England outmuscled by Dunga's power rangers
Brazil 1 England 0: No disgrace in defeat for reserves but Brazil's 'big lads' reveal the size of the challenge that awaits Capello's men in South Africa
Led up to the VIP seats at the final whistle, Wayne Rooney was presented with what looked like a large, highly decorative empty box: if ever there was a suitable metaphor for this weird friendly in a desert 3,200 miles from Wembley then here it was.
Lots of sound, light and noise; lots of star names and razzmatazz and then a match played at such a slow pace that in the armchairs and thrones laid on for Qatar's ruling elite you would not be surprised if some required shaking awake for the post-match presentation. His Excellency had paid around £4.4m to these teams for a friendly but he probably did not expect it to be this friendly.
There was, sadly, to be no repeat of that wonderful night in Berlin one year ago when Fabio Capello's understudies proved themselves the master of Germany. But this was no embarrassment for a team featuring just two of Capello's usual starting XI. Yes, they were ragged at times, and mistakes were made, but against a Brazil team virtually at full strength there will be more illustrious teams who come off worse.
The biggest disappointment of the night was not Wes Brown or Shaun Wright-Phillips, although neither of them was at his best; the biggest disappointment was Kaka. Given the reputation this man carries around, his endless flouncing and, later on, his inclination to shoot from anywhere were a major let-down. In fairness to him, he looked tired and – like the rest of us – bemused as to what he was doing in Qatar.
But do not underestimate the work that Jermaine Jenas did to track and unsettle Kaka all over the pitch. Jenas does not pass the ball under pressure quite as well, but in a hot stadium that was lit up brighter than a dentist's surgery he worked hard. Joleon Lescott was excellent in defence and James Milner showed that you do not have to play like a Brazilian to be an effective winger.
Capello was gentle with his team, acknowledging that, for all the work England did, they did not attack quickly enough. "We played too slow when we had the ball and they defended well," he said. "When you get the ball they [Brazil] move quickly and always get eight players behind the ball. If you don't play quickly and move towards the goal, it is difficult to create chances against them."
The England team, burdened with the belief that they should always dictate the play, need to learn that against more powerful opposition the counter-attack is the best method. On Saturday night they never looked close to being able to pick off Brazil on the break, although the opposition did a lovely job on them in the 77th minute with four players running at three white shirts. Only Brown's back-post intervention prevented a goal.
When it was pointed out to Carlos Dunga, Brazil's coach, that his team often had eight men behind the ball, his answer was pretty stark. "That's the way we play," he said. "England had 11 men behind the ball. They need to learn how to dribble [through us]. That's what you have to do. Teams are more compact these days."
To beat Brazil in South Africa next summer, Capello will need the big guns fit and ready. This Brazil team are a strong, physical bunch and it was curious that one of the only criticisms Capello made about his own side was that they did not win enough tackles. "We were not strong enough to play against Brazil," he said. "We need to be stronger physically and in the tackle."
Unlike Brazil sides of the past, where new players unknown in Europe emerged at tournaments, this one does not hold any surprises. Because they all play in Europe, and because of the saturation coverage of the Champions League and its ugly little brother, the Europa League, we are familiar with Nilmar at Villarreal, Maicon at Internazionale and Dani Alves at Barcelona.
Even on their own, these players stand out. Put in one side and they are a formidable combination. One does not imagine Brazil's players spend their spare moments worrying about how they will handle Wayne Bridge. But you can waste a lot of time mulling over the kind of damage the likes of Alves and Maicon could do to a half-strength England team.
Jenas pointed out that this Brazil team are "big lads" as opposed to the occasionally delicate artistes of past generations. "It's not the Brazil team of old you expect to see," he said. "Usually in games, certain teams get in positions where you press them and press them but they were so good on the ball it was difficult."
England will have to put hope in Capello's confident claim that, having played Brazil and Spain now, he knows how to beat the two favourites in South Africa next summer. Again he made the distinction that Brazil are a very different prospect from the European champions. "The style of this team is different to Spain," Capello said. "It is the first time we have played against a team who was so physically strong, fast and technically good. Spain are really good technically. They play a lot of passes. But they are not as strong. Brazil defend very well."
