A double dose of the beautiful game
The bus analogy is too tempting: after waiting almost four years for a Brazil v England, football fans will see two come in a row in 2013, a series that includes the first visit by an England Team to the warmer side of the Atlantic for almost three decades. As part of the celebrations of the Football Association’s 150th anniversary, Brazilians and English will lock horns in back-to-back friendlies, Starting with a Wembley rendezvous on February 6th that has a special flavour: not only it will mark a return to the national job by Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who masterminded Brazil’s campaign for a fifth world title in 2002, but it will also represent Big Phil’s first outing in English soil since his controversial dismissal by Chelsea FC (2009).
To make matters even more interesting, the Wembley friendly will also feature an old foe of the English: Ronaldinho, who has been given another chance at the national team and will try to prove that even at 32 he can still inspire his colleagues. Few expect he will get much applause when entering the pitch in London – local supporters certainly remember THAT free kick that sunk England in Japan 11 year ago. Big Phil, however, is the real bogeyman: he has overseen English demises in two World Cups and one European Championships, managing both Brazil and Portugal.
Both Brazil and England have been trying to rebuild their squads since South Africa 2010, with similar policies of promoting younger players without simply culling all veterans. The English are certainly not under the same pressure faced by Brazil, who will be the hosts at the next World Cup. Even politicians such as president Dilma Rousseff have butted in and said that nothing but first place will suffice.
In their preparations, that include the Confederations Cup, in June, Brazil have finally lined up a series of strong opponents for friendlies, a far fry from outing against ”powerhouses” such as Iraq and Gabon. After facing England at Wembley, they will play Italy, Russia, France, Chile and possibly Portugal. The list also includes a mouth-watering second meeting with Wayne Rooney and co on June 2nd as the opening game at the refurbished legendary Maracana Stadium. It will be first time since 1984 that England will play in Brazil and they have also arranged friendlies with France and Uruguay in the country as part of their planning for 2014 – especially in what regards the high temperatures. The Maracana has a special meaning to English fans thanks to an iconic goal scored by John Barnes in a surprising 2-0 victory, the only away one managed by England in five attempts.
At Wembley, however Brazil came on top in only two out of nine meetings, stats from which English fans might take some solace after analysing the bigger numbers – Brazil have won 11 out of 23 meetings, with nine draws. But the last time the Selecao had the last laugh in London was almost 18 years ago (a 3-1 win that is also remembered for Graeme Le Saux’s peach of a volley that opened the score). Since then there have been two encounters and both finished 1-1, the most recent in 2007, when pint-sized midfielder Diego equalised for Brazil at the 92nd minute.
The February 6th game will also be special for fans because it will feature a good part of the Brazilian Premier League contingent: Chelsea trio David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar will be alongside QPR goalie Julio Cesar, another veteran recalled by Scolari after performing miracles to help the West London club in their bid to avoid relegation come May.
To call the occasion unmissable is an understatement…
Brazil also play Russia at Stamford Bridge, on Monday 25th of March at 7.30pm.