Brazil's friendly with Germany presents chance to start process of banishing memories of 7-1 defeat

Tom Biggs 26/03/2018
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Brazil celebrate as a team against Russia

Almost four years have passed since one of the darkest days in Brazil’s distinguished football history.

Memories of the 7-1 loss suffered at the hands of a rampant Germany team on home soil at World Cup 2014 still rumble on for football’s most-successful nation.

This summer’s tournament in Russia will provide them with the chance to put those memories well and truly behind them, as they aim to win their sixth World Cup – led by the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus.

But on Tuesday night they come face-to-face with Germany for the first time since that mauling in Belo Horizonte four years ago, in what could be the most important friendly in Brazil’s recent history.

“The 7-1 game is the most recent game. It’s a step that’s passed. We are in a building period and emotionally it will be important,” Brazil boss Tite – whose predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari oversaw the infamous defeat – told ESPN recently ahead of Tuesday’s clash.

He’s right. Friendlies rarely have much importance, but there’s no doubt a clash with the world champions less than three months before the start of the World Cup presents a huge psychological hurdle for Brazil’s new-look team.

Much has changed for both nations since that semi-final clash. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose are no longer German stalwarts, while Brazil’s attacking threat won’t be reliant on Fred, Hulk and Bernard.

The weight of expectation that rested on Brazil’s shoulders four years ago has been somewhat reduced, but the belief is that under Tite they are now a much stronger side than the one that was knocked for seven by Germany.

They stormed through World Cup qualification, finishing ten points ahead of second-placed Uruguay, and look set to be able to match their unrivalled attacking flair with a defensive solidity that failed them so desperately four years ago.

Tite has already confirmed 15 of the 23 that will head to Russia this summer, dependent on injuries between now and the end of the season, meaning just eight spaces are left to fill. A somewhat surprising move, perhaps, but such is the Brazilian boss’ confidence in those he has named, there is no suggestion it could have a negative effect.

Marcelo (r) is the only one who started against Germany expected to start at this year's World Cup in Russia

Marcelo (r) is the only one who started against Germany expected to start at this year’s World Cup.

Of the 15 already included, just two players – Real Madrid’s Marcelo and Manchester City’s Fernandinho – started against Germany four years ago.

The likes of Dante, Oscar and Hulk, who all started in Belo Horizonte, are still playing regularly for their clubs. The problem for them is that Brazil have well and truly moved forward – on the pitch at least.

Tite also named his starting XI for the opening World Cup game back in February, with Marcelo the only survivor from the 11 that lined up from the start against Germany. Dani Alves, Fernandinho, Paulinho and Willian are the only others who were in the matchday squad for that forgettable night at Estadio Mineirao.

Neymar was part of the Brazil squad for World Cup 2014, missing the Germany game through injury. He will have little time to prepare for Russia because of another injury setback, but there’s no doubt he has mirrored Brazil’s progression in terms of development.

Neymar missed the semi-final against Germany after getting injured against Colombia

Neymar missed the semi-final against Germany after getting injured against Colombia

Raw and unpredictable four years ago, the PSG star has developed a ruthless edge, scoring six goals in qualifying to help Brazil comfortably reach Russia. Coupled with genuine star quality around him, Neymar has all the requirements needed to light up Russia and propel himself back into Ballon d’Or contention.

The injured forward will be missing again on Tuesday night, just as he was four years ago, but Brazil have the quality to fall back on this time around. The likes of Chelsea’s Willian and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino have been in stunning form for their clubs and will be ready to snap up any chance they’re presented with.

Douglas Costa and Anderson Talisca will also be hoping to impress and become the 16th name on Tite’s World Cup list. Others such as Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred, Manchester City’s Ederson and Real Sociedad’s Willian Jose will hope for their chance to shine, but there’s no doubt Brazil will be taking this friendly seriously.

Reading too much in to Tuesday night’s clash would be unfair, but for Tite and the Selecao it presents the perfect opportunity to begin the process of banishing those Belo Horizonte memories once and for all.

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Gareth Southgate is no Sir Winston Churchill, but he stands apart as an England manager with a plan

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Gareth Southgate celebrates with his England players after they defeated the Netherlands.

Gareth Southgate is not a man to set pulses racing.

As a player, he dealt in understated excellence.

Beyond his defining semi-final penalty miss on home soil at Euro 1996 and subsequent pizza advert, the casual observer would fail to recall anything of note from a respectable 57-cap England career.

