Hosts Russia will clash against one of the pre-tournament favourites Spain in the round of 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Sunday.

Russia and Spain are set to go head to head against each other in the third knockout match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Hosts Russia made it through to the Last 16 of the tournament courtesy of a second-place finish in Group A, with six points from three games. The Sbornaya registered very impressive victories in their first two fixtures, beating Saudi Arabia 5-0 and Egypt 3-1, but were handed a 3-0 defeat by group winners Uruguay in the final game.

However, they will be high on confidence following their exceptional start and backed by a vociferous home support, they will be a dangerous proposition on Sunday.

Spain, on the other hand, topped Group B under lucky circumstances, following their 2-2 draw against Morocco in their last group encounter. La Roja, led by new manager Fernando Hierro, haven’t been able to hit top gears in Russia yet and have looked far below their best and will need to step it up in the knockout stages of the tournament, or risk facing an early exit.

Team News & Tactics

Spain

The 2010 FIFA World Cup winners don’t have any injury concerns coming into the game on Sunday, while they also have no players suspended. Yet, manager Hierro is likely to ring in some changes to the team, without changing the 4-3-3 setup, as he looks to turn his side’s fortunes around.

David De Gea will continue between the sticks, despite his shaky start to the World Cup campaign in Russia. The Manchester United star has hardly looked assured between the sticks and will need to get his act together going forward in the tournament.

At the back, Dani Carvajal is expected to feature from the get go once again at right-back, with Jordi Alba set to take up the spot on the opposite side. The partnership of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will continue in the heart of the defence. How they manage to deal with the threat of the impressive Denis Cheryshev and Aleksandr Golovin will have a major bearing on the outcome of the game.

Sergio Busquets will anchor the midfield once again and look to act as the link between the two halves of the pitch. Thiago Alcantara impressed in the last game against the Russians and should walk into the starting XI once again. Andres Iniesta will look to continue from where he left off in the last game.

Iago Aspas could be in for a starting berth on the right-flank in place of David Silva, who hasn’t been all that impressive. Isco is a definite starter out on the left. Spearheading the attack for the Spaniards will be the mercurial Diego Costa.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): De Gea; Carvajal, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Iniesta; Aspas, Costa, Isco;

Russia

Stanislav Cherchesov’s side will have to deal with the absence of midfielder Alan Dzagoev who has been ruled out of the tournament after an injury in the group stages. Defender Igor Smolnikov will also miss out after being sent off in the defeat to Uruguay in their previous game.

Captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev hasn’t been all that reassuring between the sticks for the hosts and will be hoping to lead his team by example with a strong display against Spain.

At right-back, Mario Fernandes will return to the starting XI and so will Yuri Zhirkov at left-back in place of the suspended Smolnikov and Fyodor Kudryashov respectively. Ilya Kutepov and Sergei Ignashevich will assume duties in the centre of the back four and look to quell the danger posed by Diego Costa.

In the middle of the park, Yuri Gazinskiy will team up with Roman Zubnin to try and thwart Spain from getting into their passing rhythm and negate the effect of chief creators Iniesta and Isco. Aleksandr Golovin will look to provide the creativity in the final third, starting in the No. 10 role for the hosts and support will be provided from the wide areas by Aleksandr Samedov and the highly impressive Denis Cheryshev.

Upfront, 29-year old striker Artem Dzyuba will offer a physical threat and can be a handful to deal with for Spain with his strength and aerial threat.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Zhirkov; Gazinskiy, Zobnin; Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba;

Key Stats

  • Spain are unbeaten in the last 23 games (W15 D8), the longest current run among the 32 teams that started the 2018 World Cup. Their last defeat came two years ago against Italy in the round of 16 of the European Championships (0-2, June 2016).
  • Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has never beaten Spain (D2 L4). Their last encounter ended 3-3 in a friendly back in November 2017.
  • Russia had just three shots in its last match against Uruguay, the fewest by a host nation in a World Cup match since the U.S. managed three against Brazil in 1994.
  • This is Russia’s first ever World Cup knockout appearance since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  • Spain have scored 10 goals in their last three games against Russia – seven in two games at the UEFA Euro 2008 and three in a friendly last year.

Player to watch

Isco (Spain)

The in-form man for Spain (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

The in-form man for Spain (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

The 26-year old Real Madrid superstar has easily been the best player for La Roja in Russia so far in the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup. Starting from the first game against Portugal, Isco has been the main creative force in this Spain side and put in an exceptional display against Morocco in their last group game, capping it off with an assist.

With his slick passing and sharp movement, the Spaniard will once again be the key for his team against the hosts, if they are to harbour hopes of making it into the final eight.

Prediction

Spain 2-1 Russia

Russia surprised one and all with the blazing start to the World Cup campaign, scoring eight goals in the first two games, but were found out by an Uruguayan team that was too strong for them handle. And that is likely to be the case again at the Luzhniki on Sunday.

Spain, despite not being at their best, are much superior to the hosts and should see out a win and safe passage to the quarterfinals.

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