Despite a late hiccup, Brazil and England will meet on Sunday to officially open the renovated Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. On Thursday the fixture had been suspended by a court for safety concerns, but with those fears seemingly allayed, two historic powerhouses of the world game will take to the field in a contest that will provide an indication of where they both stand a year before the World Cup.
As hosts there is tremendous pressure on Brazil and, with no competitive action in the run-up to next year’s tournament, every match against a leading nation is crucial for the Selecao’s preparation. There is plenty of concern too at how they are progressing. Luiz Felipe Scolari has as yet failed to show signs of producing the turnaround he manufactured when taking over before lifting the 2002 World Cup.
A defeat to England at Wembley in February was followed up by unconvincing draws against Italy and Russia with Scolari still trying to find his best lineup. Ahead of the Confederations Cup later this month, Scolari has left out veterans Kaka and Ronaldinho as he looks to the new generation of Neymar, Oscar and Lucas Moura to provide the creative spark.
Like Brazil, England have also faced plenty of criticism, especially after their uninspiring 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland last week. But, unlike their opponents, England still very much have to worry about getting to the World Cup. Currently second in their World Cup qualifying group, the Three Lions have it all to do to avoid being forced into a playoff to decide their fate.
For this friendly, Roy Hodgson is hamstrung by a series of withdrawals that leaves him struggling for enough players to fill the substitute’s bench. Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck has become the latest to have to pull out of the game with a knee injury, joining Daniel Sturridge on the sidelines after his injury against Ireland. That could mean Theo Walcott getting a chance to start up front for his country.
None the less, Hodgson is looking to the positives for a match that brings to an end his first year in charge of England. “It’s unfortunate, we hoped the injuries from the Republic game would have healed but it’s not the case so we have the players that come off the plane -- we wouldn’t have minded one or two more,” he said, according to the English Football Association’s website. “It just means more players will have to take part and the starters might have to stay on longer than if we’d have had a few more. It’s good to be limited because I want to players to play long games. I don’t want to be making lots of changes."
G: Julio Cesar
D: Daniel Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Marcelo
M: Fernando, Paulinho
Lucas Moura, Oscar, Neymar
D: Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Cole
Milner, Rooney, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Prediction: These are two teams with plenty of question marks over them ahead of the World Cup. England were distinctly unimpressive against the Republic of Ireland, but are not helped by having so many absentees. If he starts as a central striker, Walcott could struggle to have an impact if Brazil are able to keep good possession.
But that is something the Selecao have struggled with of late. Perhaps their best full-strength performance under Scolari came against Italy when they were playing on the counter. Brazil’s greatest weakness is a lack of playmaking ability in central midfield. Against England, the home-based duo of Fernando and Paulinho should get another chance to progress and they must keep hold of the ball against an English side that still struggles to control possession against quality opposition. If they do that then the home side can emerge with a morale-boosting victory.
Brazil 2-1 England
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.