It is a testament to the allure of two of international football's current heavyweights that close to 60,000 fans braved the cold at the Emirates Stadium, London last Tuesday evening for a friendly between Brazil and Portugal. The match ended 2-0 in the Europeans' favour , and despite more than 80 goalless minutes, the audience was treated to an entertaining contest.
For Portugal, the result will have enriched their confidence ahead of crucial UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers against Belgium and Serbia next month, while, in spite of a first loss under the leadership of Dunga, Brazil can also reflect on some positive aspects of their performance.
Wingers star as Scolari undoes Brazil
Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had several of his players to thank for helping him achieve a second straight victory against the country he led to 2002 FIFA World Cup™ glory. Goalkeeper Ricardo made some decisive saves to preserve the deadlock during the first-half, Simao rose from the bench to volley Portugal in front, and Ricardo Carvalho capped a solid performance with his side's clinching second goal.
It was, however, last year's FIFA World Cup semi-finalists' wide men that shone brightest. Cristiano Ronaldo's incessant hunger for the ball befitted his status as captain for the night, and the Manchester United player's pace and dribbling provided the Brazilian defenders with some nervy moments at the home of his club rivals Arsenal. On Portugal's opposite flank, Ricardo Quaresma staked a claim for a regular place in the side with an arresting display. Crowd-pleasing, inventive and unpredictable throughout, the FC Porto winger created the game's opening goal for Simao.
Scolari left Quaresma out of his squad for Germany 2006 and the 23-year-old has not featured in his country's starting line-up during their four UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers to date. At the very least, his display against Brazil will have given the Portugal selector something to think about before he names his team to face Belgium.
Impressive in defeat
For their part, Brazil will have taken positives from the match, especially during the first-half. The panache that spectators have come to expect from the Seleção only flickered fleetingly on German soil last summer, but it was certainly showcased in the English capital.
Indeed, Kaka's clever deception of an opponent by the touchline drew early gasps from the crowd, whose pulses were then raised when Elano's crafty turn left two markers for dead. Soon after, Gilberto Silva's uncharacteristic yet delightfully executed back-heeled flick set up Maicon, whose volley dipped just over Ricardo's crossbar.
Chances also went begging for Dunga's side. Rafael Sobis missed two opportunities to hand the South American's the lead: the first coming after he found himself one-on-one with Ricardo, the second following fine interchange from Maicon and Elano, whose cross was headed inches wide by the Real Betis striker. Kaka also missed the target from 25 yards after a typically surging run from the halfway line, and a close-range Lucio snapshot rattled the Europeans' crossbar.
With Juninho Pernambucano and Roberto Carlos now retired from international football, Elano also served notice of his cunning from set pieces. Taking an early free-kick close to the right-hand touchline, the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder attempted to dupe Ricardo, à la Ronaldinho against David Seaman, by going direct for goal, but the Portugal goalkeeper was alert enough to tip his goal-bound effort over the crossbar. From the ensuing corner, Elano's fiercely whipped centre forced Ricardo into making an important intervention with Juan bearing down on him.
All in all, with Ronaldinho and Robinho sidelined, it was a performance that Dunga will be able to draw signs of encouragement from as he looks to fine tune his plans for an assault on the Copa America crown.