Russia vs. Spain, 10 a.m. ET, Fox
- Spain -169
- Russia +527
- Draw +295
Bet to Watch:
Both Teams to Score +106 (Bookmaker)
In a somewhat curious turn of events, the team that won its group, Spain, actually picked up fewer points in group play than their second-placed opponents, Russia, did en route to the round of 16. However, La Roja justify their favorites tag regardless.
While hosts Russia were unexpectedly efficient in the final third in their opening two matches, the caliber of opposition needs to be taken into account. And though they weren’t at their strongest in terms of personnel against Uruguay — with matters exacerbated by stand-in right back Igor Smolnikov’s dismissal — that defeat was still a greater indicator of their prospects in the latter stages.
The return of Aleksandr Golovin, who was rested last time out, will improve Russia’s threat on the counter immensely against a possession-dominant Spain side, but defensively, there are still real weaknesses in the lineup. How Russia cope physically when chasing the ball is a concern for an aging defense, and Yury Gazinsky and Roman Zobnin will be very busy while attempting to shield that backline.
Spain may not have clicked into gear just yet, but they have been unstoppable in patches. And there is still the sense that, if they do hit their stride, the 2010 champions have a real shot to go the distance.
If they are to do so, however, they too will have to improve without the ball, and a change in system that offers more protection to the back four may be in the offing. No team to qualify for the knockout phase conceded more goals than Fernando Hierro’s men, and David De Gea’s place in goal is under threat after failing to even come close to replicating his club form for his country.
With each side’s group stage pros and cons in mind, the angle in this one does look to be backing goals, with a combined total of 14 scored and nine conceded each being the highest of the eight round of 16 matchups. However, it’s normal for things to get a little tighter as the stakes rise and the pressure mounts, so the goal line itself may be one to avoid.
I still can’t see past goals at both ends, though, with Russia set to return to full strength from an attacking standpoint. And while Saudi Arabia are no Spain by any means, the way Stanislav Cherchesov’s side attacked the Saudis on the counter with the intense support in the tournament’s curtain raiser should offer some optimism for the home fans. They won’t need any extra reason to create a raucous atmosphere either, putting pressure on what has to now been a nervous and error-prone opponent.
The fact that the hosts also earned a 3-3 draw in a friendly between the sides last year is further encouragement to attack a relatively fragile side, and while I’d still expect this to be the end of Russia’s journey, they’ll be desperate to go out with a fight if it is. Odds well over evens on both teams to score represent good value in my book.