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Portugal's forward and captain Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Group G football match between Portugal and Ghana at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 26, 2014 ( Christophe Simon (AFP) )
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World Cup first round leaves Europe all at sea

Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Andrea Pirlo and Xavi have left Brazil with their tails between their legs

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after Portugal were booted out of the World Cup despite winning against Ghana at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on June 26, 2014 ( Gabriel Bouys (AFP) )

Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Andrea Pirlo and Xavi have left Brazil with their tails between their legs highlighting the hard times for Europe at the World Cup.

Having provided seven of the last eight World Cup semi-finalists, Europe's dominance appears to be on the wane after a brutal group phase for the continent's teams.

Where Latin American sides such as Chile and Costa Rica created sensations, Europe's powerhouses flopped, with Italy, England, Portugal and defending champions Spain among seven teams from the UEFA zone eliminated in the first round.

In sharp contrast, World Cup crowds have thrilled to the virtuoso performances of Neymar and Lionel Messi, the swashbuckling football of Chile and Colombia, and the daring displays of giant-killing Costa Rica.

While France, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Greece remain in contention for glory, the tournament has done little to encourage hope of a first European World Cup success in the Americas.

"It cannot be a coincidence that a European team couldn't win a World Cup held in South America," declared Switzerland's decorated German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld before the tournament.

"Not in Uruguay, not in Mexico, not in Argentina, and for sure not in Brazil."

Wayne Rooney disembarks from a plane after arriving at Manchester Airport on June 25, 2014 ( Paul Ellis (AFP/File) )

Europe's World Cup difficulties may be part of an emerging trend.

Whereas European teams filled 10 of the last-16 places in five of the first six tournaments after the round was introduced in 1986 (with nine getting there in 2002), only six made it in 2010 and this year.

- Preparation pays off -

With tens of thousands of fans from neighboring countries flooding into Brazil, the South American teams have clearly benefited from the home advantage.

Supporters from Argentina and Chile took over Rio de Janeiro's Maracana when their sides played there in the group phase and France coach Didier Deschamps believes such mass support can make a difference.

"We are in Brazil, so the South American teams certainly acclimatise better, and maybe the fact that they are playing so close to home and have so many supporters with them gives them added strength and energy," he said on Wednesday.

Developing Deschamps's theme, Brazil striker Fred said: "I think the climate can make a bit of a difference, because we are better adapted to it.

"The tactical aspect makes a difference, too. We see Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile all playing technically good football. And as they are used to the very hot climate, it can end up helping a bit."

England manager Roy Hodgson feels that European sides are hindered by the strengths of their respective domestic championships.

Citing the examples of Costa Rica and Iran, who almost held Argentina to a goalless draw in Group F, he said that it is easier for the tournament's supposed weaker sides to gather together for pre-competition training camps, making them more well-drilled and tactically flexible.

"Iran and Costa Rica have been together for months, so they've really had a chance to do the type of work that we've been happy to do for three or four weeks with our players," he said after his side's group-phase exit.

"We'll never get the access to our players that an Iran or a Costa Rica get."

One consolation for the Europeans is that only one of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay can reach the semi-finals due to the configuration of the draw.

And although only six teams from Europe reached the last 16 in 2010, three of those went on to reach the semi-finals, while the final between Spain and Holland was the second all-European affair in a row after France and Italy in 2006. France, Germany and the Dutch are again looking strong and confident.

Algeria make history after draw with Russia

Pedro Ugarte (AFP) progressed to the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time in their history as Islam Slimani's second-half header was enough to earn them a 1-1 against Russia in Curitiba.

Alexander Kokorin had put the Russians in front after just six minutes with an accurate header into the top corner.

However, Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's nightmare tournament continued when he tried to claim Yacine Brahimi's free-kick on the hour mark and missed the ball completely allowing Slimani the easiest of tasks to nod home his second goal of the tournament.

However, television replays showed the CSKA Moscow 'keeper may have been distracted by a green laser pen being shone in his eye seconds before the goal was scored.

The Desert Foxes will now have the chance to avenge their controversial exit from the 1982 World Cup when West Germany and Austria played out a mutual beneficial 1-0 win for the Germans when they face Joachim Loew's men in Porto Alegre on Monday.

Belgium topped the group with a maximum nine points from three games after they beat South Korea 1-0 in the other game.

[Algeria's forward Nabil Ghilas carries a national flag while running with teammates as they celebrate after their team's victory in the Group H football match between Algeria and Russia at The Baixada Arena in Curitiba on June 26, 2014 ( Pedro Ugarte (AFP) )]

Algeria had gotten off to the worst possible start as with Sofiane Feghouli off the field receiving treatment for a head injury, Russia used the extra space afforded to them down Algeria's right to open the scoring.

Left-back Dmitry Kombarov sauntered forward and his cross was expertly nodded into the top corner by Kokorin.

Feghouli immediately tried to make amends with a bustling run past a host of Russian defenders, but the Valencia man was eventually crowded out and the ball cleared to safety.

Jung Yeon-Je (AFP)

Oleg Shatov then came within inches of doubling Russia's advantage with a dipping shot from range that flew just past the post.

However, Algeria were posing the greater threat and Akinfeev went some way to redeeming himself for an awful error which cost his side a goal in their opening game against South Korea with a fine save from Slimani's first effort of the evening.

Russia came flying out of the traps in the second period, though, looking to kill the game off and should have done when a lovely one-two between Kokorin and Aleksandr Samedov put the latter clean through on goal, but Rais Mbolhi stood up well to block his effort.

And that save was to prove vital on the hour mark as Akinfeev flapped at Brahimi's free-kick and Slimani headed home into an unguarded net.

Mbolhi was forced into another fine save 21 minutes from time as Samedov played in Alexander Kerzhakov down the right and his low strike was held at the second attempt by the Algerian goalkeeper.

Russia continued to push for a winner, but when Aleksei Kozlov's header sailed wide in stoppage time their last chance was gone.

Defeat means Russia have still yet to qualify for the last 16 since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and continues coach Fabio Capello's poor record at the World Cup after he oversaw England's 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany in the last 16 four years ago.



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