MOSCOW-Hosts Russia must rebound quickly for Sunday's World Cup last 16 clash with Spain, the 2010 champions who have slipped under the radar after a tumultuous start to the tournament.

Resounding wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt elevated expectations for Stanislav Cherchesov's side before they were dealt a dose of reality in a 3-0 loss to Uruguay. Dismissed as no-hopers little over a fortnight ago, Russia will try to get back onboard a wave of national euphoria and pull off what striker Artem Dzyuba called a "minor miracle".

They make their first World Cup knockout stage appearance in the post-Soviet era as the ultimate underdogs. While Russia arrived at the finals winless in eight months before finding some badly-needed form, one of their better results in that period came in a 3-3 draw with Spain last November.

For Sergei Ignashevich, one of three holdovers from the Russia side that lost to Spain in the semi-finals of Euro 2008, there are no secrets about their upcoming opponents.

"Spain plays the same style as in previous years," said the 38-year-old defender. "Spanish defenders play very high leaving spaces that a counter-attacking team can use. This is probably their only weak spot if they have any."

Russia will return to the Luzhniki Stadium, having played their opening match at the iconic venue, and will lean on fervent support to go in search of a famous win. "The fact that the game will be at Luzhniki Stadium with almost 80,000 people supporting us is probably the only good consequence from the fact we finished second in our group," said Ignashevich.

Midfielder Alan Dzagoev has rejoined the squad after recovering from a hamstring injury, but Igor Smolnikov is suspended following his red card against Uruguay.

Spain have not lost a match since Euro 2016, although they have looked far from convincing after the chaos that saw coach Julen Lopetegui sacked before their first game. They needed a last-gasp equaliser from Iago Aspas in a 2-2 draw with Morocco to pip Portugal to top spot in Group B, and are battling to fix a leaky defence.

"We have to get better, we haven't produced our best football," said Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara. "The most important thing for us is to set up well for the Russia game. We're not playing 11 Russians, we're up against thousands of Russians in a full stadium."

Despite a centre-back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, Spain have conceded five goals in three games with goalkeeper David de Gea looking a shadow of his usual self. No team in recent memory that has gone on to lift the trophy has conceded more than four goals, a statistic not lost on right-back Dani Carvajal. "We've got to cut down on the defensive mistakes," said Carvajal. "We've made it far too easy for opponents to score against us, which they've done more because of our errors than their brilliance."

Fernando Hierro, the former Spain defender who took over from Lopetegui, hammered home that same point after the Morocco game. He must hope the message belatedly gets through in time for their encounter with the tournament's joint-second highest scorers.

Russia's World Cup topscorer Cheryshev says the hosts can hurt 2010 winners Spain last 16 despite the huge disparity in talent between the two teams. Villarreal winger Cheryshev, who has scored three goals so far, is looking to exploit a surprisingly suspect Spain defence.

"That's my intention as a forward," said Cheryshev. "Spain have some great players and might even be the best team in the world, in any case they're close to being the best. But any team can hurt another and we'll certainly do our best."

Cheryshev is no stranger to Spanish football, having spent most of his life in the country and come up through the Real Madrid youth system. "I'm sure we're going to have a hard time and I repeat we know they're excellent and can play very well," he said. "But we also have our assets and we'll have to take advantage of them. "However, I think that we can win against anybody, we can always win and that's what we need to believe, just think about victory."

 

 

 

Key states

 

Russia's top scorer in the tournament is Denis Cheryshev on three strikes, the same number of goals as Spain's leading marksman Diego Costa

 

Russia covered more distance than any other team in the first two rounds of games, running a combined 118km against Saudi Arabia and 115km against Egypt, although they dropped their intensity against Uruguay, when they had a man sent off in the first half and could only cover 98km.

 

Russia are playing in the round of 16 at a World Cup for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union's best finish was reaching the 1966 semi-finals.

 

Spain won a first World Cup in 2010, before then they had never got beyond the quarter-finals.

 

Spain are unbeaten in 23 games, their last defeat coming when they lost 2-0 to Italy in the round of 16 in Euro 2016.

 

The winners face Croatia or Denmark in the quarter-finals.