In Depth

World Cup flops: Italy bounce back, but Spain lose again

England's new era started badly, but what about the other teams who failed in Brazil?

England's efforts to put their dismal World Cup campaign behind them failed on Wednesday as they ground out an unimpressive 1-0 win over Norway at a half-empty Wembley.

But the Three Lions were not the only big team to underperform on the biggest stage last summer. How did the other World Cup duds fare on their return to action this week?

Spain

Possibly the biggest losers in Brazil, the defending champions were thrashed 5-1 in their opening game against Netherlands, then lost to Chile to become the first team to be eliminated from the competition. With their aura well and truly shattered Spain's new era got underway in Paris.

Vincent del Bosque, still in charge despite the events of the summer, "led his side into the Stade de France unveiling a change of personnel but reaffirming a familiar philosophy", says Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph. "The former world champions do not need a revolution, just replenishing following the retirements of Xavi and Xabi Alonso."

There were three new caps in the starting XI and other young players including Cesar Azpilicueta and David de Gea were also included.

However, things did not go according to plan and France won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Loic Remy.

"On balance France deserved their win for a much improved second half. The French look settled in their counter-attacking system, while Spain continue to pursue the cutting edge that once made them so flawless," says Bascombe.

Roy Hodgson must be hoping Bascombe starts covering the England team: despite his upbeat assessment, Spain failed to muster a single shot on target.

Brazil

The 7-1 humiliation of Brazil in front of their own fans in the semi-final against Germany will be the abiding memory of the World Cup for many. It was followed by a 3-0 defeat against Holland in the third place play-off.

Against that backdrop new coach Dunga takes charge of the team for the first time against Colombia, the last team they beat, on Saturday. However, the decision to reappoint the former coach was "a bolt from the blue", says Tim Vickery of the BBC. "Other, far more qualified candidates were available – especially the impressive Tite, who took Corinthians to victory over Chelsea in the 2012 Club World Cup. Why take a step backwards?"

He says the aim was to take the heat off the Brazilian FA and "switch the focus of the debate; trying to make people rally round the flag instead of dwelling on structural changes".

He appears to have succeeded with the sweeping changes in Dunga’s first squad widely applauded. Failures including Fred, Dani Alves and Marcelo have been jettisoned and the likes of Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool and locally-based star Everton Ribeiro coming into the fray.

The acid test comes this weekend, of course.

Italy

Like England, Italy failed to emerge from the Group of Death. Despite winning their first game of the campaign against the Three Lions the Azzuri then lost to Costa Rica and Uruguay to exit at the earliest stage for the second tournament running.

However, they at least looked ready for a new era as they won their first game since Brazil, beating World Cup semi-finalists Holland 2-0 in Bari.

It was a perfect start for new coach Antonio Conte, the former Juventus manager, who took over from Cesare Prandelli in the summer and who dropped Mario Balotelli from his first squad.

"Italy... looked rejuvenated as they secured a first win on home soil for a year," says the BBC. But the champagne should stay on ice, according to Reuters.

"The lively forward line of Ciro Immobile and Simone Zaza pestered the Dutch rearguard in a convincing 2-0 win," it reports. "Conte, however, will be wary of reading too much into the performance as the contest effectively ended in the tenth minute when the Dutch were reduced to ten men and Italy scored their second goal."

Russia

For many people Fabio Capello's Russia were the worst team in Brazil, eclipsing even England. Like England they managed only two goals in their three games, but finished with two points after grinding out draws with South Korea and Algeria.

They returned to action on Wednesday against Azerbaijan and were quickly back into their stride, winning 4-0 in Moscow. Alexander Kerzhakov scored twice to become the highest scorer of the post-Soviet era.

However, things look less rosy off the pitch. Capello has reportedly not been paid for three months (not that he is short of money) and Russia is "set for crisis talks with Fifa and Uefa representatives over its decision to absorb clubs from the annexed region of Crimea, while European Union countries have discussed possible sporting sanctions against the 2018 World Cup host," reports the Washington Times.

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