5th February 2013
England will face the ultimate test before the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign resumes, with mighty Brazil chosen as the opponent for the FA’s 150-year anniversary celebrations. This is going to be Luiz Felipe Scolari’s first match at the helm of Seleccao since he returned for the second spell, but it is Ronaldinho’s return from international exile that is the talk of the town at the moment.
England’s unbeaten run under Roy Hodgson came to an abrupt end as four-goal hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic led Sweden to a 4-2 victory , with the PSG striker making the Three Lions boss regret his decision to field an under-strength side in Solna. He is unlikely to make such a mistake now that his side are pitted against the 2014 World Cup hosts, although that doesn’t mean the experienced manager will not be missing several star players. While the team could have done without injuries to Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe, there is every chance that Daniel Sturridge’s absence due to a thigh problem will be the biggest blow for the Three Lions. The former Chelsea striker has exploded since making a switch to Liverpool and he would have certainly been a welcoming addition to the national team. In his absence, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are set to form an attacking partnership, while Ashley Cole hopes to win his 100th cap. Aaron Lennon has been drafted after impressing at Tottenham, but his club teammate Scott Parker misses out.
Even if Mano Menezes was allowed to continue at the helm despite the under-par showing at the 2012 Summer Olympics, it was his decision to lead the Under-23 side at the football tournament that ultimately cost him the national team job. Brazil chiefs opted for experienced Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has raised a few heads with his first Seleccao squad. Ronaldinho Gaucho is without a doubt the biggest novelty, with the former Barcelona superstar rewarded for some scintillating showings at Atletico Mineiro. There have been few more surprises as well, with Atletico Madrid defenders Miranda and Felipe Luis also receiving call-ups, just like Bayern Munich stopper Dante. Premier League stars Ramires, David Luiz, Julio Cesar and Oscar are also in the mix, but Lazio midfielder Hernanes was forced to withdraw because of injury. Luiz Felipe Scolari looks set to start with Luis Fabiano as a target man, and Hulk, Ronaldinho and Neymar as attacking midfielders.
Football fans around the world are hoping for a real spectacle at Wembley, and I am pretty sure the two world beaters will not disappoint. As far as predictions go, I believe Brazil are closer to winning this game, even if their squad is in the process of rebuilding.
Verdict: Away win Brazil (2)
Best Odds: 7/5
Bookmaker: Stan James