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Spain wilt under dark clouds

It was perhaps fitting that a World Cup campaign that started under a storm cloud finished in identical fashion.

The rain hammered the turf at the Luzhniki Stadium and Spain wilted under the deluge.

As in every penalty shootout there has to be heroes and villains, or victims depending on your levels of compassion.

Igor Akinfeev was the former, twice diving to his right to pull off saves, to leave Koke and Iago Aspas with a memory they will be reminded of for the rest of their days.

That it got as far as spot-kicks was a mystery even Scooby Doo would have struggled to solve.

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It wasn't so much backs to the walls from Russia, they were through it and staring it head on from the other side.

Spain passed, probed and passed again. In fact, they attempted over 1000 passes, the first time a team has managed this since records began in 1966.

Russia could barely get out of their half for the entire 120 minutes.

Sergei Ignashevich's own goal put Spain in front, only for them to concede an equaliser that summed up their malaise – the experienced Gerard Pique inexplicably handling Artem Dzyuba's header in the area.

Dzyuba slotted home and gave Russia something to cling on to. And cling they did, for grim life at times.

Even VAR refused to give Spain a break, a late claim for a foul on Sergio Ramos inside a crowded penalty area going Russia's way.

This will likely spell the end for what remains of Spain's World Cup winners in 2010.

Andres Iniesta has already signalled he won't carry on, while threre is little chance the likes of Pique, Ramos or David Silva will be around in Qatar in four years' time.

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The future of stand-in coach Fernando Hierro is another conundrum Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales will have to solve.

It was Rubiales who opted to sack Julen Lopetegui the day before the World Cup got under way, seemingly a decision based on ego rather than common sense.

Lopetegui had been discussing a deal with Real Madrid and Rubiales had been cut out. Lopetegui was sacked and Hierro drafted in. Few, if any, World Cups have been won under such a chaotic start.

That's not to say there weren't positives for Spain over the past three weeks. The emergence of Isco, the natural heir to Iniesta, and to a lesser extent Marco Asensio suggests a bright future, but this exit represents a huge setback, especially given the way the draw had opened up.

"Often the better team is the one that goes back home," noted Hierro on Saturday.

Their subsequent elimination wouldn’t have come as a huge shock to him, then, even if it did everyone else.

As for Russia, the World Cup party continues. Many neutrals may not have enjoyed how they played, their approach at times bordering on the crude but credit their desire and organisation.

They deserve their moment in the sun. For Spain, the clouds continue to swirl.