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Spain’s dreadful record against host nations can give Russia hope

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW (Xinhua) -- Russia face a difficult task on Sunday as the World Cup hosts take on Spain in the last 16 of the World Cup. 81,000 fans in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium will cheer the home side on; no doubt aware that in footballing terms, Russia are massive underdogs against the 2010 World Champions.

The Spanish are currently ranked 10th in the world by FIFA, while the Russians are currently down in 70th place. However, a look at how the Spanish have performed when they have played the hosts of major tournaments over the years may serve to give the Russians hope. Spain have faced international tournament hosts on eight occasions and have never beaten them, managing just one draw and seven defeats; although sometimes those defeats have been marred by controversy.

The first exit to a host nation by the Spanish came in 1934 in the second World Cup, where they lost to Italy in a rematch just 24 hours after a 1-1 draw in Florence. The Spanish had two goals disallowed under mysterious circumstances as Italy, under the gaze of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, went on to win the tournament on home soil.

There was no such controversy when Spain were thrashed 6-1 by Brazil in 1950 in the second group stage, although they did end the tournament made famous by the ‘Maracanazo’ in fourth place; their best finish until winning in South Africa in 2010. Spain actually drew with hosts Italy in the group stage of the 1980 European Championships, but still went home early after 2-1 defeats to England and Belgium.

The 1984 European Championships saw Spain reach the final only to lose to France in a game controlled by French midfielder Michel Platini and marked by a dreadful error by Spanish keeper Luis Arconada, who allowed the ball to squirm under his body to give France their opening goal in a 2-0 triumph.

The 1988 European Championships saw hosts West Germany beat Spain 2-0 in the group stage with two goals from Rudi Voller. Missed penalties by Miguel Angel Nadal and current coach Fernando Hierro saw the Spanish lose a penalty shoot-out to England in the quarterfinals of the 1996 European Championships.

To date it is still the only penalty shoot-out England have won in the knockout stage of a major tournament. In 2004 it was the turn of Portugal to end a Spanish European adventure as Spain lost the last game in the group stage 1-0 to the hosts, when a draw would have seen them into the quarterfinals of a tournament.

But perhaps the game etched in Spanish memories is their quarterfinal exit to joint hosts South Korea in the 2002 World Cup. The Spanish crashed out 5-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in which Egyptian referee, Gamal Ghandour disallowed two Spanish goals, including one where he ruled that the ball had previously gone out of play when TV cameras showed this was clearly not the case.

Had VAR existed 16 years ago it all could have been so different. The consolation for Spain on Sunday is that although they have yet to beat a host nation there will be no Mr. Ghandour with a whistle, but there will be TV cameras to ensure there is no repeat of his errors.



Athletic Club Bilbao keeper Kepa Arriza-
balaga ready for a spot in the Spanish goal

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW  (Xinhua) -- Athletic Club Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga says he is ready to replace David de Gea in the Spanish goal for their last 16 World Cup tie against Russia if coach Fernando Hierro believes it is necessary.

De Gea came to the World Cup with a reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but his performances have been one of the weak points of a Spanish side that conceded five goals in group stage in which he made just one save.

Although Hierro has publicly defended the keeper, the Spanish press speculates that he is considering replacing De Gea with Kepa, who despite 22 appearances for the Spanish Under-21 side, has just one cap with the senior team.

Speaking on Spanish radio Kepa said whoever played in goal was “a decision for the coach” but he added that “all 23 players in the squad want to play and we all fully prepared to do so.”

When asked about his lack of international experience the 23-year-old replied, “There’s always a first time for everything. Everything has to start somewhere. I feel prepared: although I’ve only played one friendly for the national side, I’ve been in call-ups and worked with the squad while I have played for Athletic in Europe and in the Primera Liga.”

The young keeper added that all young players have to start somewhere. Kepa renewed his contract with the Basque club last season when it looked as if he was close to joining Real Madrid.

“The way I am helps me to remain calm and to keep things inside,” he said, before also praising his under-fire team-mate.

“I think De Gea is relaxed, he has enough experience to live with this. All three of the goalkeepers here get on well as we have worked together for over a year and we support and learn from each other,” Kepa said.



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