Wednesday’s set of friendly fixtures saw four former winners of the FIFA World Cup™ demonstrate that they will likely be forces to be reckoned with next summer, as Argentina, Germany, England and Spain registered impressive victories over Sweden, France, Brazil and Uruguay respectively.
It was not, however, a night to remember for the aforementioned South American nations, who failed to get the best out of their supremely talented attack-minded players on the night.
FIFA.com rounds up all the action from a busy evening of international encounters.
The big match
England 2-1 Brazil
Goals: Wayne Rooney 26, Frank Lampard 60 (England); Fred 49 (Brazil)
Luiz Felipe Scolari is likely to have departed Wembley Stadium with much to ponder, as he attempts to steer a Brazil side that has slipped to 18th spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – their lowest placing since the system was established – firmly back on track.
The match started in disappointing fashion for the returning Ronaldinho, whose penalty and rebound attempt were brilliantly saved by England goalkeeper Joe Hart. The Atletico Mineiro star seemingly failed to recover from the miss, and remained in the changing rooms at half-time. In the meantime, Wayne Rooney had given the Three Lions the lead, guiding home a ball parried by Brazil No1 Julio Cesar, who otherwise had another excellent 90 minutes.
After the break, Scolari reshuffled his pack, bringing on Fred to partner Neymar, with Oscar slotting into the playmaker role and Lucas inserted on the right. England struggled to deal with the changes, allowing Fred in to equalise with a left-footed effort.
At that point, it appeared as if the game could go either way, but it was Roy Hodgson’s charges who rose to the occasion, securing a 2-1 triumph with a trademark first-time shot from Frank Lampard. The away side will not have long to wait to attempt to gain their revenge, as a return match is scheduled for 2 June in Brazil.
France 1-2 Germany
France’s good run of results was brought to an end by a solid German XI, for whom Ilkay Gundogan was outstanding in midfield. Despite the absence of numerous first-team players, Die Nationalelf put in a controlled performance that handed Didier Deschamps just his second defeat as France coach, and also made up for the Germans’ home loss to the same team last year in the process.
Les Bleus, with Franck Ribery in fine form, did manage to initially pull ahead, however, Mathieu Valbuena taking advantage of slack defending to score. But this turn of events only served to motivate the Germans in the second half, as Gundogan won the ball in the middle of the park and fed Thomas Muller, who made no mistake.
Fifteen minutes from time, a stunning pass by Mesut Ozil found Real Madrid team-mate Sami Khedira, whose clinical finish left France custodian Hugo Lloris with no chance.
Spain 3-1 Uruguay
The world champions were made to dig deep versus Copa America holders Uruguay in Qatar, on a pristine Doha surface that was not dissimilar to a golfing green. Vicente Del Bosque was forced to make do without several injured regulars, but still managed to field a strong line-up that included seven Barcelona players.
One of those, Cesc Fabregas, recorded the opening goal after a terrible handling error by Uruguayan ’keeper Fernando Muslera, before setting up Pedro beautifully in the second half for Spain’s third.
Sandwiched in between those strikes were two other goals, Pedro’s first of the night, and a fine Uruguayan equaliser, scored by Cristian Rodriguez. In fact, La Celeste created a plethora of chances via Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and entertained the crowd throughout with their attacking intentions, but defensive lapses – so painfully evident in their current FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign – cost them dearly in the end.
The result provided Del Bosque, in charge of La Roja since 2008, with an excuse for a double celebration, having equalled the record held by Ladislao Kubala (1969-80) of 68 matches at the helm. The former Besiktas coach’s results during this period have been nothing short of exceptional: 57 wins, five draws and six defeats.
Netherlands 1-1 Italy
For 80 minutes, a youthful Netherlands team dominated Italy, forcing Gianluigi Buffon into several top-class saves. Jeremain Lens stylishly gave the Dutch the lead, and La Nazionale were subsequently fortunate to not concede again.
The home side were unable to build on their advantage, however, and Marco Verratti duly grabbed an injury-time leveller, sweeping the ball into the net after excellent interplay inside the box.
The game is sure to have provided Dutch supremo Louis Van Gaal with some useful pointers, especially as neither Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van Der Vaart nor Arjen Robben were part of the starting line-up in Amsterdam. At the other end of the pitch, the much-hyped appearances of Mario Ballotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy failed to live up to pre-match expectations.
Sweden 2-3 Argentina
The encounter may have been billed as a Lionel Messi-Zlatan Ibrahimovic duel, but it was other performers who stepped up to the mark on the night, with Angel Di Maria and goalscorers Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero in sparkling form.
Well organised and highly adept at lightning-quick counter-attacks, Argentina controlled the first half without having to rely too much on Messi. Di Maria was particularly productive, setting up two goals to give La Albiceleste a 3-1 half-time lead.
Ibrahimovic then came off at the break, and could only watch from the sidelines as the South Americans missed a host of chances. Rasmus Elm’s successful last-minute free-kick reduced the gap, but it was a case of too little too late for the Swedes.
Portugal 2-3 Ecuador
Lying third in their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifying group with a five-point deficit to make up on Russia, Portugal did little to reassure their fans in an entertaining clash with Ecuador, surprisingly going down 3-2 at home.
Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia gave La Tri an early lead, but Cristiano Ronaldo drew the Lusitanians level, before Helder Postiga made it 2-1. Joao Pereira got the Ecuadorians back into the match, and Felipe Caicedo completed the turnaround twenty minutes from the final whistle.
In some of the other matches played on Wednesday, Bosnia-Herzegovina dispatched Slovenia 3-0 away from home, while Macedonia saw off Denmark by the same scoreline.
Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan also beat Latvia 3-0, in a match that featured a double from Shinji Okazaki, and Croatia went one better versus Korea Republic in London, defeating the Asians 4-0. Other notable results included Chile’s 2-1 win over Egypt and Serbia’s 3-1 victory in Cyprus, during which Twente’s Dusan Tadic struck a brace.
Having been criticised for some off-colour displays for Real Madrid this season, Angel Di Maria put in one of his best-ever performances for Argentina against Sweden. The significant mental boost he received from his brace in Real’s recent 5-0 win in Valencia was evident in his eye-catching play, which propelled his team-mates to a well-deserved 3-2 victory in what was the skilful winger’s 36th appearance for his country.
France 1-0 Germany, Mathieu Valbuena 44
The smallest player on the pitch, Valbuena succeeded in evading two towering German defenders in the shape of Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels to nod France into a 1-0 lead. After Karim Benzema’s free-kick had come back off the crossbar, the diminutive forward was first to react to Moussa Sissoko’s cushioned headed pass.
200 – The number of international appearances that English full-back Ashley Cole and Spanish stalwart Carles Puyol collectively have under their belts, after both joined the elite 100-cap club on Wednesday.
Cole, 32 years of age, made his England debut in a 3-1 win over Albania on 28 March 2001, four months later than the 34-year-old Puyol, who was awarded his first cap on 15 November 2000 in a 2-1 loss to the Netherlands. Whereas the Barça defender has three goals to his name, the Chelsea man has yet to find the net for his country.
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