It has been 23 years and nine games across three different continents since England last beat Brazil, the team whose presence at Wembley tomorrow night will give the February friendly rather more prestige than it usually commands. They are not the five-times world champions for nothing, and the last time they lost to England they were the victims of a handball scandal as blatant as that involving Diego Maradona four years earlier.
The England team that beat Brazil 1-0 at Wembley on 28 March 1990 were arguably the best since the 1966 generation and three months later would reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. They had the prolific Gary Lineker in attack, Paul Gascoigne − a substitute that night − was about to embark on the run of form that would carry him into the team, while John Barnes and Chris Waddle were on the wings.
Even so, England still required a moment of what could most charitably be described as cunning, by the current Under-21s coach Stuart Pearce, who clearly handled the ball on the line after the substitute Müller had beaten goalkeeper Chris Woods and shot at goal. It provoked a great deal of anger among the Brazilians, who surrounded the German referee Klaus Perchel and refused to stay on the pitch at the end of the game for a Football Association presentation.
The Brazil team included the famous left-back Branco, who would briefly join Middlesbrough six years later, and distinguished himself on the night by shooting at goal from just about anywhere. In commentary, John Motson described Branco's run-up for free-kicks as "like Devon Malcolm's". Also in the side was Dunga, the 1994 World Cup-winning captain, Bebeto, Careca and the goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel.
Marking Lineker was the uncompromising centre-half Carlos Mozer, who helped Marseilles reach the European Cup final the following season but could not prevent England's second-highest goalscorer of all time from notching his 30th of 48 international goals. This one was a diving header in the 37th minute after Barnes had flicked on Peter Beardsley's corner, but what stands out in Lineker's memory were the boots he was wearing.
"One of my Quasar boots had split before the match and the only person who had a spare pair − and had the same size feet as me − was Bobby Robson," Lineker told The Independent. "If you look at the footage from the game, I have got a different boot on either foot. One was Quasar and the other one was, I think, Adidas.
"These days some players wear a different pair of boots in either half of a game but back then you would generally take one pair of screw-in studs and one pair of moulded studs to a match and those boots would last you a while. I was very superstitious. If I scored in a pair, I would keep them for ever."
What also sticks out in Lineker's mind about that night was the fact that, for once, England were playing in front of a full Wembley, given that the previous England international at Wembley, against Yugoslavia in December 1989, had drawn a crowd of less than 35,000, that is unsurprising. Even Wembley gates against Italy and Scotland that year failed to break 70,000.
"I don't know why friendlies changed," Lineker said. "It may be because there are lots more substitutions. It was always a big game and huge to play Brazil. If you go back to the 1980s, England did not sell out every game. It was very rare to play in front of a full house. I remember playing in front of crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 at Wembley."
Since that night at Wembley, England have played Brazil eight times, drawing four and losing four, including the 2-1 defeat in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup. Lineker remains the last Englishman to score a winning goal against Brazil, although John Terry was close to taking that honour in June 2007, having scored the only goal of the game until Diego nicked an injury-time equaliser against Steve McClaren's team.
"We were a good side around that period," Lineker said. "In 1988 it didn't happen for us at the Euros for a number of reasons. We were a more flexible side with the systems we could play. We had very skilful players like Waddle, Barnes, Gazza and Bryan Robson driving us on. We defended well with Terry Butcher and Des Walker.
"Peter Beardsley could open things up. He wasn't an archetypal English centre-forward. He was the first of the kind who would drop off and leave the penalty area to me."
The night was Peter Shilton's 114th cap for England, but he came off after 11 minutes, having collided with Walker. Woods replaced him and kept a clean sheet − albeit with some help from Pearce − and the result meant England extended their unbeaten run to 15 games. They went 17 games unbeaten eventually, before losing to Uruguay in a friendly in May at Wembley before they left for Italia '90.
That World Cup, in which Brazil went out to Argentina in the last 16, proved to be a high-point for Lineker's generation of players. Brazil, however, have won the World Cup twice since then. "They are similar to us insomuch as they cannot afford not to take even friendly games seriously," Lineker said. Twenty-three years is a long time and seven different managers since Bobby Robson have failed to break the hex. If his side do not win tomorrow, at least Roy Hodgson will get a second chance in Rio de Janeiro in June.Reuse content