Spain were largely unimpressive against Morocco, but a controversial VAR approved goal ensured that they kept their 2 year undefeated streak going and booked their place into the Round of 16. Iago Aspas, the in-form Celta Vigo forward, flicked the ball into the back of the net in injury time to rescue a draw for Spain and with Portugal only drawing against Iran, they were in luck, as they escaped the Uruguay, France, Brazil, Germany and Argentina (potentially) bracket to set up a Round of 16 clash with the home side, Russia.
Russia, on the other hand, were given a major reality check, with Uruguay thrashing them 3-0 in the final game to take the top spot, with Russia going through as a second placed team. Both Golovin and Mario Fernandes, who have been their most impressive players of the World Cup, were rested, while an early first half red card to Smolnikov also handicapped them both defensively and offensively. Russia will be hoping to get back to their best with both Golovin and Fernandes at the centre of everything good attack wise.
After a long time, Spain have a squad which has a nice balance between midfielders and forwards, with Diego Costa, Iago Aspas, Rodrigo, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vasquez making for a mix of tough and pacy attackers. And they have all been really important for Spain in the Group stages so far, with Diego Costa scoring thrice, Aspas rescuing a draw against Morocco while Lucas Vasquez did an exceptional job against Iran on the right wing. Marco Asensio and Rodrigo have largely been used as an impact substitute and they have done their job neatly. Thus, this new era of Spanish forwards are reducing the goalscoring burden on their creative midfielders, letting them weave their magic while they apply the finishing touches.
Meanwhile, the Russians have been the surprise package of the tournament. Major credits for their impressive performance goes to Stanislav Cherchesov, their manager. Cherchesov has marshalled his players exceptionally, with a 4-2-3-1 working brilliantly, as they control the midfield and bomb the wings to deliver crosses into the huge Dzyuba. Golovin and Samedov have done really well creatively to carve out goal scoring opportunities for Dzyuba and Cheryshev, with Golovin particularly impressing and catching the eye of big clubs like Juventus and Arsenal.
The loss against Uruguay would be a major blip to their confidence, but with Spain also marginally scrapping through with a last minute equalizer, both teams will not be high in confidence going into this game, making it kind of a lottery, with really not much to read into from their Group stage performances. Spain would be hoping that Diego Costa once again gets onto the scoresheet, while Russia would be extremely happy to welcome Golovin and Mario Fernandes back into their first team.
At the start of the tournament, if we would have been asked to predict a winner between Spain and Uruguay, it would have been a very simple decision. But with the Lopetegui saga exploding just hours before the World Cup and a largely inconsistent Group stage showing by Spain, the confidence has eroded. Russia also deserve a lot of credit to defy expectations and put in strong performances en route to the Round of 16, thus making them one of the crowd favourites and an entertaining side to watch.