5 February 2013

Phil's Dad's Army ready for Wembley showdown

By Scott Harrison - Brasílian Correspondent

Can England surprise Phil Scolari's old guard in Wednesday's intriguing friendly?

FOR many in Brazil the reappointment of popular 'Fat Phil' Scolari suggested that this was the final step in the ongoing preparation for the hosts 2014 World Cup campaign.

However, last week when Felipão announced his first squad for this friendly with England social network sites were awash with similar sounding jokes suggesting that Scolari was indeed preparing for the World Cup - World Cup 2006!  

The surprising recall of Júlio César, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Luís Fabiano does seem to suggest that the World Cup winning coach is indeed stuck in a footballing time-warp.

Coupled with Thiago Silva's badly timed injury, the squad has a very topsy turvy look to it. Nine of the 20 man squad have just 28 caps between them including the uncapped centre back Dante.

With three players well over 30, it is arguable that only Ramires and Daniel Alves are the only players anywhere near the 'peak' of their careers.

On its day any Brazilian team can be an unstoppable force and with the likes of Neymar and Oscar and they still have special players able to change a game.

But on paper it looks like this side a mix of 'has beens' and 'hopefully will bees' might not give England too many sleepless before Wednesday's game.

Despite his recent fine form for Queens Park Rangers, Júlio César's admission is bemusing.

Recalling a 33-year-old goalkeeper suggests a sudden change of direction and it appears that he will start the game ahead of the promising Diego Alves.

Many felt that the Valencia keeper had been earmarked as the man for 2014, all that was lacking was invaluable international experience, to opt for César now seems to suggest a lack of forward planning.  

Thiago Silva's absence will be huge. He is the current captain, a natural leader and talisman and he has been the defensive backbone of the team since Lúcio was somewhat harshly discarded into international exile after South Africa 2010.

Silva's baton of responsibility will be passed to Barça's Daniel Alves who will be left shepherding a weakened back four.

Real Madrid's Marcelo is also injured and if David Luiz fails to recover from injury then Brazil will line up with Roma's Leandro Castán, pairing twice capped Atlético Madrid stopper Miranda in the heart of a defence that Wayne Rooney and co will be keen to test and exploit.

Barça's Adriano will fight it out for the left back spot with another Atlético Madrid man Felipe Luis.

Further up field there appears to be a tad more stability. In the middle of the park Chelsea's Ramires and Oscar are likely starters probably alongside Corinthians' Paulinho who will offer some much needed grit, physical presence and aerial threat.

Santos' Arouca and Fluminense's Jean, called up after Lazio's Hernanes received a nasty facial injury, will probably have to settle for a place warming the bench undoubtedly clad in full sleeping bag style tracksuit.

Further upfield Lucas and/or Hulk are both able to operate outwide or down the centre; both offer some exciting attacking alternatives.

Lucas' early form for PSG has been encouraging and his pace and direct running would cause problems for England's fullbacks.

Which of course leaves us with Scolari's most intriguing recall - the man himself: Ronaldinho Gaúcho.

Still adored throughout Brazil (he was voted by many as the player of the season in last year's Brasileirão) Ronaldinho Gaúcho somewhat single handedly carried Clube Atlético Minerio to a commendable second place.

While the pace and fitness levels have diminished considerable, the swagger, trickery and skills are still clearly evident.

The now 32-year-old Gaúcho has never been one to track back or take one for the team and the more pragmatic Brazilian footy fan maybe would have preferred the inclusion of his 20-year-old teammate Bernard.

It will be interesting to see how, when or even if Scolari uses him and even more intriguing to see if he still has the ability and desire to influence a game of such pedigree - where space and time on the ball will be somewhat limited especially if compared to the often leisurely pace of the Brasilerio.  

Barring injury in this Sunday's San-São Clássico, Santos' Neymar is of course a definite starter.

Impressive early season form (albeit in the often maligned São Paulo championship) hints at a player on top of his form.

One feels that the Wembley faithful with either warm to his array of dazzling skills, tricks and showmanship or turn lukewarm to his throng of theatricals, dives and non-gamesmanship.

Either way Glenn Johnson will need to be up for what promises to be a difficult shift.

Upfront, and with maybe another eye on bygone days, Scolari seems to favor a good old fashioned number 9 which is the now somewhat back in vogue in Brazil.

The recalled and fit again Luís Fabiano will vie for a place against Fluminense's Fred. The Fluminense skipper was last season's Brasileirão golden boot winner and many in Brazil would like to see him given an extended run in the side.

Brazil's squad:
Goalkeepers: Júlio César (QPR), Diego Alves (Valencia)

Defenders: Daniel Alves, Adriano (both Barça), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Leandro Castán (Roma), Miranda, Filipe Luís (both Atlético Madrid)

Midfielders: Ramires (Chelsea), Arouca (Santos), Paulinho (Corinthians), Jean (Fluminense), Oscar (Chelsea), Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Atlético Mineiro), Lucas Moura (Paris St Germain)

Forwards: Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg), Neymar (Santos), Fred (Fluminense), Luís Fabiano (São Paulo)

Location: London, England

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