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Blog - World Cup Central

Duarte: Dunga's return is complicated

Brazil
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Spain witness own funeral procession

This blog was commissioned by the good people at ESPN FC with hopes of high humour or, at the very least, low sarcasm. It was supposed to be sideways, irreverent and perhaps a little impish. And yet it all feels so terribly inappropriate after what the world saw in Salvadore, Brazil, on Friday night. Frankly, this is like being asked to do stand-up comedy at a funeral.

What has become of Spain? The fleet-footed, tiki-taka sprites who played with a touch so delicate that their boots could have been made from butterfly wings and glitter were brutally massacred by the remorseless, relentless Dutch. What protection is possession in this cruel modern age? Is there no longer value in towering piles of passing statistics? Where are your football gods now?

This was mercilessly direct, technically accomplished, counterattacking football at its best, and Vicente Del Bosque's team had no answer. It was like watching brightly dressed musketeers, swords aloft, hats jauntily tipped, unwittingly cantering into a wall of heavy machine-gun fire. This was positively epochal, a great empire sacked by raiders from the North.

Of course, this blog did make the point 24 hours ago that Spain lost their first game in 2010 and went on to win the trophy regardless, but it all feels a little different now. Not least because, back then, they had a chance to recover their composure against Honduras before taking on Chile to secure their place in the next round. This summer, they'll have to give their heads a stern wobble and play Chile next Wednesday. And with the state of their goal difference, anything less than a win could see them booking their flight home.

There are few bits of humour to be found from the Netherlands' systematic dismantling of Spain.

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Still, it remains a truth that no matter how miserable you think you are, there's always someone worse off. Unless, of course, you're Diego Costa, in which case you really have hit rock bottom. Hell hath no fury like a nation scorned.

If he was in any doubt at all about the public response to his Spanish defection, the Salvador crowd were only too happy to clarify their feelings. Every touch, every kick, every shot, every time he even had the temerity to be present in their plane of existence, the Brazilian fans jeered him mercilessly.

By Wednesday night, he could be packing his suitcase. His former nation, on the other hand, the one that would almost certainly have put him in the starting lineup, remain the favourites to lift the World Cup. Regrets? We'd imagine he has a few.

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There are ways to be beaten and still maintain some dignity, of course, and you only have to look to Australia to see how it should be done.

In the opening exchanges, the Socceroos were as resistant to Chile's exhilarating sorties as a paper hat is to a flamethrower. Two goals down and wobbling hard, damage limitation would have been an entirely acceptable contingency plan. Instead, the Australians brushed themselves down and fought their way back into the game, jet-propelled by one Tim Cahill. Apparently, no one on the Chilean coaching staff knew that he was quite good at headers.

They still lost, but at least they lost with a bit of style and they played their role in another fine game -- part of an entertaining run of fine games that will surely end when England turn up and ruin it for everyone.

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The pitch at Manaus is nothing compared to Wembley ... oh wait.

Yes, England begin their tournament against Italy later on Saturday and all the talk is of the playing surface at Manaus and how it looks more like a carrot field after a rabbit stampede than an international-grade football pitch. Given that the Brazilian authorities have had seven years and all of the money that might otherwise have been earmarked for trivial little things like hospitals and schools, questions will certainly be asked.

But just in case the English kick up a fuss, it's worth remembering the state of the Wembley pitch two years after its 2007 reopening, at which frantic groundsmen were spotted tipping buckets of green sand over the brown patches. People who live in glass houses shouldn't moan about ... erm ... other people's penalty areas. Or something.

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It's the longest day of the tournament on Saturday, with a whopping four games lined up for your delectation.

Colombia will first try to prove there is life after Radamel Falcao when they come up against notorious insomnia cures Greece in Belo Horizonte. Uruguay then face a similar challenge when they meet Costa Rica without Luis Suarez. England have few injury problems but will doubtless struggle against Italy, while Ivory Coast and Japan make up the final pairing in the tournament's sole 10 p.m. local kickoff.

Should any European supporters have the temerity to moan about the late start (Ivory Coast and Japan will kick off at 2 a.m. in the UK), feel free to remind them how spoiled they are. Had the tournament been scheduled normally, these all-nighters would be a regular occurrence. FIFA actually pulled all the kickoff times forward to increase the European advertising revenue, hence all the 1 p.m. starts in stifling heat.