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Dose of their own medicine

sports Updated: Feb 07, 2013 23:35 IST

The British introduced Brazilians to soccer more than a century ago and since then have spent an awful lot of time trying to get their ball back.
No one can doubt that. It goes beyond the fact that Brazil has won five World Cups — and England just the one, in its own stadium 47 years ago. There has been a chasm in class between the two, mostly stemming from sheer mastery of the ball, for much of that history.

On Wednesday, albeit in a friendly game that counted for no points, England beat Brazil, 2-1, at the rebuilt 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium.

The score didn't matter, except for the fact that it is the first time in 23 years that England has prevailed over Brazil. More significant was the suggestion that in technical ability — in skill with the ball and movement without it — the mother country of the sport might finally be narrowing the gap.

Young guns
It was embodied in two young men. Neymar, who turned 21 this week, has a stack of video evidence that suggests he can do so much with the ball, at such extraordinary speed, that he should mature into one of the finest attacking players of his generation.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, who also recently celebrated his 21st birthday, outshone Neymar on Wednesday.

It was not simply a case of an Englishman more at home in his own stadium, or one more accustomed to the chill wind on a typically frosty February night. Wilshere was buffeted at times by Brazilians like David Luiz and Ramires, who both earn their living in London, with Chelsea.

So the excuse that Brazilians came out of their warmth to England's cold does not wash, any more than Americans can simply blame the midafternoon humidity in San Pedro Sula for their 2-1 loss to Honduras on Wednesday.
Two of a kind

Once more, the Neymar and Wilshere comparison is worth considering. The only impediment to the young Brazilian's progress is said to be that by staying at home, he doesn't meet exacting enough competition.

He is quick, bright and daring, and his dancing feet can appear hypnotic. But at Wembley, where his compatriot Oscar — another Chelsea recruit - set up chances, Neymar squandered a hat trick.

Wilshere, meantime, was brilliant. He wears his youth like a man, indeed — facially he looks much older than his years. Wilshere became an Arsenal first-team player at 16 and, given his amalgam of touch and vision and muscular strength, perhaps that early start was premature.

He broke down. His ankle, and then other parts of his lower limbs, required surgery and long, long rest. He spent 14 months out of the game, but in that time he demonstrated just how much he craved getting back into the thick of it. It was Wilshere's measured pass, and his Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott's electric speed, that created the opening goal. Brazil goalie Júlio César rushed bravely to intercept the move, but the ball then ran loose, and Wayne Rooney drove it into the net with precision.