Plenty to ponder after Brazil's defeat at England
On the face of it, England, sixth in the FIFA rankings, playing at home and beating Brazil, ranked 18th, is not such a shock. That's not quite how they saw it in Brazil, where, with less than 18 months until it hosts the 2014 World Cup, fears of another "Maracanazo," the term describing the home upset when Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup final, loom large.
That's one of the reasons Luiz Felipe Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, was re-appointed coach in November, as Mano Menezes paid the price for a poor 2011 Copa America and defeat in the final of the London Olympics. The old boys' reunion was completed by the appointment of Carlos Alberto Parreira, Word Cup-winning coach in 1994, as technical director.
Menezes had spent just over two years bringing through a new generation of players, wanting the Brazil of 2014 to be a dynamic reflection of the country itself. Scolari, though, is seen as more of a pragmatist, so it was some surprise that he selected in his midfield players more used to creating than destroying. Felipe Melo, for example, was dropped; Lazio playmaker Hernanes was in.
Ramires and Paulinho started the game, and though both made dangerous breaks forwards, they left gaps, and England's midfield, particularly the impressive Jack Wilshere, was able to take advantage.
"Beauty is supposedly the last of Brazil's concerns right now as some think it's all about winning [in 2014] and they're right," ESPN Brazil magazine reporter Marcus Alves said. "The fact that England had a better midfield than the Brazilians sums up why we lost."
That's one lesson learned: we can expect a more functional midfield in the next friendlies scheduled against Italy and Russia. The next is that Neymar will take penalties in the future. He was the designated spot-kick taker, but with Ronaldinho making his 100th appearance for Brazil, the veteran pulled rank, took the first-half penalty and had his effort saved by Joe Hart. "Felipao [Scolari] wanted Neymar to take the penalty" ran a headline in Brazilian paper Globo Esporte.
"He asked me to take it," Neymar told the paper.
"When Neymar was going to take the football, Ronaldinho already had it," Scolari said.
"Felipao asked me to take it, but Ronaldinho is an idol, he is so respected and he is 'a crack' [superstar], and has taken so many penalties in his career," Neymar said. "He thought he could score and he took it. It's not his fault."
That exchange probably best sums up the fault-line in communication between the two. Scolari had said that he wanted to bring more experience to the team. He did that by recalling goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who was excellent. Ronaldinho was back for the same reason, but his return did not work. "He disappointed," wrote newspaper Lance. "He missed a penalty but also every pass he made was the wrong one."
"Neymar seemed inhibited by the presence of the former world number one," wrote influential columnist Juca Kfouri of Folha do S.Paulo. "He plays better when he plays with Kaka."
Brazil looked better in the second half, following the arrival from the bench of Arouca (for Paulinho), Lucas Moura (for Ronaldinho) and Fred (who scored, for Luis Fabiano). So it's not all doom and gloom for the World Cup hosts, whose coach hardly has a great record in England: "Felipao left London exactly as he had left the city the last time when he was fired from Chelsea: defeated," wrote Lance, rather cruelly.
"I still need to watch and evaluate lots of players," Scolari said. "I think that we are going to establish an identity only after the Confederation Cup this summer. I'm going to have 90 percent of the World Cup squad playing that tournament. The Confederation Cup is a great opportunity for a coach for testing his team."
That leaves Ronaldinho with only a few more games to prove that he can play alongside Neymar, if he wants to emulate the 2002 Comeback Kid story of his great friend Ronaldo. The biggest winner of the night for Brazil, though, was someone who was not even in the squad: Kaka.