• England v Brazil, International friendly

Celebrations for the FA, scrutiny for Scolari

Mark Lomas
February 6, 2013
Ronaldinho's return to the Brazil squad has been met with a mixed reaction back home © PA Photos

It has been 23 years and eight matches since Gary Lineker's stooping header at Wembley gave England their last victory over Brazil, with Roy Hodgson looking to succeed where all seven other England managers since Bobby Robson have failed by claiming a win against the five-time world champions.

The Three Lions have had plenty of opportunities to end that drought having led in five of the eight matches in the intervening years, most agonisingly opening the scoring in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final through Michael Owen, before Rivaldo's strike and Ronaldinho's famous lobbed free-kick to beat a stranded David Seaman - "I meant it. It was not luck," the former Barca man maintains - sent the eventual winners through to the last four.

That was the last occasion Luiz Felipe Scolari coached the Selecao against England, though he was not finished being the scourge of Sven Goran Eriksson, masterminding Portugal's penalty shootout eliminations of the Swede's side at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. Such was Scolari's impact, he emerged as the FA's first choice to replace Eriksson, only to turn down the job - a decision that still irks the fans and officials who were left with the much-maligned Steve McLaren era instead.

'Big Phil', as he is affectionately known, recently revealed that his England rejection remains a major source of regret - "Of course it hurts, it hurts a lot" - and it is a feeling that was likely magnified by his failure to satisfy a trigger-happy Roman Abramovich during an unsuccessful eight months at the Chelsea helm. Scolari's career has been in rebuilding mode following that disappointment, taking in a spell as the world's highest paid boss at Ukzbek club Bunyodkor before returning to Palmeiras, where he delivered the club's first piece of silverware in more than a decade with the 2012 Copa do Brasil before poor league results saw him dismissed in September.

While Corinthians' Tite and Santos' Muricy Ramalho could count themselves unlucky not to be handed the Brazil reins following Mano Menezes' sacking in November, Scolari was always the romantics' choice to return to the most sizzling of football hotseats, and was duly hired. With the 2014 World Cup on home soil, the pressure is on for the 64-year-old to deliver some immediate results and, more importantly, some inspirational displays to feed the insatiable attacking appetites of Brazil's supporters. The man himself recognises as much, admitting that his challenge is to make "the fans, the public, believe in the team and that we can be world champions in 2014."

A visit to Wembley bears the hallmarks of a potential baptism of fire for Scolari but, just as he did when Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho ruled the roost a decade ago, the Brazil coach can turn to a squad teeming with talent. Ronaldinho himself returns as a nod to nostalgia, but this is a Selecao side that now boasts Neymar as its talisman. The Santos star is complemented by a midfield characterised by energy and excitement, with the likes of Oscar, Lucas Moura and Paulinho the chief protagonists. The Brazilian public are eagerly awaiting a sign of how Scolari will shape his team, with questions about whether he will utilise the back three he favoured in 2002, which goalkeeper will be handed the No. 1 spot, and the suitability of Dante and Miranda as a centre-back partnership should David Luiz not be fit.

For England, it is a friendly to get the blood pumping at a Wembley Stadium that has too often had an anaemic atmosphere since Brazil themselves opened the new arena with a 1-1 draw back in 2006. Seven years later and Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ronaldinho and Dani Alves are the only players who will feature again, while only three England players and four Brazilians remain from the Selecao's 1-0 victory in Doha in 2009.

Both countries have seen their national teams undergo major transformations in recent years, with England coach Hodgson demonstrating his faith in youth since taking the job from Fabio Capello last year. Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Zaha, Jonjo Shelvey, Adam Lallana and Jake Livermore are among those players to profit with their first international call-ups coming under the former Fulham boss, who is trying to blend the youngsters with more experienced heads like Lampard, Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney.

Should Cole feature, he will become the seventh England player to reach 100 international caps, joining Peter Shilton (125), David Beckham (115), Bobby Moore (108), Bobby Charlton (106), Billy Wright (105) and Steven Gerrard (100). Of Brazil's current crop, Ronaldinho (94 caps) is closest to joining the Selecao's centurions.

With crunch World Cup qualifiers coming up this year, the challenge of facing the perennial favourites of the football neutral will be a welcome one for Hodgson's Three Lions. It is unlikely that Wednesday's clash will invoke too many memories of the enthralling meeting between the sides at the 1970 World Cup, which saw the likes of Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Pele and Jairzinho at their footballing pomp - but the Scolari sub-plot should provide plenty of intrigue at Wembley.

England player to watch: Jack Wilshere. The Arsenal midfielder's last appearance for England came in November's friendly loss to Sweden, just a couple of weeks after he returned from a lengthy injury lay-off. It was his first cap for 17 months and after consolidating his club career since then, Wilshere will be desperate to do the same at international level, having established himself as a regular starter under Fabio Capello. Wilshere's stock continues to soar, with Arsenal legend and current academy chief Liam Brady tipping him to emulate the England achievements of stars such as Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne: "He will be up there with the very, very skilful creative English players. He is leading the Arsenal team now and he's only going to get better."

Brazil player to watch: Ronaldinho. While Wilshere tries to establish himself on the international stage, the oldest outfield player in Brazil's squad - at 32 - can reflect on being its headline act at one stage. Before Lionel Messi, no-one could come close to Ronaldinho as football's global superstar - an enthralling player to watch whose box of tricks was as wide as his toothy grin. The two-time World Footballer of the Year is back in the international fold for the first time in 12 months, for the man under whom he starred as a precocious youngster in the 2002 World Cup. Scolari said Ronaldinho's recall was due to him having a "spectacular championship with Atletico Mineiro" in 2012 but warned that "he will have to show how quickly he can integrate into the team".

Key battle: Phil Jagielka v Neymar. While most defenders who hear Neymar's name would quiver in their boots, Jagielka revealed this week that he does "not know a lot about Neymar". This blissful ignorance will unquestionably be shattered should the Everton centre-back not have done his homework before kick-off, with the reigning 2012 South American Footballer of the Year recognised by the majority of football aficionados as one of the world's most fearsome forwards. Jagielka put in one of his finest displays for England when they stood firm in repelling the threat of world champions Spain in 2011 and it will be a busy night for him up against Neymar, who will be hungry to make amends at Wembley having been part of the Brazil side shocked by Mexico in last year's Olympic final.

Betting: Brazil come into the game as favourites with odds of 7/5 with bet365, while an England win and the draw are both priced at 11/5 and 12/5 respectively. England leading at half-time, drawing at full-time looks an attractive proposition at 14/1 with bet365.

Prediction: 1-1.

England have only ever lost twice at home to Brazil and seven of the last 14 meetings between the nations have finished as a 1-1 draw - such a result again will be a satisfactory one for both Hodgson and Scolari.

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