Sunday 25 February 2018

Paulinho's wonder goal foils English fightback


Wayne Rooney of England scores England's second goal
Wayne Rooney of England scores England's second goal

Henry Winter in Rio de Janeiro

Just as England fans were celebrating strikes from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wayne Rooney with a chant of "it's just like watching Brazil", the hosts suddenly conjured up a goal from the old Brazil, scoring a fabulous equaliser through Paulinho.

Yet this was still a satisfying outcome for England, who could have been humiliated by the break.

England were indebted to Joe Hart in the first half when Brazil were rampant but they showed character and more adventure in the second period, particularly when Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived to inject some youthful verve in central midfield.


Rooney, so quiet early on, also responded to England's increased tempo and took his goal well.

And so a strange season for England, a year of rain delays, armband controversy and faltering steps on the road back to Rio, ended on a positive note. But the serious stuff lies ahead. England must not got carried by another pleasing friendly result.

The 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign resumes in September and Roy Hodgson's side must eradicate the errors that littered the opening half.

England had travelled all this way to be taught a lesson in ball use for a half and read some home truths in the match-day programme.

This declared that England "has not been much of a threat" since the 1966 World Cup, also noting the semi-final losses in Italia '90 and Euro '96 with "Mannschaft as its executioner".

The programme raised painful questions like "how can players such as Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney fail in the moment of truth?"

Rooney was up top, frequently and frustratingly isolated, while the man with No 9 on his back, Theo Walcott, started in his familiar position on the right, although occasionally moving inside. Walcott had some runs of brief promise but his final touch lacked substance.

The only England player who emerged from the first half with reputation enhanced was Hart, who made a series of exceptional saves. England would have been 4-0 down at the break but for Hart. It was a largely dispiriting 45 minutes for the visitors. Television microphones picked up Hodgson complaining about the quality of England passing.

The midfield lacked assurance. Phil Jones had the new red No 7 shirt and an advanced role in England's central midfield but failed to make any impact.

The ersatz role did not appear the best use of Jones' considerable strengths; he needs stationing at centre half and allowed to maraud forward if the opportunity arises.

It was a miracle England were level at the break. Brazil were so lively, particularly the likes of Hulk, Dani Alves, Oscar and Neymar.

Brazil have hardly excelled recently and were reminded of their country's high expectations when encountering the great Ronaldo in the tunnel. They played well in the first half, merely missing a finishing touch and also running into Hart in superb form.

Hart shone through these apparent Dark Ages. Otherwise familiar flaws surfaced. England kept dropping deep, and Ray Lewington emerged from the dugout to gesture them forward.

There was an over-reliance on playing the ball back to Hart and then some possession-risking clearances. Such long balls need discouraging urgently. Brazil clearly felt England's technique was questionable and pressed high and hard.

England also had a tendency to dive on tackles, such as Carrick catching Oscar early on. Neymar's free-kick went over the wall and into Hart's arms. Brazil enjoyed almost endless possession, exploiting English mistakes. When Glen Johnson misread a cross-field pass, Neymar seized the ball and only Hart's quick reflexes kept the scores level.

Hart then denied Thiago Silva at the near post. Neymar turned Carrick but shot wide. Oscar then drove the ball across and Johnson somehow managed to shepherd it away as Fred lurked.

On it went, Brazilians hammering at England's back door. The Hart show resumed, the keeper saving at the feet of Filipe Luis and then stopping a shot from Brazil's other full-back, Alves.

When Hulk and Neymar combined to create a chance for Oscar, Hart again rescued England. For a 'keeper who has endured plenty of criticism this season, this was a 45-minute advertisement for his abilities.

The scoreline showed a semblance of reality 12 minutes in the second period. Hernanes shot beat Hart but not the crossbar and England's defenders were caught cold, failing to react to Fred's presence. The Fluminense striker responded with a neat hooked finish.

Hodgson then sent on Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was following in the footsteps of his father Mark here. Chamberlain senior had been in that 1984 side that famously won a friendly here.

His son slotted into central midfield, and soon equalised from a fine move. Lampard and Rooney worked the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose low strike accelerated into the net.

It was totally against the run of play but also totally uplifting to see Oxlade-Chamberlain given a chance in the centre.

With 11 minutes remaining, Rooney then gave England the lead with a shot that deflected in off Fernando. England were in dream-land but their fans' chants were ended when Paulinho met Lucas Moura's cross with that wonderful volley. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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