England cherish rare and deserved victory over Brazil

Rooney England

Any victory over Brazil has to be cherished and, for England, the good certainly outweighed the bad even if it was a close-run thing during those moments when their shortcomings at the back threatened to undermine all the positive points that accompanied Ashley Cole's 100th cap and the confirmation, if it were actually needed, that Jack Wilshere is made for this level.

The defending was generous enough at times to revive the argument about the rights and wrongs of Rio Ferdinand's exclusion. For Gary Cahill it was a bruising night in particular, horribly to blame for Fred's goal early in the second half.

Chris Smalling also looked susceptible at times, starting his first match in the Hodgson era, and it is certainly a strange set of events that Ferdinand's understudy at Manchester United should be in the team while the older man was in the crowd as a supporter. But do not expect it to change.

Hodgson was also indebted to Joe Hart for his penalty save from Ronaldinho when the game was goalless followed by an even better piece of goalkeeping from the rebound to deny Brazil's most famous player a goal with which to mark his own century of caps.

Yet Hodgson was entitled to be satisfied overall when, as well as Wilshere slipping seamlessly into midfield, this was also a night when Theo Walcott excelled in flashes, Wayne Rooney scored his 33rd international goal and Frank Lampard delivered a wonderful reminder of his enduring talents with a beautifully taken winner. Lampard looks as if he will be the loser of the new Wilshere era, restricted to a substitute's role, but this was a glorious goal to confirm the win – only the fourth England have recorded against Brazil in 24 attempts.

Perhaps the most striking lesson is that, in an attacking sense, England look so much more fluid when Hodgson moves away from the rigid 4-4-2 that has generally been his way during almost four decades in management.

As for Wilshere, here was the hard evidence that he can fit snugly into the role of Steven Gerrard's midfield partner. Wilshere was prominently involved from the start, always wanting the ball and knowing the right thing to do with it, and it was his incisive pass that sent Walcott running clear and led to the opening goal. Walcott could not beat Júlio César but, when the ball rebounded off the goalkeeper, it fell invitingly to Rooney. Júlio César was now out of position, leaving the goal exposed, and Rooney scored with a crisp finish.

The lesson for England, as Hodgson acknowledged afterwards, is that they really cannot be so generous in defence against top opposition. As well as Ronaldinho's penalty, Neymar will be perplexed when he sees the replays of his far-post miss from Oscar's 38th-minute cross. A forward of his quality would ordinarily be expected to score that kind of opportunity blindfold, and the same player should also have buried the loose ball after Hart had initially saved Ronaldinho's penalty and then reached out a hand to deny him a second time. Neymar went for a clever flick and Tom Cleverley, sliding in at full speed, did just enough to put him off.

The penalty had been awarded against Wilshere for blocking Ronaldinho's cross with his hand. Strictly speaking, the Portuguese referee, Pedro Proença, was correct but it was harsh on Wilshere bearing in mind he had turned his back to the ball and his arm was still by his side. Ronaldinho did not strike his shot with great power but it still amounted to a wonderful demonstration of Hart's goalkeeping ability. After his uncharacteristic performance against Sweden in November, this was much better.

Unfortunately for England the issue of finding the right central defensive partnership is still far from resolved. This was the fifth different combination Hodgson has tried in six games and, at this level, a team cannot afford to make such rudimentary errors.

Three minutes into the second half, with Leighton Baines having taken over from Cole at the interval, Cahill moved out of defence, over-ran the ball and lost it to Arouca. Suddenly England were a man short in defence and Fred was on the ball. Smalling was reluctant to go to him, knowing it would leave Arouca clear for the return pass, but that left Fred with the time and space to pick his spot, lashing a left-foot shot past Hart.

Cahill almost made amends shortly afterwards with a header from Steven Gerrard's corner but he and Smalling were both culpable in what Hodgson described as a "mad spell", the two players making bad mistakes one after another to leave Fred with a chance that he curled against the crossbar.

England shook their heads clear. After an hour Walcott attacked from the right and, though Brazil retrieved possession, Rooney nipped in from behind Paulinho to flick it into Lampard's path. His finish, on the volley, was expertly steered inside the post with just the right amount of back-lift and England, despite their rough edges defensively, held out for a morale-boosting win.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Daniel Taylor at Wembley Stadium, for The Guardian on Wednesday 6th February 2013 23.41 Europe/London

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