slick England silence samba

Frank Malley

There is an old football quip which is trotted out every time England play Brazil.

It states: "The English invented football, the Brazilians perfected it."

Well, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Joe Hart struck a blow for the inventors at Wembley as England defeated Brazil 2-1 in an eye-pleasing friendly which could prove to be meaningful when Rio 2014 comes around next year.

Why? Because for the first time in what seems an age an England team of youth and vigour demonstrated signs that they can mix it with the big boys of international football. Mix it in terms of adventure and daring, if not always precision technique. There was a zip, a tempo and a freshness about England with captain Steven Gerrard taking on the role of experienced holding general in the midfield, allowing the impressive Wilshere and Walcott freedom to punch holes in the Brazilian defence.

There was a composure in defence, too, with Ashley Cole, cheered at last and deservedly by the Wembley masses, winning his 100th cap and Chris Smalling his fourth, which promised much for the future.

So far so good, but time for a warning.

This was Brazil in February with the mercury hovering around zero, gloves and thermals in demand, two days training under their belt and golden boy Neymar looking as if he wished he had never made the trip from Santos in the week he celebrated his 21st birthday. Doubtless it will be different in 17 months' time when the beaches of Rio are packed and 200 million fans are urging on their beloved team.


But right now, officially, this is the worst Brazilian team since the introduction of rankings. They are rated a ludicrous 18th in the world, below teams such as Greece, Ecuador and the Ivory Coast.

Of course, it does not tell the true story.

Wherever they are, whatever the time of year, there is something thrilling about the canary yellow shirts of Brazil.

Okay, the current side might be short on legends but it is long on promise and the recall of Ronaldinho, the free-kick scourge of England goalkeeper David Seaman in Japan in 2002, clearly shows manager Luis Felipe Scolari believes a sprinkling of old magic dust and experience is required as he begins his second stint in charge.

Actually, Ronaldinho was a shadow of his former greatness. No longer does he possess the pace of old and while the swagger is there the substance is lacking. None more so than when he languidly stepped up to take a tame first-half spot kick which was well saved by England goalkeeper Joe Hart following a harsh decision to penalise Wilshere for handball.

This was always going to be a game of patience. It has to be when you are playing Brazil.

They might not have the quality of yesteryear but they keep the ball at times like Barcelona, full of deft touches and close control.

When you do get a chance you have to make it pay, which is exactly what Rooney did after 27 minutes, stroking the ball home from the edge of the penalty area after Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar had blocked a shot from Walcott.

But this was more than a Rooney show. This was the night Walcott proved the value of his pace and man-of-the-match Wilshere, the superb Jack of all midfield trades, demonstrated the worth of his quick mind and swift feet.

It was also a night to test the character, especially when Brazil substitute Fred scored just after the interval and then rattled the bar as the yellow shirts fleetingly threatened to overwhelm Roy Hodgson's side.

The fact that England kept tight shape and steely organisation under severe pressure was also a positive.

And the best thing of all? That had to be the winning goal on the hour mark from second-half substitute Frank Lampard.

It was inventive. Not often you can say that about England when they play Brazil.