Spain's 2017 came to a close with an entertaining 3-3 draw in a friendly with 2018 World Cup hosts Russia on Tuesday night at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.
A Jordi Alba goal and a Sergio Ramos penalty conversion sent Spain on their way to what most assumed to be another decisive win, but Russia fought back through goals from Fyodor Smolov and Alexey Miranchuk. A second penalty score for Ramos put the 2010 world champions back ahead, but the hosts would answer thanks to a spectacular strike from Smolov.
While for neutrals it was a fun, open affair to watch, Spain head coach Julen Lopetgui will be left disconcerted by his team's imprecision, defensive vulnerability and lack of intensity during their final 90 minutes of the calendar year.
Lopetegui made five changes from the team that drilled Malaga 5-0 on Saturday. David De Gea replaced Kepa in goal, while Nacho came in for Adrian Odriozola at right-back. The rest of the defence and midfield remained the same, however three changes in attack were made, with debutant Suso, Marco Asensio and Rodrigo in for Isco, David Silva and Alvaro Morata.
After a few early bright moments from Russia, Spain asserted themselves and just like he did against Costa Rica, Alba opened the scoring for La Roja. Asensio gathered in a ball down the left and picked out Alba, who had room between the two Russian centre-backs to spin a header in past home goalkeeper Lunev for a 1-0 lead.
But Spain were not doing themselves any favours during the half; Lopetegui's men were sloppier than on Saturday, and there was room for Russia to operate.
Good fortune was smiling on Spain though, and Russia gifted the visitors a penalty toward the end of the half when a ball struck Kuzyayev at the top of the arm, prompting a whistle and a point to the spot from referee Gianluca Rocchi. Ramos stepped up and slotted the spot kick under Lunez to increase the Spain lead to 2-0.
Russia kept working and their insistence paid off with a momentum-changing goal before half-time. It was extremely well-worked by the Russians and capped by a beautiful movement from Smolov, who collected a pass in the area, sent Gerard Pique flying with a turn and fired in past De Gea to cut the Spain advantage to 2-1.
Three switches were made at half-time by Lopetegui, with Asier Illarramendi, Alberto Moreno and Jose Callejon on for Andres Iniesta, Alba and Suso, respectively. But Spain were still flat-footed and their passiveness allowed Russia to draw level shortly after the re-start. Zhirkov got loose down the left and his cross ricocheted right to Miranchuk, who took advantage of the Spanish defense thinking that the ball had crossed the end line and scored to make it 2-2.
The good times for the home fans didn't last long though, and for the second time on the night Rocchi awarded Spain a penalty after Ramos had been tugged down in the area on a free kick. The Real Madrid defender stepped up and converted again, restoring Spain's lead at 3-2.
Another trio of players were introduced by Lopetegui, as Vitolo, David Silva and Saul joined the fray for Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Thiago. It gave La Roja a brief spark and Rodrigo should have made it four but was denied in a one-on-one by Lunev.
Spain's carelessness would rear its head again later in the half, as Asensio gave away possession off a throw-in and Smolov was happy to make the most of it, firing in a right-footed rocket past De Gea to once again pull Russia level at 3-3.
It was still anyone's match heading into the final 15 minutes, and Smolov was best positioned to cap a dream night with a winning goal and hat-trick, but De Gea did well to save the effort. Spain also had a final look through Rodrigo, but the Valencia man missed wide and collided with Lunev, who took a knee to the head and was carted off in what was essentially the final play of the match.
- Match facts:
3.- Russia: Lunev; Zhirkov (Kombarov, min. 82), Vasin, Dzhikiya, Kudryashov (Raush, min. 74), Smolnikov (Ignatyev, min. 87); Glushakov, Kuzyayev (Erokhin, min. 62), Dzagoev (Kokorin, min. 62), Alexey Miranchuk (Anton Miranchuk, min. 67); Smolov.
3.- Spain: De Gea; Nacho, Pique, Ramos (Vitolo, min. 58), Jordi Alba (Moreno, min. 46); Busquets (Silva, min. 58), Thiago (Saul, min. 60), Iniesta (Illarramendi, min. 46); Suso (Callejon, min. 46), Asensio, Rodrigo.
Goals: 0-1, min. 9: Jordi Alba; 0-2, min. 35: Ramos (p); 1-2, min. 40: Smolov; 2-2, min. 50: Alexey Miranchuk; 2-3, min. 53: Ramos (p); 3-3, min. 70: Smolov
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).
Yellow Cards: Busquets (Min. 17) for Spain, Vitolo (Min. 67) for Spain
Stadium (St. Petersburg)