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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Brazil And England Play To Memorable 2-2 Draw At Renovated Maracana Stadium

Brazil and England played to a memorable 2-2 draw at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro today in a game where Brazil dominated possession and England fought back on the counter-attack. Today’s game marked the first match at the newly renovated Maracana stadium where Brazil famously lost to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final. Brazil fielded a 4-3-3 formation with Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Filipe Luis in defense, Luis Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar in midfield, and Neymar, Fred and Hulk as the attacking triumvirate. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari handed the famous number 10 jersey to Neymar instead of Oscar in a clear signal that he envisions the Barcelona-bound ex Santos star as the leader of the current youthful squad. England, on the other hand, played in a 4-5-1 formation with coach Roy Hodgson fielding striker Theo Walcott in a withdrawn position on the right flank behind Wayne Rooney.

Eager to avenge their 2-1 loss to England at Wembley Stadium in February, Brazil began by taking control of the midfield and attacking with their vintage short, crisp passing and the ability to beat defenders on the dribble. Moreover, Brazil pressured England relentlessly on the ball and allowed Roy Hodgson’s team little space by double teaming whenever England had possession. Chelsea midfielder Oscar orchestrated the lion’s share of Brazil’s attacks by dropping deep into midfield and sprinting forward in search of Neymar, Fred and Hulk. Neymar seemed keen to vindicate Scolari’s decision to grant him the number 10 jersey and shot on goal from close range in positions where he would have done better to pass to a teammate.

Neymar had a golden opportunity in the 19th minute when he received a pass with only the keeper to beat and shot it right into the body of the diving Joe Hart from the left flank. Two minutes later, Neymar collected a deft pass from Fred, sidestepped England defender Glen Johnson, but unleashed the shot just wide of goal. In the 35th minute, Oscar dribbled past a bevy of English defenders on the right flank and sent a bullet of a cross that Hulk backheeled just wide of goal. Minutes later, Oscar again found space on the right flank but Fred’s header floated over the bar. England’s best opportunity of the half came in the 39th minute, when Theo Walcott found space in the box to drive a shot straight at Julio Cesar, who parried the ball well.

The floodgates opened in the second half as Brazil continued to relentlessly apply pressure against the English goal. Playing largely in England’s half, Brazil continued to create chances and varied their passing game with some longer range shots on goal in an effort to disrupt Joe Hart’s rhythm. The long range strategy paid dividends in the 57th minute when Hernanes curled in a dipping shot that deflected off the cross-bar and fell to Fred lurking near the right side of goal, who twisted his body to dispatch the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil a deserved 1-0 lead. Buoyed by their breakthrough, the Samba boys rested on their laurels a little too much by easing up on their attacks and positioning themselves languidly in midfield. England were quick to capitalize on the let up in pressure as substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain carved out space outside the edge of the box and rifled in a right footed rocket past the right hand of Julio Cesar to make it 1-1 in the 66th minute. Ten minutes later, Brazil were staring defeat at the Maracana stadium squarely in the eye when Wayne Rooney burst down the left flank on a counterattacking opportunity and sent a curling, wonder of a shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-1 England. Scolari responded by sending on waves of substitutes and was granted a reprieve from an embarrassing loss when Lucas Moura’s cross found Paulinho, who volleyed the cross into the back of the net to make it 2-2 with less than 10 minutes of regulation time remaining.

Overall, this was a disappointing result for Brazil, who should genuinely feel they had their pulse on the game and deserved a victory given their possession and chances. On the other hand, Brazil fans can take heart from the fact that the midfield gelled for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, when the team delivered some impressive displays of midfield possession and creativity en route to the Olympic final. Moreover, Scolari can take heart from the depth of his squad given that his substitutions featured Real Madrid’s Marcelo, Lazio’s Hernanes, Internacional’s Leandro Damiao, Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura and Atletico Mineiro’s playmaker Bernard. Neymar, meanwhile, struggled to live up to the weight of expectations, this time in the number 10 jersey, no less. Nevertheless, Brazil fans and Scolari will be impressed by the pace of the Brazilian midfield and can expect the team to only improve both in the next two weeks and throughout the upcoming Confederations Cup. Brazil’s next friendly is against France on June 9 in Porto Alegre.

Goals
Brazil: Fred (57), Paulinho (82)
England: Oxlade-Chamberlain (66), Rooney (77)

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