Tight: Brazil's Neymar (left) tries a shot with Russia's
Denis Glushakov in attendance at Stamford Bridge on Monday night
Photo: ACTIION IMAGES
When Fred scored in the last minute of this friendly, side-footing home
from Marcelo’s delightful switch back, it sent the commentator from Brazilian
radio into an ecstasy. “Goooooaaal” he shrieked, his elongated syllables
spinning all the way to Craven Cottage; he could not have been more excited
if it was the strike that won next year’s World Cup rather than the equaliser
in a meaningless friendly.
In the Brazilian technical area, the coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, did not
look half as pleased. A man who had suffered at this ground before, he
knew how close his team had come to a Stamford Bridge embarrassment.
“Everybody knows there are no short cuts to success,” he said afterwards.
“This is a stage we have to go through.”
Until the Fluminese striker’s intervention, it seemed Russia had broken
one of the longest ducks in international football. For the first time
in eleven meetings, dating back to the days when they were known as the
Soviet Union, they were on the brink of inflicting defeat on Brazil.
How they must have been dancing in the streets of Bayswater, when Victor
Fayzulin, the Zenit St Petersburg midfielder, shot home after a scramble
in the Brazil penalty area to give them a 74th minute lead.
More to the point, Russia had spent much of the match comfortably in control
of the momentum. Their defenders got in the way of every Brazilian attack,
their captain, Roman Shirokov, a tall, elegant, incisive presence, ran
Even with talents as conspicuous as Neymar, whose wriggling skills are
much coveted by Chelsea, Brazil rarely challenged the belief that Argentina
are the favourites for next summer’s tournament.
And to think it had begun so easily for them. For the first couple of
minutes the Russians simply could not get a kick. Brazil gave a compelling
demonstration of tika taka, possession spinning across the Stamford Bridge
turf from Dani Alves, to Thiago Silva, to Fernando and back again. It
had their opponents chasing shadows, resembling extras in their own movie.
And then the ball headed to Kaka. The Real Madrid man looked up, lifted
his foot and let it pass out of play for a Russian throw.
That was the current Brazil in a cameo: a mix of the sublime and the incompetent
that suggests there might be a lot of hair pulled out in frustration in
their homeland next summer. Just as well their Scolari has not much left
That is three games now he has been in charge, and none has resulted in
a victory. In many ways he is a lucky manager: at least Brazil don’t have
to qualify for the tournament next summer.
“The Brazilian fans can be sure when the World Cup comes around we will
have a squad,” he insisted. “We will be compact and ready.”
He will be assisted in his task by the fact that the next stage of the
Brazil Global Tour will be in his homeland, giving the players a chance
to play in the conditions they will face next summer: they are unlikely
to need gloves in Rio.
Still, David Luiz at least seemed happy. He relished playing on home turf
in a yellow shirt, taking any free-kick within blasting sight of the goal.
Sadly none went in.
As Brazil flattered and deceived, Russia began to realise that reputation
and history were there to be challenged. They were resolute and calm,
two characteristics that seemed to please their manager; Fabio Capello
rarely looked as angry and agitated as he did on England duty. Indeed,
he seems to have put his time with the Football Association behind him.
When asked his opinion of tonight’s game in Podgorica, he smiled and said:
“I think I will watch France v Spain.”