Saturday, 9 February 2013

Promising for England, Worries for Brazil

England 2 Brazil 1. Wembley Stadium, on a Cold February 6th night, with 85,000 spectators proves the  pulling powers of these  two first tier soccer nations. With the World cup finals in Brazil only a year and a half away, this friendly game served as a bellwether for both nations' state of play.  Sometimes, friendly games offer misleading conclusions; generally the truth lies some where between promise, apathy, and worry.
England have not beaten Brazil for over two generations, and for those who have followed this fixture long enough, you'd know that has not occurred since the heydays  of Gary Lineker ( remember his goal scoring exploits for England  in that epoch ? ) ; and the season Liverpool last were Champions of England....

ENGLAND :  I am pleased Roy Hodgson chose his team and tactics primarily on current form. Opting for a 4-3-3 formation in  vogue with premiership teams currently. A three man attack with Walcott to the right, Welbeck to the left, and Rooney through the middle. This trio gave England's attack a cutting edge.  In midfield, Steven Gerrard moped-up, Tom Cleverly was busy, and Jack Wilshire stole the show as the furtherest of the three-man midfield, with some exciting play of skill, incision, and poise. On the whole, the midfield was balanced, and that was an enabling factor in getting especially Walcott into combat with the Brazilian defense-line, which suited the Arsenal Striker to dominate with his scorching velocity. Defensively, Glen Johnson,  Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, and Ashley Cole were efficient, and bar Cahill's error for Brazil's goal, left little or no space behind when the yellow shirts converged to contrive an equalizer.  The best thing for England is that it played within a conceived and sustainable frame work, and the players largely got it right on the night.  Yes, Jack Wilshire sparkled the most,  but it's fair to say this was  a good team performance, especially taking into account the absence of Jermaine Defoe, Daniel Sturridge, and Ashley Young. It was smart of Roy Hodgson not to water down this very important up-tick in standard of the team, by making too may substitutions, as was the irritating inclination of managers in the past.

WHERE TO GO : If it is widely acclaimed the performance and score line against Brazil was a qualified success, then perhaps it is an indication there is still a  long way to go. As stated earlier, friendlies sometimes can be a misrepresentation of reality. Jack Wilshere's  thrusts in midfield is adventurous and refreshing, but this style makes him very vulnerable to man-marking the more his talent unravels, which could potentially stymie the team. Just like Walcott is not going to be allowed to act fast and loose to the opposition when we get down to the business end of the spectrum.
There remains the uncompleted task qualifying for the world cup finals proper; then the "unknown unknowns ", injuries, form, and of course the reality that a year and half to the tournament is a pretty long time to be sure of anything. There is a stockpile of disappointment and wayward hope in the past surrounding England's fortunes. The public and the media must tread carefully henceforth.  No doubt the emerging generation - Raheem Sterling, Tom Cleverly, Jack Wilshere, Theo  Walcott,  Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, have arguably the potential for greater collective technical application than many of their predecessors could muster, but maybe it's best to take a different tact this time, like being muted, and let their football do the talking.

BRAZIL : There was some alarm and consternation at the performances of the team under the previous manager .  " Today is a historic day, Brazil needs to celebrate"....... Those were the words of legendary Brazil striker, and world cup winner Romario, when Mano Menezes was fired as coach in November 2012.  Not for the first time in history, the Brazilian public were not enamoured by the style of their team.  Mano Menezes tried unsuccessfully ( as many coaches in the past have found out ) to create a team whose attributes were not predominantly vintage Brazil  - flair and magic in it's character.  Menezes opted for the functional variant, and even though the team won over sixty percent of matches under his care, he had few friends. In came the man to have managed them to their last world cup victory - Phil Scolari, and he was greeted by defeat to England. Sincerely, I believe Brazil are not producing / do not possess the sort of talent to reflect the traditional values it's great sides  of the past embodied. Aside from Neymar, Oscar,  Lucas Moura, Thiago Silva ( who is injured) and the keeper Julio Caesar, the other players are not great. Danny Alves is in decline, Adriano is far less talented than Junior, Roberto Carlos, or  Leonardo, David Luis is erratic at best,  and the overrated striker Hulk is struggling for form at his club Zennit St Petersburg. Hulk's  international  goal scoring statistic of six goals in eighteen games is definitely less than you'd want ; the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Fabiano, and even Fred  (  all 30 +) are staging a come back.... that crystalizes the scarcity of exceptional talent in  Brazilian Soccer at the moment.
To be fair to Big Phil Scolari,  if there was to be a game of grace, it  had to be the England (his first ) one. It would have been one of assessment and analyses, then a plan going forward, more than anything else. They did not play badly in my opinion : their tactical formation was  a similar 4-3-3 to England's. Ronaldinho did not really serve Neymar and Oscar on the flanks.... Paulinho and Ramaires  did not get a grip in midfield either, meaning the scene could not be set for their famous  team-combination play. In truth, they mounted some decent, albeit desperate offensive play in the last ten minutes, but the issues with the team are glaring. First things first, their defense needs better quality personnel
I'll tell you what : Brazil last hosted the World Cup finals in 1950, and lost in the final 2-1 to Uruguay. The country was gripped by such fervour and anticipation of victory the attendance for the game at the Maracana stadium was 210.000 ( 172,000 ticket sales for the game ) ; after the loss, the all white kit the national team normally wore was changed permanently as a form of banishing the  hoodoo that loss evoked. Thirdly, sadly at least two fans committed suicide in the aftermath of that loss.  There is still  time to put it right, and Big Phill fits the bill. Spain are such  awesome champions at the moment, and if Brazil are going to wrestle away their crown in 2014, it will take more than passion, hysteria, or home advantage. More importantly, they need more talent, and fast.