Typically, it was Martin Luther King Jr who coined “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”. Among other rather more important social and geopolitical walks of life, it is a sentiment easily attached to global sport where each success is fostered and developed from the ashes of every failure.
The sentiment can certainly be fastened onto the coattails of the Brazil men’s national football team. Even the Selecao have known adversity, coming in the form of a 7-1 thrashing in their home World Cup in 2014 to eventual winners Germany. What has followed has been an epic rebuilding job including a new coach, new players and a new philosophy.
England’s remodelling is taking them down a similar path. That Iceland’s victory at Euro 2016 is even being discussed as possibly the Three Lions’ worst ever major tournament defeat [though the United States side of 1950 may have something to say about that] says plenty about the seismic blow inflicted upon them in Nice last June.
But Brazil – who were prematurely knocked out of consecutive Copa America tournaments before qualifying for the World Cup – know all too well any rebirth is not without the odd splutter and stumble. And at Wembley the visitors provided Gareth Southgate with an insight into the chasm which separates his side from the planet’s best, as his side played the role of survivor during a stodgy and goalless 90 minutes – the second in as many games.
Southgate can be forgiven for again having to field a miss-mash of a team, with 14 players ruled out through injury and another debut awarded in the form of Dominic Solanke, whose maiden international outing has preceded his full Premier League debut. But in almost every aspect of the game Brazil exposed the Three Lions as the inexperienced and limited outfit they are, displaying traits that even their onlooking first team can only dream of.
Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino may be the greatest exponents of the high press in the Premier League, but Southgate is yet to implement that same tactic at international level – perhaps due to having yet to settle on a favoured system. Brazil delivered a fine example of pressure without the ball, and it ensured the back-three of John Stones, Joe Gomez on his first start and Harry Maguire – already uncomfortable enough in their own skin – were under pressure from the outset.
And once Brazil had the ball back, they rarely let it go. Casemiro, Renato Augusto and Paulinho – playing at the temporary home of his former club Tottenham Hotspur – rotated the ball like a carousel. In fact every player looked comfortable on the ball. When was the last time you could say that about an England team?
Had the game not been a glorified friendly then Brazil might have abandoned the Harlem Globe Trotter-like showboating and hammered home their dominance by putting the hosts to the sword, but instead they lacked a cutting edge and the same thrust which accompanied their route to Russia.
Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, was naturally the big-ticket draw with a celebrity-like cheer greeting his every touch. But even he went into show-boating mode at times, a guise which supplemented two shots which flew into the Wembley crowd.
Though captain Dani Alves – one of 12 used by coach Tite during his tenure – claimed Brazil would not treat the game as a friendly the match quickly descended into a training exercise with both sets of players clearly having an eye on returning to their clubs unscathed. Such was the lethargic end to a goalless first half, there was some doubt over whether both sets of players would even re-emerge for the resumption. Or if they should even bother.
After Ruben Loftus-Cheek departed through injury before the break, England attempt to ensure that Neymar joined him on the treatment table as Jamie Vardy and then Jake Livermore took chunks out of the Paris Saint-Germain record signing. If nothing else England are made of sterner stuff than under Roy Hodgson, but naturally it was their only response to the control exerted by the visitors.
The other redeeming feature of this England team continues to be Marcus Rashford, who off the pitch creates excitement in the stands and on it sends the heart rates of defenders fluttering. If Tite could have cheery-picked one England player for himself it would be the Manchester United man.
Since their World Cup humiliation in Belo Horizonte, Brazil have made Neymar the focal point but without the pressure of being the life and soul of the team. Southgate would do well to adopt this same ethos, building a team around the 20-year-old to bring the best out of him. For all Harry Kane goals and Dele Alli’s guile, Rashford provides the effervescent quality which can propel this side.
Late on, it took substitutes Fernandinho and Willian to turn Brazil into a side interested in winning the game, the former striking the post before Ashley Young flung himself in front of the Chelsea winger’s shot. Joe Hart then kept out Paulinho but by now their ponderous approach did not deserve a late goal. Solanke almost grabbed the sucker-punch but miss-controlled a cross at the back post, yet he produced an encouraging cameo.
Heading into a welcome four-month break until the next set of internationals, England remain the epitome of a work in progress. Many of this squad may not be called upon for the games against Netherlands and Italy in March but clean sheets against the world’s top two deserves credit. In a more competitive environment both results would surely have been different, but the games have allowed England to show their metal. That at least is one positive to draw ahead of next summer. But don’t look too hard for others.
Source : IBtimes