Most pundits will be walking away from this game feeling that England were overmatched, and in the main they will be right. Brazil were totally dominant in a way that belied the slim margin of victory they came away with at the end of the game. Elano and Kaka were mesmerising, the passing was crisp and subtle, and the finishing by Nilmar simply sublime. In the hot conditions of Doha it is easy to see why Brazil were so comfortable, and it was a weary England side in the end that kept chasing that elusive ball against a side well honed in the ways of possession football. That does not, however, detract from what was a battling Three Lions display. Fabio Capello’s side have shown remarkable resilience and character since the Italian took over. What they lacked in quality they certainly made up for in hard work and sheer stubbornness. Indeed, credit should be given to England for the way that they managed to restrict the scoreline to only 1-0.
After a controlled first half where England managed to contain Brazil to an extent, being defensively strong whilst having very little attacking threat themselves, the second half came far too quickly for their liking. Nilmar slipped in between Wes Brown and Matthew Upson and lifted an exquisite ball from Elano over the despairing Ben Foster’s dive with a calm header which nestled in the bottom corner. The threat was there in the first half when Nilmar waltzed past Brown on numerous occasions, before another England compatriot came to his rescue. However there was no stopping Nilmar this time as he grabbed a beautiful goal. A second mental slip by Brown 15 minutes later was enough for Nilmar to pounce and steal the ball before going to ground from a Foster slide. The resulting penalty was put wide and Foster was a lucky man to remain on the pitch.
Nilmar has shown that this England back four is vulnerable to pace, a trait he has in abundance. Brown did not look comfortable or assured on the right and was terrorised by Nilmar throughout the game. For Manchester United, his best position is centre-back and Capello must surely be wondering whether Brown can cope with the demands of world-class players out of his comfort zone – it seems a lot to ask of the hard-working defender. On the positive side, Foster had a great game. He stood out from what was an indifferent, if hard working, performance and made some top class saves along the way. Whist Edwin van der Sar had been injured earlier in the season, Foster took up the Manchester goalkeeper mantle and it is clear that he has improved as a result, becoming more decisive and assured between the sticks, and less afraid to shout at his defenders and take command.
However, the most important thing about this match was what was missing from it. England were non-existent in attack, despite Wayne Rooney’s best efforts, and the question has to be asked – would this have been the same were the full squad available to Capello? Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were the most visible losses. There was no creativity for England and they were fundamentally starved for ideas going forward. The passing was too predictable and Brazil robbed England of possession all over the park as a result, something England do not need when they are playing one of the best teams in the world. However, it is clear that had the first XI been playing things would have indeed been different. The likes of Lampard and Gerrard offer England leadership, ingenuity and goals, something which England were sorely lacking in this match.
Saying this then, with what was potentially England’s second team out against Brazil – with the probable exceptions of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Barry and possibly Ben Foster – is the result really so disheartening? Brazil, with the likes of Lucio, Kaka, Cesar and later Daniel Alves, cannot make such a claim. Therefore it seems instead that this much only serves to show Capello of his strength in depth and the fact that there are other players willing to work hard for him were he to give them a chance.
Despite the loss there are clearly some positives to take from the game. England have shown themselves to be stubborn and reluctant to give up, a trait that is Capello born and bred. Moreover, they have also shown a mental toughness, to keep up concentration for so long against a team talented at exposing and exploiting lapses and mistakes. On the subject, Capello said: “Still I have learned some things. I understand the value of some players against this sort of team better now – but I will not single out players.”
No doubt one of those players that Capello refused to single out is striker Darren Bent who had an indifferent England performance. Obviously, this was partially due to service, the balls lumped forwards to him were wide, long and obvious, leaving Bent very little to exploit. However, it is still hard to shake the feeling that this was his chance and so when he was substituted for Jermain Defoe midway through the second half, it was impossible not to feel some sympathy for the man who has been so prolific for Sunderland this season.
August 12, 2009 – 19:45 – Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam
Holland 2-2 England – Kuyt 10, van der Vaart 38 – Defoe 49, 77
– ECF – Three Lions gear up for ‘ridiculous’ friendly – August 11, 2009
– Match report
– England Analysis – Superior England spoiled by shocking errors
September 5, 2009 – 17:30 – Wembley, London
England 2-1 Slovenia – Lampard 31, Defoe 63 – Ljubijankic 83
– ECF – Calm before the storm – September 3, 2009
– Match Report
– England Analysis – Tepid dress rehearsal sparked by Defoe
September 9, 2009 – 20:00 – Wembley, London
England 5-1 Croatia – Lampard 8 (pen), 59, Gerrard 18, 66, Rooney 77 – Eduardo 73
– ECF – Rooney to meet his supposed mentor – September 8, 2009
– England Analysis – Sweet revenge for superb England
– ECF – England finds form, then more questions – September 12, 2009
October 10, 2009 – 17:15 – Dnipro Arena, Dnipropetrovsk
Ukraine 1-0 England – Nazarenko 29 (Green sent off 15)
– ECF – Beckham is going to the World Cup – October 6, 2009
-England Analysis – Calamitous England ruin perfect record – October 10, 2009
October 14, 2009 – 20:00 – Wembley, London
England 3-0 Belarus – Crouch 4, 76, Wright-Phillips 59
-ECF – Capello’s men halfway through double-whammy of tests before entering final year examinations – October 12, 2009
– England Analysis – Comfortable result overshadows lacklustre display – October 15, 2009
November 14, 2009 – 17:00 – Khalifa International Stadium, Qatar
Brazil 1-0 England