Fred spares Scolari blushes as Samba Boys struggle to find rhythm
Brazil 1 Russia 1
A last-minute goal by Fred spared Luiz Felipe Scolari an unhappy return to Stamford Bridge last night as his comeback as Brazilian coach continued to stutter.
The man who steered Brazil to success at the 2002 World Cup has yet to win in his second spell at the helm but Fred's equaliser at least suggested progress is being made. Scolari is still in the experimental stage of his second coming and picked only five of the XI which lost his first match 2-1 at Wembley last month: Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, David Luiz, Neymar and Oscar.
Having taken over Russia last July, Fabio Capello is more advanced. Unbeaten in seven games, the Italian's knack of qualifying for tournaments appears undimmed. Russia – minus Arsenal's Andrei Arshavin or Reading's Pavel Pogrebnyak – stand four points clear of Portugal and Israel in Group F with a game in hand.
Unsurprisingly, Capello's team began with much greater cohesion opening up Brazil's defence with ease. Set-pieces were a Chelsea weakness when Scolari was here and nothing appeared to have changed as players were left unmarked at corners. Alexsandr Kerzhakov could have scored twice, but sliced wide and then saw Hernanes block his shot.
An extraordinary bout of pinball in the Brazil box with three shots cleared off the line ended with Victor Fayzulin scoring. Defeat loomed until Marcelo played a neat one-two with Hulk before squaring for Fred to level. The goal saved Scolari from an inquest back home.
It is not just the form of the selecao which is worrying Brazilians, it is the knowledge that their rivals Argentina are looking ominously good. Alejandro Sabella, the former Sheffield United player, has blended Lionel Messi's talents into the team and they have taken 19 points from the last 21 to run away with the South American qualifying group. Having lost a home World Cup to Uruguay, losing another to Argentina would be too much for Brazil to bear.
After three testing matches in Europe, Scolari now faces judgment closer to home with a series of matches in South America beginning in Bolivia and against Chile next month.
There follows five friendlies in 21 days in June against decent opposition including England, France and Italy. By then it will be less than a year until the World Cup opens in Sao Paulo and we will be much closer to discovering whether Scolari has rediscovered his touch. (© Independent News Service)