Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard leave Brazil dancing to English beat
England 2 Brazil 1: It is a defining year for the England team, for the remnants of what was the golden generation, for Roy Hodgson and for a Football Association that hopes its 150th anniversary celebrations will not be spoilt by the small matter of failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Beat Brazil at Wembley to kick things off? Not a bad start to 2013.
Yes, this was not quite a great Brazil performance, although there were some great Brazilian players on the pitch in the likes of Ronaldinho and Neymar. And after all, this is still the most successful football nation in history, so let's not kill the mood too soon. Not since March 1990, and the days of Careca, Bebeto and Chris Waddle's mullet have an England team beaten Brazil.
Sadly, it is not worth three points in Group H of Uefa World Cup qualification, and it is remarkable to think that only five months ago Hodgson's side could not beat humble Ukraine at Wembley. Nevertheless, this was not a Brazil team strolling about for the sponsors. They are 16 months away from a high-pressure home World Cup finals and were eager to impress their new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
It was a night upon which Roy Hodgson resisted the demands of the big clubs sides to make wholesale changes to the core of his team - both Wayne Rooney, the first goalscorer, and Steven Gerrard played 90 minutes - and he was rewarded with a coherent performance in which England seized the lead twice.
But most of all, the best young player on the pitch was not a shimmering new discovery from a Brazilian megalopolis with neon boots and an asymmetrical haircut. The best young player on the pitch, in fact the best player on the pitch, was Jack Wilshere from Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
As when Wilshere played so well for Arsenal against Barcelona in the Champions League two seasons ago, the greatest compliment you could pay the 21-year-old was that he looked good enough to get into the opposition side. He passed, he tackled and demonstrated the kind of composure you would never expect from a lad with just seven caps and a whole season missing from his short career.
There were other happy outcomes for Hodgson too, in the goal that Frank Lampard scored to win the game and Joe Hart's penalty save from Ronaldinho. Hodgson started with five outfield players aged 23 and under. Theo Walcott had one of those evenings when all Adriano, the Brazil left-back did was chase the number on the back of the winger's shirt.
Hodgson would probably like to embark for those two World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro today, but unfortunately he will have to wait until March and fret about injuries to his best players as the domestic season heats up. But give Hodgson his due, he placed his faith in some young players and they responded well.
As for Scolari, he pointed out that he had lost his first game in charge of Brazil the first time he managed the side, and bounced back to win the 2002 World Cup. “Let's see how England do in Rio on 2 June,” was his response. The return friendly has an edge to it now. Only Bobby Robson, as an England manager, has won two games against Brazil, home and away.
In defence, Hodgson picked Chris Smalling, his one-time prodigy at Fulham, who has not yet been available since he took over in May. The Manchester United man and Gary Cahill enjoyed a very solid first half alongside each other until it went awry for Cahill just after half-time with a mistake that let Brazil in for an equaliser.
In midfield, Brazil found themselves outgunned, where Ramires and Paulinho struggled to cope with the power of Gerrard and Wilshere's unrelenting energy. Not so Oscar, operating on the right wing, who gave his Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole, now the seventh England player with 100 caps, a tough time.
Brazil's penalty came from the opposite wing on 18 minutes when Wilshere, jumping across to block, was penalised for handling Ronaldinho's cross. Ronaldinho, also earning his 100th cap, took the penalty, a tame effort to Joe Hart's left which the Manchester City goalkeeper parried. Hart did even better to scramble back and scoop the ball out away from Ronaldinho. Tom Cleverley tackled Neymar as he came in to get the rebound.
It was a wonderful moment for Hart, especially considering that it was football royalty from whom he had saved. Less than ten minutes later, England took the lead. It was Wilshere's ball behind Dani Alves, beautifully judged, that Walcott ran onto and forced a great save from Julio Cesar. When the ball came back out to the edge of the area, Rooney picked his spot for the 33rd goal of his England career.
Sadly for Cahill, two minutes after the break he simply overran the ball out of defence, was out quickly out of his depth and had possession nicked away by the substitute Lucas. Within moments, another of Brazil's half-time subs, Fred, struck a shot past Hart.
The punishment for a silly mistake was instantaneous. Poor old Cahill buried his face in his hands and England tried to work out how they were to score a second goal against the greatest football nation on earth. Hodgson had replaced Cole at half-time with Leighton Baines and Lampard had come on for Cleverley. Within minutes of conceding Fred struck the bar after a poor clearance from Hart had cannoned back off Cahill.
To England's credit they stabilised. It was from a Walcott cross that England's second goal originated. Brazil never quite dealt with it and when Paulinho thought that he had the ball under control, Rooney nicked it away. He did so into the path of Lampard who curled a marvellous effort in off the inside of Cesar's left post.
In the final stages, with Gerrard dropping deeper, and Aaron Lennon on for Walcott, England looked comfortable. It was only 15 months since they beat Spain at Wembley and it could hardly be argued that they built on that achievement at Euro 2012. This time they beat Brazil. It was an unexpected treat. Now they simply have to beat Montenegro next month.
Man of the match Wilshere.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee P Proenca (Portugal).
Belfast Telegraph Digital