The newly-renovated Maracana Stadium provided a stunning backdrop for Brazil and England to play out an entertaining 2-2 draw that both teams could have won.
England started brightly as Brazil settled into their first game at the glorious stadium for several years, but the first chance did fall to the home side as new Barcelona star and Brazilian pin-up boy Neymar tried his luck with an acrobatic scissors kick that was blocked by Leighton Baines. Another Catalan-based player, this time right-back Dani Alves, then smashed a scintillating effort just wide of Hart’s post. Brazil, now in control, had one of their better chances of the opening half as a 40-yard cross field pass from Alves found Neymar, but again the ex-Santos winger was foiled by a superb save from England‘s ‘keeper.
Neymar was again at the centre of the Brazilian onslaught – this time jinking brilliantly away from Michael Carrick and curling the ball agonisingly beyond the upright. On 26 minutes Chelsea playmaker Oscar ghosted around the back of Baines and flashed an inviting ball across the face of goal. As Hulk stood waiting for a simple tap-in, Johnson‘s flick saved what would have been a certain goal. Two minutes later and yet again Neymar was involved; robbing Carrick in midfield and driving forward before threading a delicious pass through to Hulk. Luckily for England, Hart was out quickly and smothered on three occasions to avert the danger.
The City ace had no respite though as just three minutes later Oscar made space on the edge of the area to rifle an effort on target that had Hart scrambling across his goal to divert it away. Another Brazil opportunity went begging moments later as Hulk directed his effort inches wide of Hart’s right hand post. 40 minutes were on the clock before England finally fashioned themselves a chance. Patient build-up play was rewarded as Johnson found himself in acres of space on the edge of the area. The Liverpool fullback had a chance to shoot, but instead opted for brilliant reverse pass into the path of Theo Walcott. Unfortunately, the Arsenal winger opted for power instead of placement and smashed his effort straight at Julio Cesar.
England started the second half much as they had started the first. Walcott was now finding space on the right – but the Arsenal man consistently let himself down with poor first-touches and over-hit passes. A scrappy ten minutes or so followed, but on 57 minutes Brazil deservedly found themselves in front. Substitute Hernanes curled a delightful 20-yard effort onto the England crossbar, but Fred was fastest to react and acrobatically finished into an empty net as the red shirts around him merely stood and watched.
The away side looked to hit back quickly, and on 65 minutes James Milner’s shot seemed destined for the back of the net only for a deflection . England were now really getting into the game and just a minute on from Milner’s chance, they equalised. The ball found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the area and the substitute, only on the field a few minutes, smashed a beautiful effort into the bottom corner Cesar’s net.
Several half-chances were presented to the home side in the wake of the equaliser, however nothing really troubled the exceptional Hart and the England defence. With 12 minutes to go, England took the lead in remarkable fashion. Wayne Rooney, the subject of so much talk in the press at present, cut inside from the left and floated a delicious, curling shot over the head of Julio Cesar and into the far corner. England didn’t lead for long though, as on 82 minutes a deflected cross found Paulinho, and the midfielder smashed a lovely first-time volley into the bottom corner.
The last ten minutes fizzled out and England claimed their third draw in as many games – however this one is likely to be much more well-received by supporters and the press. In the first half they struggled to get a grip on the game and were lucky not to go into the break four or five goals down, but in the second they were disciplined at the back and scored two brilliant goals that will live long in the memory. England may not have been able to replicate ‘that’ John Barnes goal, but they produced a solid performance against Brazil that served as a great taster for the World Cup that starts 357 days from now.
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