England marked their first match of 2013 with an impressive 2-1 win over Brazil at Wembley.
After Ronaldinho had missed a penalty, Wayne Rooney put the Three Lions ahead on 26 minutes, calmly side-footing home from 12 yards.
Brazil sub Fred equalised just moments into the second half, but Frank Lampard secured the victory on 60 minutes with a fine finish.
This was an entertaining first England game in The FA’s 150th anniversary year and it was also the occasion of Ashley Cole’s 100th cap.
But Roy Hodgson will be more pleased with his side’s overall performance against the five-time World Champions.
Both teams produced a fairly bright opening. The mercurial Neymar looked dangerous when linking up with Ronaldinho and Chelsea starlet Oscar, while England forced three early corners following positive surges forward. And it was from the third flag kick that the game’s first chance arose.
Steven Gerrard sent the ball into the box for Rooney to head goalwards. The effort was low and into the corner and it forced Julio Cesar, the QPR goalkeeper, into an excellent one-handed save, tipping the ball over the bar.
It was maybe not as spectacular as Gordon Banks’s famous save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup, but it was still wonderful in its execution.
Brazil were then given a glorious opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot when referee Pedro Proenca deemed Ronaldinho’s 18th-minute cross to have hit Jack Wilshere’s arm.
The two-time World Player of the Year took the kick but Hart pulled off a magnificent double save. The City stopper got down low to his left to parry the initial effort and he then blocked Ronaldinho’s follow-up with his legs. Tom Cleverley completed the clearance by sliding in to deny Luis Fabiano a tap-in.
This triple save sprung Hodgson’s men into life as Danny Welbeck, Cole and Glen Johnson all tried their luck from distance, with each effort going just over the bar.
England’s awakening was complete when Rooney broke the deadlock in the 26th minute and it owed much to the vision of eventual man of the match Wilshere.
The Arsenal man played Walcott into the Brazil area with a perfectly weighted through ball. Walcott’s shot was blocked by Cesar but Rooney was on hand to divert the rebound into an unguarded net.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s charges came again, though, and it developed into an open, entertaining spectacle.
Neymar will be disappointed not to have drawn draw his side level on 37 minutes when Oscar, having beaten his club mate Cole down the England left, picked him out unmarked at the back post with a teasing, low cross. Arriving late into the box, the Santos forward somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar.
But it took Brazil just three minutes to level after the restart as two substitutes combined to capitalise on an England mistake.
Gary Cahill attempted to carry the ball out of defence, but a heavy touch allowed Lucas Moura to intercept and find Fred on the edge of the box. The Fluminense frontman was clinical with his finish, planting a left foot shot beyond Hart and into the far corner.
And it might have got even worse for the hosts just moments later when Chris Smalling’s back pass had Hart scrambling to clear. His kick fell to the Brazil goalscorer who clipped the top of the bar with a sweetly struck effort.
England, and Cahill, were not to be overrun, though, and the Chelsea centre back forced Cesar to tip over when heading Gerrard’s corner goalwards.
And if Brazil’s subs had an immediate impact, one of England’s new men ensured he would have a big say in proceedings, too, as Lampard restored the one-goal advantage on the hour mark.
Walcott saw his near-post cross cleared but Lucas’s subsequent attempted pass back to Paulinho was intercepted by Rooney. The United man found Lampard and he did the rest, firing in off the post.
A raft of second-half changes disrupted the game’s flow, but there was still some good play to be admired from both sides, albeit with a lack of clear goal chances.
Fred shot off target a couple of times and Neymar tried an overhead kick, but none of those efforts worried Hart.
Although no further opportunites came about for the hosts, the result, and overall display, will provide Hodgson with a good deal of confidence ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifying double-header in San Marino and Montenegro.
This was an entertaining, showpiece Wembley friendly, but England know it is far more important to get two positive results in March if they are to continue on their path to Brazil 2014.
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