 4th minute.
Things settled in after that; a lot of long balls from Denmark early, while Croatia looked for a more patient buildup through the center. Both teams played to their strengths; Croatia had players who moved around creating space and opportunities in the final third; Denmark got the ball forward quickly on direct passes into the box, then drew set pieces, making things uncomfortable for the Croatian backline. I think Modric was doing too much, frequently going back into this own box to close down the Danish attack. Croatia turned up the heat in the second half, with long diagonal balls into the final third, diagonal runs into the box, makingit uncomfortable for the Danish backline. Both teams with great chances in front of the goal.
Croatia spent the early part of extra time hemmed in by Denmark. A clean, well-played game; neither team got a yellow card; lots of fouls by Denmark but nothing deliberate. I was surprised that a team like Croatia which is good at controlling flow and tempo, ceded that idiosyncrasy to Denmark. I don’t have a problem with the professional foul by Mathias Jørgensen in the box on a Croatian breakaway by Ante Rebic; Rebic had an empty goal and had to be brought down. Kasper Schmeichel with a great penalty save on Modric, he is his father Peter’s son. Another unsatisfying end to an unsatisfying day of futbol.