There is nothing like a game against the mighty
start a new year's fixtures and this match at Wembley was a cracker.
It was perfect as part of the English F.A.'s
150th Anniversary celebrations, and the capacity crowd were thoroughly
entertained by a marvellous game of football.
Roy Hodgson would have been pleased to gather his
players together again, especially as we will be playing some vital
games in the next few weeks.
The evening belonged, to some extent, to Ashley Cole, who
became the seventh England
player to reach the coveted 100 cap mark.
Some people say that he has possibly been lucky to reach that
landmark, but I don't agree and over the past few years he has been
arguably our best and most consistent performer, so many
congratulations to him.
The game began tentatively but on two minutes
Jack Wilshere showed just why he is so highly rated with a good run
that produced a corner.
Brazil's current hot property,
Neymar, also showed up well in the early exchanges.
But it took until the ninth minute before the first real chance
arrived. Steven Gerrard's
cross was met by Wayne Rooney and his header was brilliantly tipped
away by Julio Cesar in the Brazil
goal. Unfortunately it
wouldn't have counted because of a push by Rooney.
Then a breakaway by Neymar set up Oscar for a shot that flew
over as Brazil
retaliated. It was nip and
tuck at this stage and Cleverley's cross had to be punched away by
Cesar on 14 minutes. Four
minutes later though Brazil
were awarded a penalty. It
was a slightly contentious decision as Ronaldhinho's cross struck
Wilshere at close range and the referee deemed it had hit Wilshere's
hand. Surely it had been
ball to hand rather than hand to ball?
A penalty it was, but to the delight of the crowd, Joe Hart got
down well to block Ronaldhinho's spot-kick, saved the follow up
attempt and then was relieved when a brilliant touch by Cleverley took
the ball off Neymar's toes.
It was a let-off for England,
but probably a deserved one.
On 22 minutes a superb pass from Wilshere to Theo
Walcott ended with a shot too high and then a good pass from Gerrard
to Cole ended with another good effort just wide.
That would have been a great moment had Cole scored on his big
night! Overall the game
was fairly even and on 25 minutes
created another opening as the marauding Glen Johnson shot over after
good interplay with Walcott.
But in England's
next attack they took the lead.
Great passing between Wilshere and Rooney gave the Arsenal
player the chance to drive at the
defence. His vision is
superb and he spotted Walcott's run with a wonderful pass into the
winger's path. Cesar came
out and managed to block the shot but the ball ran loose to the edge
of the area where Rooney followed up to shoot low, hard and true into
the open net for a fine goal.
Almost immediately Wilshere sent Walcott away
again and only some desperate Brazilian defending stopped that attack.
On 34 minutes another good break by the lively Walcott almost
brought another chance for England and the confidence was now high
from the home side. But on
37 minutes they were almost brought back down to earth when Oscar
broke down the right before sending a superb pass to the far post.
Inexplicably the onrushing Neymar somehow shot over from close
range when it seemed he must score.
The excellent Johnson headed another dangerous cross clear but
then Rooney hit back with a good shot that flew past Cesar's post.
Just before the break Danny Welbeck combined with Walcott and
the winger's cross-shot was palmed away ungainly by Cesar.
The half ended with England just about deserving their lead.
Right at the start of the second half Rooney
combined with Gerrard and the skipper fired in a fierce shot that
Cesar palmed out again, this time Wilshere almost managed to convert
the rebound. What is it
with goalkeepers this season that they want to keep pushing the ball
back into the danger areas rather than hold on to the ball?
Several substitutes had come on for both sides at
the start of the half including Leighton Baines for Cole and Frank
Lampard for Cleverley.
Just when it seemed Brazil were running out of ideas, England gave
them a lifeline. Gary
Cahill came striding out of defence with the ball but his attempted
pass struck a Brazilian and bounced right into the path of substitute
Fred. The magnificently
named forward took one touch and then rifled a terrific shot wide of
Hart. Cahill was
distraught as he realised the significance of his mistake.
Almost immediately Brazil almost made England pay for another
attempted back pass had Hart at full stretch to kick clear, the ball
struck Cahill and again bounced invitingly for Fred.
This time the striker's shot just clipped the bar, much to the
relief of the England fans.
The mistakes had Gerrard and Rooney, in particular, seething
and they both barked out instructions to 'get a grip', or words to
that effect. To be fair to
the two central defenders, who had done well up to that point, they
managed to regain their composure for the remainder of the game.
Indeed, Cahill almost made amends on 55 minutes,
when his powerful header from a corner was tipped over the bar by
Cesar. But there was no
doubt that Brazil had been lifted by their equaliser and they had also
upped the pace after the break.
However they were not firing on all cylinders, like they
usually do, and Wilshere and Gerrard worked tirelessly to wrestle the
midfield back again. On 58
minutes another fine run and cross by Walcott was only just scrambled
away by Cesar and his defence.
minutes later and England regained the lead.
Walcott and Rooney combined, and as Brazil looked as though
they had cleared the situation, Rooney made a vital touch of the ball
to Lampard. The Chelsea
maestro, in a rich vein of goalscoring lately, didn't hesitate and
clipped a first time shot that flew past the diving Cesar to go in off
the post. It was a
brilliant goal and if a Brazilian had scored it we would have been
talking about it forever!
The placement of the shot was sublime.
England comfortably held Brazil through the remaining half-hour with
only a few half chances falling to the visitors.
The Brazilians are not as strong these days, and the flair
seemed to be missing from their play to some extent.
Although England sat back too much for most people's liking,
they looked in command, and Brazil had neither the guile nor skill to
penetrate again. In the last
quarter, both sides put together some useful approach play but there
were no other real scares in front of goal.
England deservedly won the game and it was good to report that
everyone chipped in with positive performances.
And it also was great to see the England players looking as
though they were really enjoying playing for their country again.
This squad is quietly developing into something rather special
under Roy Hodgson's stewardship.
Now though, the big tests lie ahead.