That has been his assessment all week. With Spain you have to deal with the passing and the possession. With Brazil you have to deal with the power and the pace. Strange, then, that Brazil's goal was the kind you would expect English defenders to be able to deal with. It was nothing more than a ball lobbed over the top by Elano that Nilmar ran on to between Brown and Matthew Upson to head past Ben Foster.
The England goalkeeper should have been sent off for upending Nilmar in the area when Brown sold him short with a header back. Luis Fabiano's penalty was a good few feet over the crossbar – at least the English are not the only one who struggle with penalties. Milner had England's best chance with a back-post volley from Wright-Phillips' cross on 69 minutes.
Having lost Michael Carrick the day before – making it 11 players missing who probably would have figured if fit – this could have been a whole lot worse for Capello. We will just have to trust him that it will all fall into place next summer.
Brazil (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar (Internazionale); Maicon (Internazionale), Lucio (Internazionale), Thiago Silva (Milan), Bastos (Lyons); Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Melo (Juventus); Elano (Galatasaray), Kaka (Real Madrid), Nilmar (Villarreal); Fabiano (Seville). Substitutes used: Alves (Barcelona) for Elano, 64; Hulk (Porto) for Fabiano, 67; Carlos Eduardo (Hoffenheim) for Kaka, 81; Baptista (Roma) for Nilmar, 81.
England (4-4-1-1): Foster (Manchester United); Brown (Manchester United), Upson (West Ham), Lescott (Manchester City), Bridge (Manchester City); Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Jenas (Tottenham Hotspur), Barry (Manchester City), Milner (Aston Villa); Rooney (Manchester United), Bent (Sunderland). Substitutes used: Defoe (Tottenham) for Bent, 55; Crouch (Tottenham) for Wright-Phillips, 81; Huddlestone (Tottenham) for Barry, 81; A Young (Aston Villa) for Milner, 84.
Referee: A Abdou (Qatar).
Booked: England Foster.
Man of the match: Nilmar.
Man-for-man marking: England
Ben Foster Handled well but would have been off in a competitive game for foul on Nilmar.......... 5
Wes Brown Troubled throughout by the excellent Nilmar. One good block.......... 4
Matthew Upson Early mistake might have cost a goal and later lapse of concentration did.......... 4
Joleon Lescott Made a couple of good interceptions. More comfortable than his partner.......... 6
Wayne Bridge Out of form at club, has work to do to remain understudy to Ashley Cole. ......... 5
Shaun Wright-Phillips After one good low cross early on, failed to capitalise against a debutant left-back.......... 5
Jermaine Jenas Late starter who failed to disrupt Brazil's smooth midfield passing. ......... 5
Gareth Barry Vigorous physical challenge to Kaka without creating much himself. ......... 6
James Milner Worked hard as ever down the left but missed England's one chance to equalise.......... 6
Wayne Rooney A responsible captain, lured into dropping too deep to help his team. ......... 5
Darren Bent Wanted quicker delivery when making runs. Missed one header.......... 5
Substitutes Jermain Defoe Little chance. 5; Tom Huddlestone Brief debut. n/a; Peter Crouch n/a; Ashley Young n/a
Julio Cesar The quietest of evenings with little to do. Still first-choice for World Cup.......... 6
Maicon Keen as ever to push forward and joined in some neat passing down the right. ......... 6
Lucio Solid in defence and had time and space to bring ball out. Superb late shot. ......... 7
Thiago da Silva Little trouble deputising for Luisao. Blatant block on Rooney in first half. ......... 6
Michel Bastos Not unnerved when Wright-Phillips went past him and recovered well. ......... 6
Gilberto Silva May not fit the more dynamic new Arsenal but now a wise old head in midfield. ......... 7
Felipe Melo Was supposed to be carrying an injury but did not show it. ......... 6
Kaka Despite a couple of bursts from midfield was unexceptional by his own standards.......... 6
Elano Former Manchester City man was always threatening and made the goal. ......... 6
Nilmar Shared Brazilian honours with Lucio, scored a fine goal and won the penalty. ......... 8
Luis Fabiano Could not make much of uncertainty in the heart of English defence. Quiet. ......... 6
Substitutes Dani Alves Useful sub. 6; Hulk Quiet debut. 5; Julio Baptista n/a; Carlos Eduardo n/a
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