It was death by a thousand passes.
Igor Akinfeev became the hero of the host nation with two saves during penalty kicks as Russia stunned the 2010 champion after playing to a 1-1 stalemate after 120 minutes in front of a frenzied partisan crowd at Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.
After the teams combined to convert their first four attempts from the spot, Akinfeev piled the pressure on Spain when he dove to his right and stopped Koke. Aleksandar Golovin then put Russia in control of its destiny, beating David De Gea.
Sergio Ramos and Denis Cheryshev both converted, and with Iago Aspas needing to convert to force the Sbornaya into taking a fifth attempt, Akinfeev dove to his right but was able to get his left leg on the attempt down the middle, deflecting it wide and sending the crowd into rapture.
The hosts are into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1970 when they were known as the Soviet Union. Russia will face the winner of the Croatia-Denmark winner in Sochi on Saturday.
For Spain, the surprise elimination may mark the end of a golden generation that delivered on its promise with two European Championship titles that bookend its 2010 World Cup title. La Roja revolutionized the game a decade ago with its short-passing tiki-taka style incorporated from powerhouse club Barcelona, and it took opponents years to transition from fear of being caught out on a killer through ball to resolutely defending with two banks of players trying to hit Spain on the counter.
It was a tournament to forget for David De Gea, who may have taken the firing of coach and one-time keeper Julen Lopetegui two days before the start of the World Cup far harder than many realized. While he was not helped by a defense that got caught out at times and conceded two penalties in Spain’s four matches, De Gea made exactly one save in 390 minutes, and the Manchester United No. 1 failed to stop any spot kicks in this match when La Roja needed him most.
Spain had possession for nearly all of the 30 extra minutes, but a resolute Russia defense coupled with a lack of incisive play in the final third by Spain, which was also wary of being carved open on the counterattack, left much to be desired. La Roja completed over 1,000 passes while racking up 75 percent possession and a 25-7 edge in shots — not conceding a shot on target in open play while putting nine on frame.
Akinfeev, who finished with eight saves, also came up with a critical stop in the 109th minute, parrying a shot by Rodrigo from close range as he tried to go across goal from the right edge of the six-yard box. In the 85th minute, the CSKA Moscow No. 1 did well to deny Andres Iniesta at the left post and then got a hand on Aspas’ attempt on the rebound to send it wide of the right post.
The teams traded first-half goals, with a penalty by Artem Dzyuba canceling out an own goal by defender Sergey Ignashevich. The 38-year-old defender gifted Spain the lead in the 11th minute, with the ball deflecting off his right heel and past a stranded Akinfeev as he all but tackled Ramos as the Spain defender tried to position himself for a header in the six-yard box.
It was the 10th own goal of this tournament, furthering the record for the most in any World Cup.
Russia saw little of the ball in the first half-hour, but Golovin curled a shot wide of the bar in the 36th minute to start a brief spell of possession. On a corner shortly thereafter, Spain defender Gerard Pique had a moment of madness as the ball hit his raised arm in the penalty area, which made it easy for referee Bjorn Kuipers to point to the spot despite Pique’s protestations.
Dzyuba leveled the match with his well-taken penalty, sending De Gea the wrong way as it went into the right side of the net for his third goal of the tournament. After that, it became a test of wills, with Spain looking for the creases that a steely Russian defense refused to make.
In the 114th minute, Pique came up furious claiming he was held by Ignashevich on a free kick curled into the box, and Kuipers consulted the VAR crew near the stadium, but no penalty was given. Sergio Busquets nearly created Spain’s demise in the 116th minute when he was too casual with the ball on his end line, but a cutback cross into the penalty area went unanswered by the host.
The Sbornaya claimed a corner kick on the right in the 117th minute that wasn’t fully cleared, but Spain did the needed work on a second cross. By this point, Russia went into full-bunker mode to get to penalties as Spain continued to work the ball around with no direct purpose and no threatening shots.
Rodrigo tried a left-footed shot that Akinfeev smothered in the 121st minute right before Kuipers blew his whistle to advance the match would progress to spot kicks.
In the first 15-minute extra period, Spain had the first shot on target, but Marco Asensio’s tame 20-yard shot arrowed right at Akinfeev in the 100th minute. Four minutes later, Fernando Hierro introduced Rodrigo for Asensio as Spain’s fourth and final swap.
Right before the end of the first extra period, Isco earned a free kick on a poor challenge by Golovin, who was on a yellow card and could have been sent off. Pique’s flicked-on header of Koke’s free kick, though, was easily caught by Akinfeev.
In the 97th minute, Alexander Erkohin became the answer to the trivia question of who was the first fourth substitute in World Cup history as he entered for Daler Kuziev. FIFA added the fourth sub, only to be used after extra time, at this tournament.
Spain earned three corners in succession as the final 90 seconds of the first 90 minutes ticked away, but Ramos’ header on the final one popped over the crossbar.
In the third minute of stoppage time, a brutal giveaway allowed Fedor Kudriashov to enter into Spain’s final third. He laid the ball off for Fedor Smolov, but his shot went well wide of the right post.
The final half-hour of regulation was spent almost exclusively in Russia’s half of the pitch as Spain probed and poked the Sbornaya defense, trying to stretch it for gaps to run between. But wary of a counterattack, Spain did not always fill those gaps as David Villa was unable to find space as a striker underneath Diego Costa, who was rendered ineffective by Russia’s two banks of four being so tightly packed.
In the 81st minute, Dani Carvajal broke the monotony of Spain’s passing along the perimeter by trying a 30-yard shot that intended to be a cross to Aspas, but it went right at Akinfeev.
Both managers were cagey with their lineup selections as Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov opted for a fifth defender while leaving Cheryshev out of his starting XI, while Hierro restored Asensio to the midfield and did not introduce Iniesta until after the hour mark.