Spain vs Russia Preview: Hosts look to cause upset in the last-16 by knocking out 2010 winners

Spain take on Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium in the 2018 World Cup on Sunday afternoon.

Spain vs Russia Preview: Hosts look to cause upset in the last-16 by knocking out 2010 winners
Spain vs Russia Preview: Can the host nation cause a major upset in the last 16 by knocking out the 2010 winners? (picture: Getty Images / NurPhoto)

Spain take on Russia in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday afternoon. 

Not many people would have expected Russia to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition with a game to spare, but this is exactly what they were able to do following two impressive performances.

They will be looking to bounce back from their 3-0 defeat to Uruguay in the final group game in this one. 

Yet to reach potential 

Spain were many people's favourites heading into this tournament, and they have shown in patches so far why that was the case. When at their best, they are extremely difficult to play against and have the quality to cut teams open.

However, they also have a habit of struggling when their style of play does not have the desired impact, shown in their most recent outing in the 2-2 draw against Morocco.

They came extremely close to losing that game but Iago Aspas was able to secure a share of the points for his side in injury time, which was ultimately enough to see them safely through to the knockout stages of the competition. 

Considering the circumstances Spain found themselves in just two days before their first match, with Julen Lopetegui being dismissed from his position as manager due to links with Real Madrid, Fernando Hierro has done a very good job of settling the squad down and ensuring they still got through the group.

Many teams would have perhaps crumbled under these circumstances, but Spain have instead already bettered their disappointing performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil which saw them knocked out of the group. 

There have been many impressive performances in Spain's matches so far, but the two main players who have stood out have been Isco and Diego Costa. 26-year-old playmaker Isco has been one of the most creative players at the tournament so far, creating a total of nine chances.

He is yet to register an assist but he remains a very dangerous player and has the ability to dictate matches from midfield.

If Russia are to have any chance of progressing, they will need to limit his influence on the match.

As for Costa, he has also impressed at this tournament. He has scored three goals so far, and is still in contention for the Golden Boot award. There is a lot of pressure on his shoulders as Spain's main out and out striker but this is something he appears to be relishing and it would be no surprise to see him add to his tally in this match. 

There has been speculation that David De Gea could be dropped after his disappointing performances throughout the group stage, with Kepa Arrizabalaga waiting in the wings.

Koke is also expected to return to the starting line-up in place of Thiago with Marco Asensio also pushing for a start. 

Isco has impressed for Spain so far in this tournament. (picture: Getty Images / Soccrates Images)
Isco has impressed for Spain so far in this tournament. (picture: Getty Images / Soccrates Images)

Can Golovin deliver for hosts?

Russia surprised many people with their performances in their opening two matches.

22-year-old CSKA Moscow midfielder Alksandr Golovin has had a key role to play, and produced two sublime performances in Russia's wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Due to his ability to not only find the back of the net himself but also create chances for his teammates, it is no surprise that he is being linked with numerous clubs across Europe this summer.

He has not been the only player to impress for the host nation so far. 27-year-old Villarreal winger Denis Cheryshev has also been very impressive and has established himself as an unlikely contender for the Golden Boot award with three goals to his names so far.

If Russia are to progress further in this tournament, then it is likely that both Golovin and Cheryshev will have a key role to play in it. They certainly have the ability to cause Spain's defence problems.

Russia do come into this match without Igor Smolnikov as he will miss out through suspension following his sending off against Uruguay. Yuri Zhirkov and Golovin are both likely to return to the starting line-up having been rested in that match.