Match 16
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Match 15
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Match 17
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12:00 PM UTC
Match 19
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Saudi Arabia
3:00 PM UTC
Match 18
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6:00 PM UTC
Match 20
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Spain shambles overshadows bid for World Cup glory


Villa looks for a repeat of 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- The last time David Villa scored against Chile it was pretty romantic.

He did so in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, from a ridiculous distance, lobbing the ball over goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with a daring volley.

He used his left boot, on which the names of his children, Zaida and Olaya, were emblazoned, plus the Spanish flag and a little logo to signify his marriage to Patricia.

Cute, no?

If he were to repeat the feat on Wednesday at the Maracana, there would be the threat of a different kind of romantic story.

Football can be cruel, football can be generous.

Cruelty bit hard when Villa, at the very top of his powers, suffered a vicious leg break in Japan with Barcelona as the European champions converted themselves to world club champions in the winter of 2011.

From that day to this it's been a steep road to regain his absolute sharpest cutting edge and, despite trophies with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the all-time Spanish great certainly needs a better send-off from La Roja than to go out in the group stage of this World Cup.

The romance is there for him and, over the past few days in training, Villa has looked panther sharp.

The goals are coming: his hunched-back stance, so familiar over the years, is the prelude to him pouncing on a loose ball or producing a clever flick.

He scored twice for Spain vs. El Salvador in Washington, D.C., in the final pre-World Cup friendly and must have been surprised that didn't earn him a single minute during last Friday's Dutch debacle.

Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Pedro, Cesc Fabregas -- they all had their shot at the problem. Not Villa.

Four years ago that would have been unthinkable. Villa's brilliant tournament mentality had already helped win Euro 2008 with goals against Russia (a hat trick, in fact), Sweden and a converted penalty in the shootout against Italy.

Then, in 2010, he popped up with goals vs. Honduras (two), Chile, Portugal and Paraguay, en route to Spain's eventual victory.

Villa celebrates his goal vs. Chile at the 2010 World Cup.

Villa was electric: the go-to man.

Not only was he the complete modern striker, scoring from range, close in, free kicks, volleys, penalties and headers, but he was utterly predatory.

One slip -- one little error -- and Villa was on you.

Now he's announced that this is his last hurrah with La Roja. After the tournament he'll retire from international football.

He'll be a loss.

Not for a second do I suggest that Vicente del Bosque might pick Villa out of loyalty, sympathy or a nod to history ... none of that tosh.

I think he might pick him (or at worst use him during the match vs. Chile) because the Asturian has once again begun to look like Spain's most in-form attacker.

The shouts in training have proved that. His movement is quick and you can regularly hear "Guaje!" or "aquí Guaje" from teammates who have yelled for a pass and roared congratulations for a goal.

- Alvarez: False nine or real nine?
- Delaney: Win paramount for Spain
- 50-50 Challenge: Spain vs. Chile

"Guaje" means "kid" in Asturian and is the same nickname as had by his fellow Spain striker, Fernando "Niño" Torres.

But he is a kid no longer. About to start a new adventure in New York, this is the kind of guy for whom scripts were written, I think.

A man for the moment.

The little side bet which is there for Villa is where he ranks on the all-time World Cup finals scoring charts. Get ready for this: with two more goals, he will overtake the all-time totals of Eusebio, Jairzinho and Karl Heinz Rummenigge. He's on eight, they are on nine.

Four goals in this tournament and he'll equal Pele's all-time total in these tournaments. Villa could head to the Big Apple tied with, or ahead of, the all-time World Cup icon and guy who helped boost the profile of U.S. soccer in New York with the Cosmos all those years ago.

It's possible that the Marquis del Bosque sees it differently.

After their loss to the Netherlands, Spain's World Cup hopes are hanging by a thread ahead of their clash with Chile at the Maracana.

The Spain manager has staked quite a bit on Diego Costa, helping the Brazilian renounce his native country and be booed from pillar to post here.

The other Atletico man has been physically fit but out of form at this tournament -- looking as if either his heavy load of work this season or the impact of a multimillion-pound move to Chelsea is playing havoc with his cutting edge in front of goal.

Del Bosque certainly has the street toughness to drop him if he's not sure about Costa's form (the centre forward hasn't been a regular scorer in training) but that possibly brings with it a "You let me change country and brought me all this way only to drop me for the second match!?!" type of dialogue with the former Brazilian.

What I am saying is that it is a tough choice for Del Bosque.

Unless, perhaps, he changes formation either to the 4-2-3-1 which won the last World Cup or to the 4-1-4-1 shape which was deployed, usefully, for most of last summer's Confederations Cup.

Villa can, of course, either supplant Costa entirely or play wide left in order to link up with him as was often the case at Atleti this season.

When I mentioned Villa to Del Bosque the other day he dodged giving me hard team information, but on the mention of "El Guaje" admitted that: "This group has a rebel attitude towards this situation. Let's see whether that rebel spirit can get us out of trouble."

To me, that sounds like Villa. Stubborn as a mule about situations like this, he'll not let any opportunity to stay at his last World Cup as a player pass him by.

Whether he's got another 40-metre volley over Claudio Bravo in his locker remains to be seen.

But beyond his goal tally, Villa brings to the table precisely the kind of grim "need" to win which might be the marginal difference between Spain staying at this tournament or starting some unwished-for summer holidays a touch earlier than anticipated.