Jude Bellingham’s kicking against Brazil sends England a Euro 2024 warning

England 0-1 Brazil: The visitors won at Wembley thanks to Endrick’s late goal – but they also succeeded by frustrating England’s star with a series of tactical fouls

Jamie Braidwood
at Wembley
Monday 25 March 2024 09:35 GMT
Bellingham and Richards burst out in laughter during exchange after Real Madrid game

Jude Bellingham in full flow was a sight Wembley was starting to get used to. Leaning forwards, ball almost dangling from his stretched toes, dynamic yet in perfect balance. Then Brazil arrived. The beautiful game? Joga bonito? Not tonight. Instead, meet the tactical foul: the sight of Bellingham laid out on his back proved a rather more frustrating image during this 1-0 defeat.

Brazil did not allow Wembley to be treated to a repeat performance of Bellingham’s peerless display against Italy last October – a night of fearlessness and youth that quite rightly had England dreaming of something special unfolding at the Euros this summer. Brazil recognised that this England has, at its heart, a true star: a Galactico who should belong to them along with Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo. But when the precocious Endrick tapped in the winning goal at the end of a Wembley friendly that fizzed but never quite managed to splutter into life, Bellingham, his future Real Madrid teammate, was already on the bench. It would not be a stretch to suggest he was kicked off the pitch.

It was that kind of night, highlighted from early on. The arc of Bellingham shaping to receive the ball was a warning sign for Brazil – it signalled a threat that had to be put out. At one stage during the first half, the centre-back Lucas Beraldo jumped from his defensive berth to clatter into the back of Bellingham’s legs. Other fouls in midfield carried the appearance of the tactical variety: a gameplan from the injury-weakened visitors that lacked subtlety but proved effective. With 21 goals and 11 assists in 34 appearances for England and Real Madrid this season, not many teams have succeeded in slowing Bellingham down and limiting his threat. But Brazil managed to here.

Bellingham is fouled by Lucas Paqueta, who was lucky to stay on
Bellingham is fouled by Lucas Paqueta, who was lucky to stay on (Getty Images)

Which in fairness, takes some doing. Bellingham has an ability to drive through contact and maintain his elegant stride despite the kicks and nibbles at his ankles, to turn smoothly, bundle through challenges, and remain with the ball tied to his foot. Brazil, under the instruction of the old-school Dorival Junior, the latest occupant of the head coach of the Selecao, just about managed to get away with their series of fouls on Bellingham, although it was a rotation that probably would have brought a second caution for West Ham’s Lucas Paqueta, had the fixture been competitive in name as well as nature.

Bellingham was in the ear of the Portuguese referee Artur Ribeiro Soares Dias as the players returned to their dressing rooms at half-time, undoubtedly as a result of the rough treatment he had endured in 45 irritating minutes. It did not improve after the interval and Bellingham was replaced midway through the second half, after going down with cramp in the Brazil box following a late run to the back post. As Harry Kane also watched on, injured, it left England without either of the two pillars, both excelling abroad this season in Munich and Madrid, who will be key if Southgate is to lead England to Euros glory this summer.

That, in itself, was a warning, as England suffered their first defeat since the World Cup quarter-final agony against France in Qatar. Bellingham, despite his status, and aura that the Brazil fans in the corner of Wembley appeared to be taken in by, is still only 20. Even with Kane leading the line, and able to absorb some of the attention and blows, this is Bellingham’s team. But this was a night to suggest that England and Southgate now need a plan for when opposing teams at the Euros inevitably target Bellingham, through rough treatment or otherwise. If Brazil managed to achieve it, there won’t be a side in Germany next summer who won’t try the same.

Bellingham was taken off by Southgate in the second half
Bellingham was taken off by Southgate in the second half (The FA via Getty Images)

Invariably, against Brazil, England needed others to step up. Phil Foden, who is enjoying the best season of his career at Manchester City, carried a renewed swagger in the early stages but fizzled out. Anthony Gordon and Ollie Watkins had moments but almost seemed to defer to Bellingham, struggling to act with a decisiveness and certainty that was required without Kane or Bukayo Saka. Of course, restoring those absentees to a starting line-up that includes Bellingham and Foden lightens the load. Perhaps the truth was that, tonight, Southgate only really learned something new from those who are unlikely to start for him anyway.

This wasn’t a vintage Brazil – Joelinton was injured, after all – but the inexperienced line-up named by Dorival managed to crack at something under England’s surface. They did so while still shimmering in flashes: with the touches from Paqueta, the bursts from Vinicius Jr, and the elusiveness of Rodrygo all a delight throughout.

England were mostly fine at Wembley and there is still excitement at the fact they now have their own star who can send those same ripples through the crowd when he gets on the ball. Brazil, though, did not want to hear it. And in victory, they succeeded.

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