Jose Mourinho says Russia showed “amazing fighting spirit” in their historic penalty shootout win against Spain in the World Cup last 16.
Russia won 4-3 on penalties after the game had finished level at 1-1 following extra time at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was the hero for the hosts, pulling off two stops to hand his team the win and send Russia into a World Cup quarter-final against Croatia.
Spain were heavy favorites going into the game and dominated possession for large periods. They took the lead on 12 minutes through an own goal from Sergei Ignashevich, but Russia equalized from an Artem Dzyuba penalty and kept the Spaniards at bay for the remainder of the game and extra time.
Speaking to RT by telephone, Manchester United manager Mourinho was full of praise for the World Cup hosts.
“The Russian team surprised lots of people,” Mourinho said. “They became strong since they faced a lot of critics, people thought they wouldn’t qualify from the group stage, but they did it and they built fantastic spirit in the team.”
Two-time Champions League winner Mourinho also praised Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov, saying he had got the tactics spot on by controlling the game from a defensive base.
“I think the manager chose the right tactics to do it by being very strong by the defensive point of view, by giving the initiative to Spain by being in control defensively, which they did,” Mourinho said.
“The fighting spirit was amazing in between the players,” he added.
That was also the case during the shootout, in which Russia scored each of their spot-kicks through Fedor Smolov, Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksandr Golovin, and Denis Cheryshev, while Akinfeev saved from Koke and Iago Aspas.
Mourinho said Russian players handled the intense pressure of the occasion in front of 78,000 fans at a raucous Luzhniki.
“They were mentally strong in the shootout, with every player focused,” Mourinho said.
With the win, Russia set up a quarter-final clash with Croatia in Sochi on July 7. Croatia booked their spot in the quarter-finals with a shootout win of their own over Denmark.