As preparation for a World Cup in the warmth of a French summer this match had limitations. By its conclusion, despite still trailing to Fran Kirby’s very early goal, the visitors seemed to be more interested in jogging around to keep warm than trying to score an equaliser. Should England meet Brazil in Nice next June, with a quarter-final place at stake, they can expect a rather more demanding test.
Nevertheless, Phil Neville will have gleaned some useful information. The England manager will be pleased with the style and endeavour of his team who showed more signs of assimilating his approach, playing out from the back, doubling up in attack on the flanks, and creating good chances. He will be less happy with the wasteful finishing and poor decision-making which, together with good goalkeeping and stout defending, meant Brazil remained nominally in the game to its end.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t score more goals,” confirmed Neville. “It wasn’t a one-nil type of performance from us, we were not ruthless enough in our finishing.The players are disappointed. They know, with Brazil winning some free-kicks late on it could have been a smash-and-grab type of game. We didn’t finish with composure.
“But it was still a good test, more competitive than most of the qualifiers. We beat a top ten team and I saw things that excited me in the first half.”
This was, surprisingly, the first meeting between the teams, though Brazil did play in England during the 2012 Olympics, and lost 1-0 to Great Britain in front of 70,000 at Wembley.
England captain Steph Houghton, playing her first international since her husband, Bolton Wanderers’ Stephen Darby, was forced to retire after contracting motor neurone disease, was the only England starter who played in that match.
This was a very contrasting occasion; a cold day, a disappointing crowd below of 8,000, and nothing serious at stake. One similarity, however, was that Brazil conceded a second-minute goal. Nikita Parris, on the right, ghosted past the stationary Camila and delivered a cross neatly headed in off the underside of the bar by Kirby. It was the Chelsea striker’s 11th international goal.
Even in the brief time elapsed Marta, the reigning six-time women’s world player of the year, had already been fouled and it was to her the visitors looked for a lift. However, the 32-year-old soon indicated a muscle strain on the back of her leg and lasted only a quarter of the match before departing.
In her absence the responsibility of bringing Brazil back into the game fell to Ludmila, whose pace caused Manchester City so many problems in their recent Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid. She was supported from the flanks by Andressa Alves, a team-mate of Toni Duggan at Barcelona, and Debinha, who scored as North Carolina Courage won last month’s US championship final.
Yet while the Brazilians moved the ball smartly, and were a threat on the break, clear chances were rare. Carly Telford was quick from her goal to clear after 19 minutes when Ludmila sprang the offside trap and later to deny Raquel after a defensive mix-up.
Debinha also flashed a shot into the side netting but England were more dangerous, especially in the wide areas with Parris and Duggan. With Jodie Taylor and Ellen White injured Neville gave Rachel Daly the centre-forward role. Usually fielded in various left flank positions for England Daly has had two good seasons in attack with Houston Dash. However, while she regularly got into good positions she could not quite apply the finishing touch.
The best opportunities fell to Parris. Beating Camila again she was denied by Barbara, firing the rebound over. Next, when she seemed to have plenty of time, she delayed and Camila blocked. Another shot flew past the far post.
With Brazil sitting deep England had space to pass the ball in midfield but not to create good chances.The persevering Daly almost scored late on but Barbara saved. With Beth Mead and Duggan also available, both of whom played wide here, it will be instructive to see who Neville entrusts with the No.9 shirt in the second warm-up, against Australia at Fulham on Tuesday.
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