Russia shocked Spain on Sunday as they won 4-3 on penalties at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow to secure a quarter-final berth at the 2018 World Cup
Koke and Iago Aspas failed to convert their spot-kicks in the shootout after the two sides played out a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes
La Roja took the lead through Sergey Ignashevich's own goal after just 11 minutes. The Russia defender was in the process of bundling Sergio Ramos over from a free-kick when the ball hit the back of his leg and deflected in.
Artem Dzyuba replied from the spot shortly before half-time after Gerard Pique was penalised for a handball, and Russia were able to hang on for the remainder of the match.
Spain were controversially denied a penalty when Ignashevich pulled down Pique in the 24th minute of extra time even after the incident was reviewed by the Video Assistant Referee, resulting in the shootout.
Spain Got What They Deserved
There's no denying the quality Spain possess in their ranks or their ability to blow teams away when they turn it on—Argentina found out as much when they lost 6-1 to La Roja in March—but their biggest hurdle in this match and throughout the tournament was not a particular opponent but themselves.
After taking the early lead and taking control of the match, La Roja should have been ruthlessly stepping on Russia's throat and putting the game out of sight, but what followed was a complete lack of urgency to increase their lead.
ESPN's Dermot Corrigan and David Cartlidge discussed their problems:
They remained throughout the 120 minutes, and while the introductions of Aspas and Rodrigo gave them a little more directness, they were unable to breach Russia's defence for a second time.
Football writer Karl Matchett summarised their play when the match looked to be heading to penalties:
Along with their problems in the final third, their defence was an issue once again.
La Roja have been uncharacteristically vulnerable at the back throughout the tournament, and Pique gifted Russia a spot-kick here with a senseless and seemingly deliberate handball, having thrown his arm in the air while defending a corner.
As Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe noted, their tendency to become the authors of their own misfortune had been a recurring theme at the tournament:
Spain may feel hard done by having had the bulk of possession and opportunities over the course of the match, but in truth, they engineered their own downfall.
The match would never have even reached extra time, let alone penalties, had they shown more desire and penetration going forward or simply defended better on the few occasions they were tested by Russia.
VAR Robs Spain in 1st Big Test of System
With a few exceptions, the introduction of VAR at the World Cup has been a fairly positive one, with officials able to make the correct decisions more often than not.
Indeed, FIFA's referee committee head Pierluigi Collina said on Friday that 99.3 per cent of the decisions made at the tournament in consultation with VAR have been correct, per the Press Association (h/t Sky Sports).
However, in the knockout phase, it's even more vital that referees get the big calls right, and on this occasion, that did not happen.
While Spain should never have had to rely on a refereeing decision to see them through against the hosts, Ignashevich visibly pulled Pique down while, at the same time, Ramos was also held by another defender.
Former footballer Pierre van Hooijdonk could not believe a spot-kick was not awarded upon review in the VAR studio:
Ramos felt referee Bjorn Kuipers should have checked the footage himself:
Former Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea midfielder Micky Hazard is not a fan of the system:
The system itself has demonstrably helped officials come to more correct decisions, but the failure to award a penalty here offers a reminder of VAR's failing: human error.
When all is said and done it still comes down to an official—whether it be those in the studio or the one on the pitch—to make the decision, and even with the benefit of replays, they can make questionable calls.
Isco Is the Crown Jewel of Spain's Next-Gen
Fernando Hierro's decision to drop Andres Iniesta from the starting XI—even if his replacement, Marco Asensio, is an outstanding and impactful young talent—was a puzzling decision.
Sky Sports' Spanish football pundit Terry Gibson was one of many who did not expect such a change:
The playmaker's legendary status is well-earned and few could hope to replace him, but Isco showed he can be the man to do so for Spain, even if he ended up on the losing side this time around.
The 26-year-old barely put a foot wrong as he pulled the strings for La Roja, pressing well and always offering an option in the final third.
COPA90 US' Aaron West and ESPN's Michael Cox were among those who enjoyed his performance:
He showed more drive and intent than his team-mates, as Squawka Football demonstrated:
With Iniesta now 34 and David Silva—who was the least impressive of the three in Russia—32, we may not see either of them at another international tournament for Spain, the former in particular.
Isco will be key to their transition to a new generation of stars, and while it's clear they have issues to work on in the years to come, having his composure, technique and creativity in their side will help to facilitate that change.
Russia will play either Croatia or Denmark in the quarter-final on Saturday, July 7, at 7 p.m. BST (2 p.m. ET).