by Richard Brook
A dazzlling display, capped by a penalty, from Neymar and a header from Tottenham Hotspur’s Sandro, saw Brazil comfortably home against Team GB, in the pre-Olympic friendly at The Riverside this evening. Brazil’s highly rated youngsters showed exactly what they are made of with a display of slick, passing football and sublime movement. While Great Britain showed they could match anyone for effort, the Brazilians were simply a class apart both in and out of possesion, in a game in which the result did not appear in doubt at any stage of proceedings. But for second half heroics from Jack Butland the margin of the Brazilian victory could have been greater still.
Brazil enter London 2012 with the weight of the nation’s expectations on their shoulders. Their team for the tournament has been said, by coach Mano Menezes, to contain 70% of the squad expected to shape the squad for World Cup 2014, which they will host. Indeed Menezes job as coach of the senior Brazil side has been specualted to hinge on them taking gold at the London Olympics.
Despite the lofty reputation of the opposition, Team GB started brightly enough with Ryan Bertrand’s marauding runs down the right flank causing the Brazilians some concern. The first real chance, though, fell to Neymar on the edge of the Team GB penalty area but he rushed his shot and put it comfortably over the crossbar, much to the disgust of Menezes. Leandro was given offside incorrectly, while left unmarked in the penalty area but flashed his header wide of the far post, not long afterwards.
Team GB had had their share of early warnings but failed to heed them as, on 12 minutes, Tottenham’s Sandro converted a floated free kick which was allowed to bounce in the box. The Spurs man rose highest, at the far post, and headed back across goal beyond the despairing Jason Steele.
Great Britain almost had an instant reply but there was no-one on hand to convert Micah Richards’ header into the danger area, from a right wing free-kick.
Brazil settled into the game and played the brand of neat possession football their national sides are fabled for, but Great Britain remained lively on the break. This coupled with their willingness to take a shot from range, notably of Daniel Sturridge, led to a number of corners which looked like Britain’s likeliest source of an equaliser, as they struggled to pose a real threat in the final third.
On the half hour mark, Ryan Giggs was lucky to get away with a clumsy challenge that clipped Neymar on the edge of the penalty area. Neymar turned villain, less than a minute later, when he collapsed, much too easily in search of a penalty, under the challenge of Ryan Bertrand.
Mere moments after Neymar was turned down, Brazil did get their penalty as Micah Richards, scythed down Hulk, when the Porto man had already beaten him to the by-line. The boos rang out as Neymar stepped up and confidently slotted his spot kick as far into the bottom corner as possible, past Steele’s right hand. The keeper can count himself very unlucky not to have got meaningful contact on the ball.
Britain struggled to hold on to possession, as Brazil finished the first half the strongest, with a flurry of good blocks required by British defenders in and around their own area immediately preceding the half time whistle .
Team GB made three substitutions at half time, one of the substitutes, goalkeeper Butland, was called into action early in the half, making a smart save to push Oscar’s clean drive out for a corner.
Danny Rose made a fantastic start to the second half. Firstly making room for a low cross from the left wing that was met firmly by the foot of Craig Bellamy. Rafael Cabral pulled off a fantastic point blank save, in the Brazil goal low to his right. It would not have counted however as the Welshman was offside. Then it was Rose again, who checked back inside and lofted the ball into the centre, just beyond the leap of Giggs.
Brazil did not have the urgency of either passing or pressing in the second half, prepared instead to allow Team GB plenty of neutral possession, and to break quickly and in numbers when the chance presented itself. Neymar looked like adding a third for Brazil as he broke clear in the 66th minute, but Neil Taylor was on hand to stick with him and make a crucial, sliding intervention in the area, to keep Brazil at bay. It was Neymar again ten minutes later who found the ball at his feet on the edge of the area, but his attempt at caressing the ball inside the far post rolled tamely into Butland’s hands.
In truth it was a night where, when there was a game to be won Brazil won it and once it had been won they allowed Team GB come more into the match. Stuart Pearce’s men have now seen first hand the standard of football that will be required to be a force at the Games. Brazil have never won the Olympic football competition, Great Britain have twice, including at a London Olympics in 1908. On tonight’s showing you would get long odds on history repeating itself, and Mano Menezes stands a very reasonable chance of keeping hold of his job.