Iniesta bids farewell as host curse strikes Spain
They had a favourable head-to-head record against Russia and went into the game as heavy favourites. But Spain were unable to conquer a curse that has haunted them since 1934.
For many years, La Roja were plagued by a quarter-final hoodoo at the FIFA World Cup™, with the last eight representing a glass ceiling that they simply could not break through. They finally overcame that obstacle at South Africa 2010 and duly lifted the Trophy.
On Sunday afternoon in Moscow, however, another curse reared its ugly head again. Spain have still never beaten World Cup hosts at ‘their’ tournament.
- Italy 1934: They drew 1-1 with and lost 1-0 to La Squadra Azzurra
- Brazil 1950: They were thrashed 6-1 by A Seleção
- Korea/Japan 2002: A 2-2 draw with the Taeguk Warriors was followed by a 5-3 defeat on penalties
- Russia 2018…
All signs pointed to this run coming to an end against the Sbornaya, especially once Sergey Ignashevich’s own goal had handed them the lead after just 12 minutes. La Roja were dictating the game and calling the shots, withstanding the pressure-cooker atmosphere created by a Luzhniki Stadium crowd who got right behind the home players.
But Artem Dzyuba’s penalty before the break swung the pendulum in the hosts’ direction and Spain’s distinct lack of cutting edge paved the way for a dramatic finale. The encounter would be decided from 12 yards, with Russia winning the test of nerves.
Did you know?
World Cup hosts have won the last five shoot-outs they were involved in:
- Brazil beat Chile in 2014
- Germany beat Argentina in 2006
- Korea Republic beat Spain in 2002
- France beat Italy in 1998
It was a distressing case of déjà vu for Fernando Hierro, who had been through it all before as a player, having taken the first penalty in Spain’s shoot-out defeat by Korea Republic in 2002. On that occasion, like at this tournament, La Roja were knocked out without losing a single game in normal time.
The end of the line in more ways than one
As if the loss were not painful enough for the Spanish fans, they then found out that the man whose goal made the country world champions in 2010 is retiring from international football.
“This is the end of a long chapter for me. Everything has a beginning and an ending. Sometimes farewells don’t go the way you’d like them to,” a crestfallen Andres Iniesta told FIFA after the game.
“We gave it our all, but the opposition stuck to their task and penalties are cruel. We came up short; we weren’t able to take that final step. No-one can be blamed for missing a penalty in situations like these,” he added. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we’ve got to all learn from this experience.”
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