The versatile centre-back’s acerbic putdown of Sven-Goran Eriksson – the manager who wasted a ‘Golden Generation’ – and a member of the British ruling class in the wake of World Cup 2002’s quarter-final surrender to Brazil currently stands as his enduring gift to the game. Few political hacks ever scribe a killer line to match: “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith.”

It is no great surprise to learn that Southgate has been in the Swede’s shoes for more than a year and we’ve not heard anything that matches the greatest orator his nation has ever known.

In defence, landlocked Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod at Russia’s World Cup 2018 do not provide the same opportunities for a “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech as the previous edition in Brazil’s tropical paradise.

And yet, the now 47-year-old who relegated Middlesbrough in 2008/09 and led England’s Under-21 to last place in their group at the 2015 European Championships has done something his celebrated ex-boss comprehensively failed to do during the previous decade.

Through a frank assessment of England’s few strengths and many weaknesses, he appears to have constructed a lucid tactical plan. This is a rare gift for men in his position – as contemporaries such as Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson can all attest.

For once this summer, the national side should exceed expectations set at record lows rather than shrink under unrealistic ones.

The 3-5-2 formation utilised once again on Friday night earned a deserved first victory in the Netherlands since 1969. Manchester United bolter Jesse Lingard’s precise finish from the edge of the penalty box extended England’s unbeaten run to seven games and made it five-consecutive clean sheets for the first time since October 2014.

Southgate is aware his centre midfield cannot match the shimmering quality of the globe’s grandees. For all that Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson acquitted himself well at Amsterdam ArenA, he is no Toni Kroos, N’Golo Kante, Thiago Alcantara or Casemiro.

Neither would two centre-backs selected from a middling bunch that contains – if all available – the likes of Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Joe Gomez and the out-of-form John Stones provide adequate protection when faced with Belgium’s galaxy of shimmering attackers in Group G this June. An extra body is a necessity.

What they do have – when fit – is arguably the sport’s standout striker in Harry Kane, his partner-in-crime from Tottenham of Dele Alli plus fleet-footed forwards such as Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford who can wound any side on the counter-attack.

Pace seems to be a key facet for Southgate. Kyle Walker has a claim to be among the top-three right-backs on the planet, but he found himself as one of three centre-backs against the sorry Dutch.

Starts were also granted to Tottenham full-backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain buzzed around Liverpool club-mate Henderson in midfield and further legs were supplied by the effervescent Lingard.

England's Jesse Lingard scores the solitary goal against the Netherlands.

England’s Jesse Lingard scores the solitary goal against the Netherlands.

The days seem over of simply cramming all your best players onto the pitch with no regard for a coherent system.

In this regard, the Netherlands were apt opponents. Severe injury to Roma centre midfielder Kevin Strootman – who looked a shadow of the animal he once was this weekend – and worries about a porous rearguard forced Louis van Gaal to forgo decades of adherence to Johan Cruyff’s 4-3-3 ‘totaalvoetbal’ principles and select a 3-5-2 four years ago.

His reward was an evisceration of holders Spain and an unlikely run to the semi-finals.

And let’s not forget Sir Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ eschewed the predatory Jimmy Greaves and delivered ultimate glory at World Cup 1966.

The Three Lions don’t have their roar back. Perhaps, they never will.

But under Southgate, they can proceed with quiet confidence that better days lie ahead after miserable returns at the last three tournaments.

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Usain Bolt, Diego Maradona, Jose Mourinho star in Hublot's 'Match of Friendship' as part of World Cup promotion

Maradona, Mourinho, and Bolt were the star attractions at the exhibition.

Famed Swiss luxury watch maker Hublot brought together its brand ambassadors for a special football match on Wednesday as part of its role as an official sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and footballing legend Diego Maradona led two teams on the sidelines of Baselworld 2018, the renowned watch and jewelry exhibition, in a specially-built indoor football arena that played host to some of football’s star names.

Tino Asprilla, Roberto Carlos, Hernan Crespo, Marco Materazzi, David Trezeguet, Marcel Desailly, Robbie Keane, and Patrick Kluivert were among the big names taking part in the match, along with FIFA boss Gianni Infantino and sprinting superstar Usain Bolt.

The match also featured the official watch for the World Cup, the Big Bang Referee 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, worn on Wednesday by famous ex-referee Nicola Rizolli.

This year’s World Cup kicks off on June 14, with hosts Russia playing the first match of the tournament against Saudi Arabia.

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