It’s all too typical of English football: when the results mean nothing, give the supporters something to really set their spirits soaring, and when the games count, let them down again.
England, hoping to break that cycle as they continue preparations for World Cup 2014 qualifying, earned its most heartening international result in quite some time with a 2-1 victory over Brazil at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday. Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard provided the goals for the Three Lions while Fred replied for the Brazilians.
England’s hopes couldn’t have been too high heading into this one. Although relinquishing their international dominance over the past decade, Brazil remains an intimidating nation. Meanwhile, England’s last result was a 4-2 thrashing at the hands of Sweden (all at the hands of Zlatan Ibrahimovic). And while Brazil’s performance was far from their best, Wednesday’s result is a nice feather in England’s cap and must serve as a measure of redemption for Roy Hodgson’s side.
Brazil started strong in the early minutes, easily controlling possession and having their way on the wings. England struggled to get much of the ball and was prone to hoofing long balls forward in hopes of finding Rooney up front, only to lose possession. England looked to have little creativity in the middle of the park, coupled with little running off-the-ball. In its brief moments of sustained possession, England’s buildup was slow and lacked anything resembling a cutting edge.
But the match turned after the 19th minute. Brazil earned one of those penalty kicks that most hate to see, a ball-to-arm from point blank range. Brazilian veteran Ronaldinho, who struggled to make an impact, hit a low shot toward the right corner, which Joe Hart saved. Hart was then able to bat the rebound out of danger as Ronaldinho followed up on the play.
Wilshere a delight
As it turned out, the match’s opening 20 minutes were a red herring for what was to come; the pair of stops by Hart were a turning point for England. They began to move the ball around quickly on the ground, using short passes and the pace of their wide players to attack with danger.
England midfielder Jack Wilshere, who had a wonderful first half, began to assert himself in the centre of the park. Wilshere’s passing and attacking play was a key as England grew into more possession of the ball, putting three shots toward goal, but off-target, in quick succession.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s midfielders and forwards were lackadaisical in tracking back, which allowed England’s attackers plenty of space to build up. Their lack of defensive commitment cost them as Wilshere and Theo Walcott linked up brilliantly, leaving a juicy rebound for Rooney to slide home.
Sound defensive tactics
England kept a good defensive shape without the ball after taking the lead. Brazil played with little structure throughout the match, as Oscar and Neymar, the two most dangerous Brazilians on the night, seemed to rove from side-to-side without any concern for tactics. Without the ball, Brazil seemed to oscillate between two modes. At times, Brazil pressed England for the ball. At other times, however, they employed a very relaxed approach.
Unsurprisingly, Brazil had far more success when they pressed England’s defence to make mistakes, rather than allowing them the space to play low-risk passes. The Brazilians were rewarded for their pressure when Gary Cahill gifted the ball to them right outside England’s 18-yard-box, allowing Fred to slide home the match’s tying goal. England answered on a strike by substitute Lampard, set up beautifully by Rooney, to take the 2-1 lead that they would hold on to.
They won’t all come as easy as this one did for England, but a win over Brazil is never something to sneeze at. Still, there’s plenty of work for the English squad: they must eliminate brutal defensive errors like Cahill’s, resist their tendency to revert to playing pointless long balls, and perhaps, find a way for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to effectively coexist on the pitch at the same time.
But that’s all for tomorrow. For now, let the English bask in the glow. Let them get ahead of their selves. For one night, at least, the lions really did roar.
Three Lions, Three Stars
Theo Walcott gave Brazilian full back Adriano fits for much of the night down the right side of the pitch. Walcott looked as dangerous as he ever has in an England shirt, putting in several dangerous passes, creating space, and got better as the night went on.
Glen Johnson deserves praise for his play at full back for England. The oft-maligned Johnson effectively limited the chances of the dynamic Neymar. It was a disappointing match for the 21-year-old Brazilian phenom; he frequently showed the skill that has much of the footballing world salivating over his potential, particularly as the match wore on in the second half. It’s easy to see what the fuss is about, but it was not his night. And for that, Johnson deserves some credit.
Finally, Wayne Rooney was excellent for England, putting in a selfless and hardworking performance. In addition to opening the scoring, he facilitated the second English goal for Frank Lampard, and actually created several chances for his teammates throughout the match.