Pictures of real promise at an exhibition
Ian Ridley sees the world champions provide a yardstick for England's progress
Wednesday 11 June 1997
It is easy to be intimidated by Brazil, not physically - not since 1974 at least - but by players who treat the ball as lovers rather than mere friends. That and 50 years of the world game's proudest culture and record. Most nations have other diversions, Brazil has its football.
Perhaps it was why England began so tentatively on an oppressive Parisian night. Five Brazilian corners in the first five minutes, amid them Cafu nutmegging Paul Ince, suggested that an England, whose zealous physical commitment at this tournament has been questioned, could well struggle.
Then they caught the mood, as if to show that the barbarians are gradually being driven from the gates of the English game. Paul Gascoigne showed a few of the old tricks, while Paul Scholes, precociously unlikely to be intimidated, produced a back-heel, as did his Manchester United team-mate Gary Neville.
Unfortunately, much of what followed was exhibition stuff. England had already won the tournament, the Brazilians had peaked two days earlier against Italy and have this weekend's Copa America on their mind. When Djalminha carelessly curled a free-kick over the bar, a crass section of England's support chanted: "You're shit and you know you are." You're Dunga and, no, they're not, would have been more accurate.
Though the midfield was often open acreage, with pressing at a minimum, the game did become competitive whenever the defences were called into action. At the back Sol Campbell's development continued apace and two timely tackles on Ronaldo were especially impressive.
Campbell and Martin Keown, unluckily sustaining a broken arm, then Gary Neville largely coped confidently with a potentially outstanding partnership - until Romario darted in for his goal, that was. With R and R - who eclipsed England's SAS - there is precious little rest and recreation.
Just ahead of them Paul Ince confirmed his eligibility for comparison with the best holding midfield players at Le Tournoi. Further forward, Scholes was vibrant for his hour once more. Gascoigne, still short of match fitness, had his moments - but so he should have done in such an indulgent atmosphere.
Brazil, though, had the change of pace when they sensed the moment was right. Roberto Carlos's free-kick early in the second half turned over by David Seaman, on the ground where Nayim embarrassed him from near the half-way line, hinted at what was to come. Romario made it plain. It was good night, England.
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