Preview: Spain v Russia

Spain will be hoping to find their form on Sunday when they take on a Russia side eager to defy the odds in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.

2018 World Cup

Date: 1 July 2018

Round of 16

Kick-off: 16H00 (GMT+2)

Venue: Stadion Luzhniki

Previous encounter:

Russia 3-3 Spain 14/11/17 (Friendly)

Russia goalscorers: F. Smolov (41′, 70′), A. Miranchuk (51′)

Spain goalscorers: J. Alba (9′), S. Ramos (35′, 53′)

Players to watch:

Combative striker Diego Costa has been clinical for Spain thus far. The Atletico Madrid star has bagged three goals for his country. He netted a brace against Portugal before scoring the winner against Iran. With David Silva and Andres Iniesta supplying him, Costa should be a real threat once again.

Russia have been performing above expectations at the World Cup thanks largely to the attacking exploits of Artem Dzyuba, Denis Cheryshev, and Aleksandr Golovin. Between them, they have scored six of Russia’s eight goals and produced three assists.

Team form and manager quotes:

La Roja have endured a tumultuous World Cup campaign which started off with the sacking of their manager, Julen Lopetegui, only two days before the tournament was underway.

The 2010 World Cup champions finished top of Group B, ahead of second-placed Portugal, but were far from convincing in their performances. They started with a 3-3 draw against Portugal before beating Iran 1-0 and drawing 2-2 with Morocco.

Conceding five goals in their three group games has raised questions about their defensive solidity heading into the knockout stages of the World Cup and could give Russia some hope of pulling off an upset.

Speaking after the underwhelming draw with Morocco, Spain manager Fernando Hierro told the press: “We said this would be a tough match. We knew full well Morocco would fight, they have an excellent team, they only lost their two games 1-0 when they deserved much more.

“The first conclusion I draw is that, despite all these challenges, we were on top, so I need to look at the silver lining. Obviously, there are things we need to improve and we’re going to be self-critical.

“Five goals in three matches is not the way forward and it’s what I’ve told my players. They’re professionals, they understand the situation.”

Meanwhile, the World Cup hosts came flying out of the gates in their first two group games. They hammered Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game of the tournament before a 3-1 victory over Egypt.

However, Uruguay exposed some of Russia’s weaknesses in their final Group A clash, beating them 3-0 to ensure they finished second in the group behind the South Americans.

“From one side, it’s bad that we lost, from another, that kind of slap is useful sometimes,” Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov told the press after the heavy defeat to Uruguay.

“Uruguay is a team on another level. Through this game we prepared for the next one. Today the speed was different and the characteristics of the opponent were different.”

Team news:

Spain have no injury concerns but are expected to make changes to the team that drew 2-2 with Morocco in their final group game.

Russia are still without midfielder Aleksandr Erokhin, but Alan Dzagoev should be ready to play again after returning to training.