Baku, June 27, AZERTAC
Two defensive mistakes cost Spain dearly as the world's no.5 team was eliminated from the Baku 2015 European Games at the group stage with a 5-3 loss to world no.1 nemesis Russia on Friday.
In a winners-take-all clash to see who would join Italy as semi-final qualifiers from Group B, Spain stepped up early against the team that defeated them in the 2013 World Cup final.
Spain led 2-0 with less than eight minutes gone, but if there's anything the tournament has shown so far, it is that two, three and even four-goal leads are not safe in Beach Soccer.
Russia came storming back late in the first period with three goals in a remarkable 57 seconds. The second of these was a disastrous own goal by Spanish star Llorenc Gomez, who lobbed the ball back to the goalkeeper only for it to go over his head and into the back of the net.
Gomez made amends, however, by scoring his second goal halfway through the second period to level the match at 3-3. A tense and scoreless 14 minutes ensued, leaving the match – and both teams' Baku 2015 fate – in the balance with just over three minutes left.
Spanish goalkeeper, Francisco Jesus Donaire, was then penalised for holding the ball too long. Dmitrii Shishin duly converted the free kick from halfway to give Russia the lead, and Artur Paporotnyi added the clincher with a minute-and-a-half left to send Russia into the semi-finals.
"We saw that the Spanish were going to get tired and there would be moments," Russia's Ilia Leonov said. "We endured until the third period and did what the coach asked us."
Spain's coach Joachin Alonso was left to rue the two costly errors. "Our own mistakes punished us a lot," he admitted.
There was nothing riding on the evening session's other match between Portugal, who had already qualified for the semi-finals, and Azerbaijan, who had already been eliminated. Portugal went down 3-0 early but eventually recovered to win 6-4 and remain the only undefeated team left in the tournament.
In Saturday's semi-finals, Portugal will meet Russia while Italy will play Switzerland.