Roy Hodgson’s side secured a credible 2-1 victory in an entertaining friendly that gave England their first win over Brazil in 23 years. In what was a largely encouraging display, the Three Lions kept the ball better than they have done for a long while, yet maintained the sturdy organisation inherited since Hodgson’s appointment nine months ago. While it was apparent they were playing technically superior opponents, England bridged the gap with a committed performance and played some good football of their own, setting up a formation aimed at countering their opponent’s mobility. Despite his pre-match billing, Santos striker Neymar, the new great hope of Brazilian football, failed to impress after missing a first-half sitter. While his talent remains beyond question, his performance epitomised the problems lying ahead for returning boss Luiz Felipe Scolari: a talented squad of individuals lacking coherence as a team. Hosting the World Cup next year and with one eye on fierce rivals Argentina’s emergence, there is much work to be done if the record five-time winners are to add a sixth on home soil.
The inclusion of Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck, a striker who has largely done well in his England career to date, highlights the dearth in striking talent today. Not a regular starter for his club side this season, Wellbeck missed a golden opportunity early in the match to stake his claim for a spot in the upcoming qualifiers. Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe, who was injured at the weekend and is expected to be out for a month with ankle ligament damage, has been the form English forward of this season and would surely be in line for the striker’s role if fit. Aside from front-man dilemmas, the other attacking elements of Wayne Rooney, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the considerably improved Theo Walcott looks an exciting proposition worthy of gracing the majority of top international sides. Full of pace, creativity and vigour, the back-up options look pretty handy also. Substitute Frank Lampard, coming into what many believe is his final season at Chelsea, netted on the hour for his 27th England goal. Having scored ten times in the league this season, Lampard is defying his advancing years and looks like a player with plenty still to offer.
Up against a flexible and fluid Brazilian formation with a midfield consisting of Chelsea duo Oscar and Ramires, the steel of Liverpool veteran Steven Gerrard accompanied by the technical excellence of Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere looked a more than capable duo for England to build around. With next year’s World Cup in mind and England on course to qualify, manager Roy Hodgson will be looking to use 2013 to form the basis of a settled starting XI which is mobile and inventive enough to compete with the very best. While no one can use one game as a basis to form a long lasting opinion, the signs are encouraging. Wilshere particularly looked at home amongst technically gifted opponents, being at the fulcrum of the majority of England’s best moves, using his passing and vision to link up superbly with midfield cohorts Gerrard and Tom Cleverley. Captain Gerrard also continues to excel in his deeper, more defensive role for his country. Having recently been named England’s Player of the Year for 2012, it appears he is picking up where he left off again for the year ahead.
The 32-year-old appeared in his first game for his country in over a year, recalled by boss Scolari, who he played under when Brazil won the 2002 World Cup. Marking his return and still showing all the flamboyant brilliance fondly remembered by so many, the playmaker ultimately failed to make a significant impact on what was his 100th appearance for his country. His big moment came after 20 minutes when he saw his penalty saved by Joe Hart, who then directly followed up with a spectacular one-handed stop to deny the rebound. It proved a frustrating night for the two-time former World Player of the Year, who was subbed at half time for goal scorer Fred. Although a lot can happen in a year and with Scolari said to be toying between a straight choice of either Ronaldinho or Kaka as the preferred squad veteran, it’s not wise to write off the former Barcelona man just yet, given his excellent form for club side Atlético Mineiro.
Much has been made in the past week of Bayern Munich defender Dante making his debut at the age of 29. In what was an intriguing battle with the pace of Walcott, Dante showed mixed signs of filling a position in which the Brazilians have still yet to replace Lucio. With exceptional control and even throwing in the odd trick, Dante generally fared well albeit at times struggled against Walcott’s running. On the other side, Gary Cahill’s error cost his side a goal in the second half. Despite working well with partner Chris Smalling in the first half particularly, the two centre-half spots remain wide open, with Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Joleon Lescott also hoping to make one their own. Based on this performance, both are still very much up for grabs.
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