This was not, from England, the proverbial joga bonito for much of Sunday's game, in fact at times – let’s be honest - they were clinging on for dear life, but two goals and a draw at the Maracana is no bad result when the Brazilians are plain desperate to win.
Roy Hodgson’s team flew out of Rio de Janeiro hoping that they would be back next summer when the real business begins and while that job is very far from being complete, they showed a glimmer of the bloody-mindedness that might just see them through World Cup qualification.
At times they were denied the ball in the same manner that any tourists brave enough to challenge the local footballers on the Copacabana find themselves. The Brazilians passed fluently and pressed frantically. Hodgson’s players struggled to prise possession away and when they did they could hardly put together a sequence of passes worthy of the name.
But this is very far from a great Brazil team and the ferocity with which they approached the game in the first half could not be sustained. On the break in the second half, England were direct and both goals came when they ran at their opponents and put them under pressure. It might be generations until an English team can out-pass a Brazilian side. It might never happen. But there are other ways to compete.
Joe Hart was England’s outstanding player and kept them in the game in the first half. In the last 20 minutes, two excellent goals came from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a substitute, and Wayne Rooney who had led the line on his own in often unpromising circumstances. When they took the lead with 13 minutes remaining, the home crowd could scarcely believe it.
It will have been encouraging for Hodgson to see Rooney run confidently at the Brazil defence and strike a curling shot that found the top corner of Julio Cesar’s goal, via what looked like a deflection off the substitute Fernando. Goodness knows, he has been waiting for a moment like that in a bleak end to the season.
The first England goal was a great moment for young Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose father Mark Chamberlain played in the last England game at the stadium in June 1984 and was the first man to celebrate with John Barnes after his famous goal. For Hodgson it turned into good way to sign off after a difficult season. He is unbeaten against Brazil in two games and it was his opposite number Luiz Felipe Scolari who found himself booed for his substitutions.
This is not the most promising Brazil team ever assembled with a World Cup finals in one year’s time. Considering it is the first one on home soil since 1950, there is a very real chance that they could be in trouble. There were flashes from Neymar, the home team’s great hope but the man who dominates the billboards around Rio de Janeiro was not even his team’s best player.
After the grinding attempt to break down the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday, this was very hot and very hard work and you could hardly deny that in the first half at least, that England stumbled through thanks largely to the work of Hart, who was magnificent. They could not stop Brazil’s possession and they expended a lot of energy discovering that reality.
The Brazilian team pressed them very high up the pitch and it proved beyond Hodgson’s players to move the ball quickly enough or with sufficient invention to get around them. In the second half that changed and as the Brazilians themselves slowed down so the chances opened up for England. Before the break, a chance for Walcott aside, they hardly had a sight of the Brazil goal.
With a central midfield trio of Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard, England had enough manpower in the middle of midfield, they just could not prevent Brazil from stretching them on both sides of the pitch and, when the ball was at Neymar’s feet, through the middle too.
Hart was superb, his first major save on 20 minutes when Glen Johnson could not get his clearance away at the back post and Neymar had a good chance. The first half was a struggle for Johnson who had Hulk on his case. He managed to clear a cross from Oscar ran dangerously across the England goal.
The home team deserved that goal before the break, none more so than when Luis Felipe and Neymar put Hulk in down their left and forced a save from Hart who was quick to get up again and block the follow-up from Neymar. When he is on this kind of form, with the shots coming thick and fast, the Manchester City goalkeeper is such a confident presence.
At the other end, for Rooney it was lung-busting, thankless stuff and his accidental exchange with Walcott that opened up a chance was about as good as it got for him. Leighton Baines, given a start by Hodgson, was replaced by Ashley Cole on 31 minutes with what looked like a blow to his hip sustained early in the game. Jones was limping for some of it after a tackle on Luis Felipe. England’s only chance of the first half came when Johnson played in Walcott whose shot was saved by Cesar.
After half-time Scolari made three substitutions before the goal finally came for Brazil, the third of which – Lucas Moura on for Oscar – was booed by the home fans. It was another substitute, Hernanes, of Lazio who made the goal. His curling shot from the left clipped Hart’s post and when it came down, the striker Fred was there to slip the ball in.
At that point, England might have crumbled but to their credit they looked a bit stronger. The Brazilians’ frantic pressing game had abated somewhat and while the ball would not quite stick when it came to Walcott, there was at least a degree of good possession for the away team. Gary Cahill had a header from a corner that was just wide. James Milner’s shot on target was also deflected wide of the goal.
Then came the big moment for Oxlade-Chamberlain. He had come on for Johnson just after the hour and was played in the centre while Jones switched to right-back. England gained possession outside the Brazil area and finally it was Rooney who teed up the Arsenal man for a low, sweetly-struck drive past Cesar.
Next came Rooney’s goal. Good work by Milner on the left created the possession deep in the Brazil half and David Luiz backed off when Rooney ran at goal. When his shot dropped into Cesar’s net it prompted disbelief in the Maracana that they might just lose this game. They were desperate.
It would have been hard on the Brazilians to lose this game but they came close. Just six minute of regulation time remained when Lucas Moura crossed from the right and Paulinho, granted a little too much space, scored with a crisp volley. Once again, the Brazilians came at England but there was a degree of confidence back in Hodgson’s side. It will come in useful in September and October.
Brazil (4-3-3): Julio Cesar; Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Filipe Luis; Gustavo, Paulinho, Oscar; Hulk, Fred, Neymar.
Substitutes BRA: Marcelo/Felipe Luis ht, Hernanes/Gustavo ht, Oscar/Moura 56, Fernando/Hulk 76, Damiao/Fred 80, Paulinho/Bernard 84. Not used: Dante, Cavalieri (gk), Jadson, Jean, Jefferson (gk), Damiao, Lucas, Rever.
England (4-1-4-1): Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines (Cole, 31); Carrick; Walcott, Jones, Lampard, Milner; Rooney.
Substitutes Johnson/Oxlade-Chamberlain 63, Walcott/Rodwell 84. Not used: McCarthy (gk), Foster (gk), Welbeck,, Defoe, Lescott.
Referee: W Roldan (Colombia)
Man of the match: Hart
Attendance: 66, 015 Rating: 8