Change afoot as Spain digests World Cup heartbreak

Ramos consoles a dejected Iniesta.
Ramos consoles a dejected Iniesta. / REUTERS
  • It is almost certain that Fernando Hierro will not continue as coach as Spain embarks on a new era without Andrés Iniesta

  • Missed spotkicks from Koke and Iago Aspas proved costly for La Roja

There are still questions to be answered after the curtain was brought down on Spain's terrible World Cup campaign with elimination at the hands of Russia on Sunday evening.

Spain's host-nation 'curse' continued in Moscow when a slow-paced 1-1 draw eventually concluded with a nail-biting penalty shootout in which Russia's captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinféev saved attempts from Koke and Iago Aspas, while Russia converted all four of their spotkicks.

A strong start

After an own goal from Russia's Sergei Ignashevich gifted Spain the perfect start in the 11th minute, Fernando Hierro's men played it safe, settling into their trademark possession game.

Though the Spaniards completed a record-breaking 1,100 passes (73 per cent possession), their play lacked the necessary penetration and they were punished when Gerard Piqué's error of judgement saw him block a possible Russian goal with a high arm. The referee awarded a penalty and Artem Dzyuba levelled the score five minutes before half time.

Despite the level scoreline, the second half saw further conservative play from Spain and the match went into extra time as no goals materialised. As the Russians tired, substitute Rodrigo, courtesy of his quick feet, created two good chances in extra time, but the hosts held out and took it to penalties.

Ultimately, Spain buckled under the pressure and the host team came out victorious, to the delight of partisan fans inside Luzhniki Stadium.

Pointing the finger

Inevitably in the fall-out after the game, the attention came back to 'Lopetegui-gate' and Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales' decision to sack the coach a day before the start of the competition.

Fernando Hierro inherited a poisoned chalice and the effect of the change could been seen in La Roja's stuttering group stage results which yielded just a single win (1-0 against Iran), courtesy of a massive deflection.

The fluidity of the Lopetegui era quickly vanished and instead, massive defensive weaknesses became evident and the cracks which had previously been papered over came to the fore.

Spain must now start over. The majority-possession tactic that served them well in previous years has finally faltered: Spain's World Cup 2018 journey is over, almost certainly spelling the end for Hierro.

"It is, or rather, has been a pleasure coaching these guys," he said on TV following the game, repeating the phrase four times. "They have given everything and have been model professionals. Our objective was to go far in this World Cup."