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Spain bid to restore Europe's reputation

Source: Reuters - Mon 21st Jun 2010

Spain have the chance to restore dented European pride at the World Cup on Monday with the continent's soccer aristocrats reeling from failure and scandal in South Africa.

President Nicolas Sarkozy intervened to try to defuse a players' rebellion that threatened to destroy the French team, asking Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot to extend a visit to the country to try to calm the situation, most sensational of a string of European woes.

Brazil confirmed Latin American dominance on Sunday night, turning on the samba power to roar into the second round and denting one of the last remaining African hopes with a classy 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast.

Brazil join Argentina as clear favourites on early form.

Spain, who looked shadows of their best in a 1-0 defeat by Switzerland in their first match, play what should be an easy game - if they can regain form - against Honduras.

In Monday's other games, Portugal meet North Korea and Chile take on Switzerland.

The French looked close to implosion after refusing to train because of an incendiary dispute with their management and holders Italy suffered the humiliation on Sunday of only managing a 1-1 draw with lowly New Zealand, rated 78th in the world.

It was the latest in a string of shock failures by European soccer powers, which have left Latin America dominant while Africa is also in trouble in the continent's first World Cup.

The French former champions, who are on the verge of an embarrassing group stage exit, refused to train on Sunday in sympathy with striker Nicolas Anelka who was sent home for crudely insulting coach Raymond Domenench.

He in turn had to break up a row on the training pitch in the southern coastal resort of Knysna. Team director Jean-Louis Valentin resigned over the affair which came before France's final group match against South Africa on Tuesday.

At home the French were aghast at the dispute and Henry Guaino, an adviser to Sarkozy, reflected the views of many when he said France was "no longer a team".

In contrast to Europe and Africa, the Latin Americans are in full flight.

Even before Brazil's victory, Paraguay confirmed that trend on Sunday with an efficient 2-0 victory over Slovakia.

Spain, who lost their pre-tournament favourites status after the shock loss to Switzerland, will hope to resume normal service against Honduras, the only Latin American team to have lost so far and that at the hands of Chile.

Honduras have three brothers in a World Cup squad for the first time. The presence of Jerry, Wilson and Jhony Palacios is particularly poignant because the body of their kidnapped fourth brother, Edwin, was discovered a little over a year ago.

Chile and Switzerland, who play in Monday's afternoon game, lead Group H after Spain's defeat and Chile's first World Cup win for 48 years.

Chile will want to avoid falling foul of the same trap as Spain, who were beaten in one counter-attack by the defensive Swiss.

England, another pre-tournament favourite who have played abjectly here, are also in crisis, and were having a no-holds barred meeting with manager Fabio Capello on Sunday night, according to defender John Terry.

After their frustrating 0-0 draw with Algeria, England need to make major improvements to beat Slovenia on Wednesday.

Portugal, another European side needing a good win to open the way to the second round, will need to attack hard against the defensive North Koreans, who suffered a credible 2-1 defeat against Brazil.

Portugal have another task on Monday - to break the Cape Town curse which has condemned sold out crowds at the graceful new Green Point stadium to a run of dull draws.

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