Early Doors

England can take Hart from Rio recovery

Early Doors

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So who said these international friendlies were sterile, meaningless get-togethers?

The first thing Early Doors will acknowledge from last night's engrossing 2-2 friendly draw between Brazil and England at the rebuilt Maracana in Rio de Janeiro is that we should all be glad this occasion occurred after a local court threatened to render the rebuilt ground unsafe for such a heady evening.

The second item ED would like to point out is that these Brazilians are nowhere near the level of the South American giants who carried off the Mexico World Cup in 1970. They are nowhere near even the level of the side who snared the last of the country's five World Cups in Japan and South Korea 11 years ago.

The Barcelona-destined Neymar is also far from exuding the bewitching powers of Pele and his buddies. The yellow shirts can always leave opposition teams in a trance, as we witnessed in the first half last night. But traditionally like all good Brazilian teams, they are fallible in defence.

They are eye-catching, but perhaps do not have the class to make good on the old maxim of "we'll score one more goal than you" that got them by in yesteryear.

There are reasons why this Brazil side have won only one of their previous eight outings in international climes under 'Big Phil' Scolari. Put simply, a lack of resoluteness in defence and profligacy up front do not make them likely winners of the World Cup on their own soil in a year’s time. It could happen, but it does not seem likely.

ED also witnessed Brazil in the flesh against Ghana at Craven Cottage in London some 18 months ago. They toiled to usurp a team reduced to 10 men that night. Nothing much seems to have changed, but they remain a slave to their golden past.

A Jairzinho goal condemned England to a 1-0 defeat some 43 years ago on their way to lifting the World Cup in Mexico, but England have had their moments against Brazil at other times, most notably when John Barnes and Mark Hateley scored in a 2-0 win back in Rio in 1984. That remains the last success by a European nation in Brazil, but this draw was not too terrible in the circumstances of a makeshift side.

Discarding the ongoing and silly world rankings that place Brazil at 19 and England at seven, these nations may well be closer in terms now than they have ever been since the 1960s and 1970s.

A 2-1 England win over Brazil in February and last night’s 2-2 draw would suggest so. Time and technique have altered both of these countries. Brazil remain certainly more technically accomplished than England, but in modern football there is more than one way to escape with a worthwhile result.

Roy Hodgson will be pleased about his side's steadfastness after being bounced around more than your average banana boat off Copacabana beach in the first half. England weathered the turbulence, and finished strongly in scoring twice between Fred and Paulinho's finishes.

In writing about Andy Murray winning the US Open last September within weeks of encountering severe disappointment in losing Wimbledon elsewhere on these pages, I pointed out that one of the great fascinations of life is that you never know what is around the corner. If you hang in there, you might just make it wherever you find yourself stationed.

England do not look like they are World Cup-winning material, but neither do Brazil. What England must ensure is that they reach the finals to ensure they are part of the bigger plan at the tournament. Wins over Moldova, Ukraine and Montenegro in the autumn will ensure their return to Brazil in a year's time.

As Hart proved in the first half, with a world class goalkeeper behind you and a bit of luck, England continue to have the gumption to trouble the very best in football. On a day when the Football Association chairman David Bernstein spoke of the "desperate need" to increase the number of English players in the Premier League, it was heartening to see England bring some genuine moments of quality to the frame.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal was something of beauty from distance while Wayne Rooney's effort was one of genuine class from a player whose future at Manchester United remains as hot as some of the Brazilian women. It was flaming June.

The incoming Jose Mourinho must be relishing working with Frank Lampard again at Chelsea. But it was interesting to see the effect the 19-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain's arrival had on Lampard and Michael Carrick's performances. Both suddenly seemed to be made aware of their potential when Glen Johnson withered and departed.

England grew stronger as the night progressed on a balmy evening that could easily have got out of hand long before the Ox planted the seeds of recovery.

Without fraternising with the traditional hyperbole, it was not quite up to matching the boasts of the hardy band of travelling fans who sang “it’s just like watching Brazil”. But at least England witnessed a performance of some substance here.

At a ground rich in colour basking in large dollops of competitive spirit, boasting a vociferous gathering of fans and remodelled at a cost of over £320 million, Hart's performance was priceless. But so was the outcome for English heart.

Desmond Kane

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

"On the wider issue of club and country, the number of English players in the Premier League and the Football League is a really important matter. We have this number of around 30% and in Germany it is more than 50% and that 20% is a lot of players. We desperately need to increase the pool of real quality players that the manager Roy Hodgson has to choose from. That I think is the big issue" - Football Association chairman David Bernstein sees the bigger picture in England's travails, even if two technically accomplished players did score against Brazil.

FOREIGN VIEW

Massimiliano Allegri will remain head coach of AC Milan after a successful meeting with club president Silvio Berlusconi. Clarence Seedorf had been tipped to take Allegri's job after Milan scraped third in Serie A, but a dinner with Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani appears to have straightened things out - for now.

COMING UP

Yes, it's the moment you've all been waiting for - the return of the Eurobot, with all the news, gossip, chat and mindless tittle-tattle as the dreaded summer transfer window gets underway. We'll be starting off with a two-hour burst from 12.30 UK time.

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