Saturday, 9 February 2013

England 2 Brazil 1

Pele, Garrincha, Robbie Carlos, fat Ronaldo, Rubens Barrichello, Ayrton Senna, Oscar Niemeyer, Princess Isabel, Carmen Miranda, Jorge Amado, Taio Cruz, those kidnappers from that Simpsons episode... you boys took one hell of a beating! 

No need to get carried away, but this must have been one of the best England performances in many years. Being just a friendly, it wasn’t an “I was there” result, but it was one of those satisfying moments where you can say in a few years’ time that you had the privilege of seeing England beat the five-time champions of the world. 

England played with the stabilisers off - they were bold, purposeful, brave and possessing enough quality about them to take on Brazil at their own game. There was certainly the quota of heart-in-mouth moments you always expect against such high-calibre opposition but, weighing it all up afterwards, England did the nation very proud indeed.

The greatest compliment that could be paid to the England team was that, for pretty much the entire occasion, the many, many Brazilian fans dotted around Wembley were silenced. These permanent party people, with all their uninhibited spirit and lust for life, weren’t at all impressed with what they were witnessing - the Samba beat was completely silenced. 

And in the final ten minutes, as the expected Brazilian onslaught threatened and then never came, it was the trumpeters of the Pukka Pies Band, round to my right, that were setting the rhythm of the evening and not, as I had predicted, the bongos, whistles and tambourines of the green and gold visitors.

There were a number of outstanding performances throughout the home side - plenty to cling on to as we enter an intriguing 150th anniversary year of mouth-watering “Home International” friendlies, and the decisive qualifiers to see if we can hear more of that intoxicating Carnival rhythm next summer.

Jack Wilshere, making his first start under Roy Hodgson, was exceptional in a quiet, unfussy way. He was deservedly man of the match and it was correct that the accolade went to the Arsenal man rather than one of the goalscorers as it normally does. 

He worked without fatigue nipping at Brazilian heels and interpreting their clever movement. His endeavour made a mockery of the “friendly” tag.  In the main, he left the attacking duties to his accomplice Steven Gerrard, it wasn’t his place to maraud forward too much, but he single-handedly made sure Brazil couldn’t do likewise. 

Further up, Theo Walcott also caught the eye. Stationed on the right, rather than in the swashbuckling central striker role that he’s found to his taste for Arsenal this season, but only too happy to give the Brazilians a taste of their own medicine. 

Particularly after the break, he made mincemeat of Adriano, twisting and turning the left-back, getting beyond him and then crossing from the byline. When he was replaced by Filipe with 20 minutes to play, it was something of a mercy. 

Gary Cahill was also brilliant, in my eyes, although he was panned in the press for failing to offload the ball and allowing Fred to equalise a minute into the second-half. This ten seconds of madness should not, in my opinion, detract from a composed performance that made the much-vaunted Neymar look like an amateur. I’d even venture so far to say that Neymar was in Cahill’s pocket. 

England’s goal were the icing on the cake. Wayne Rooney is in one of his “I’m completely unplayable” purple patches and when the ball broke to him on the edge of the box after Julio Cesar saved at the feet of Walcott, there was no doubt he would thread the ball between the defenders in to the net. 

While it has been Robin van Persie stealing many of the plaudits for Treble-chasing Manchester United this season, Rooney has only been too glad to assume the responsibility since Christmas. He now has 11 goals in 11 games or something and, if he continues on this hot streak, United may have the championship sewn up by late next month. 

To round off the evening, Frank Lampard, who, with a great inevitability is being offered a new contract at Chelsea, won the match with a goal of such natural instinct and quality of finish that it could have been scored by, well, a Brazilian.

Highly impressive. Long may it continue. 

Next match: Local action on Saturday, most likely the match between Bromley and Basingstoke Town in the Conference South.