NEY­MAR STARS IN STALE­MATE

Eng­land keep Brazil at bay in Wem­b­ley friendly

Yorkshire Post - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Sut­cliffe AT WEM­B­LEY ■ Email: richard.sut­cliffe@ypn.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @RSootyYPS­port

HAD last night’s friendly stale­mate been fought out closer to next year’s World Cup fi­nals get­ting un­der­way, chances are a penalty shoot-out would have been staged to de­cide a win­ner.

It is one of sev­eral ideas be­ing mulled over by man­ager Gareth South­gate in an at­tempt to ban­ish what has proved to be Eng­land’s foot­balling Achilles heel in ma­jor tournaments down the years.

The Three Lions have crashed out of ei­ther the World Cup or Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships no fewer than six times from the spot and South­gate, one of those fa­mously to fail from 12 yards out, in Euro 96, is des­per­ate to avoid a re­peat.

Whether such an un­usual ini­tia­tive would have been much use to set­tle Eng­land’s fi­nal in­ter­na­tional of 2017 is de­bat­able. In 25 pre­vi­ous meet­ings be­tween these fa­mous old foes dat­ing back to 1956, six penal­ties have been awarded and ev­ery sin­gle one of them has been missed.

Judg­ing by the lack of fi­nesse in front of goal from both teams, chances are the 84,595 crowd would have been in dan­ger of miss­ing the last tube home wait­ing for a win­ner had the game gone to penal­ties.

Most of this profli­gacy came from Brazil, but Eng­land also had their mo­ments, most no­tably close to the end when a bet­ter first touch from Do­minic Solanke would surely have brought a de­but win­ner.

This late miss aside, though, it was an en­cour­ag­ing night for South­gate and his men against a Brazil team that has come a long way since the hor­ror of los­ing 7-1 on home soil to Ger­many in the 2014 World Cup semi-fi­nals.

Since Tite took charge in June last year, the swag­ger of old has been re­dis­cov­ered and mar­ried to an im­pres­sive work rate.

Qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Rus­sia from the no­to­ri­ously tough South Amer­i­can group was achieved by a ten-point mar­gin, while the at­tack­ing trio of Ney­mar, Gabriel Je­sus and Philippe Coutinho will give any op­pos­ing de­fence plenty of sleep­less nights next sum­mer.

Ney­mar’s god-like stand­ing back home was un­der­lined by his ev­ery touch early on be­ing greeted by the high-pitched scream­ing of 4,000 or so Brazil­ian voices. At times, it lent Wem­b­ley the feel of a Bros con­cert.

Drop the Boy was one of the Eight­ies band’s big­gest hits, but when it comes to the world’s most ex­pen­sive player, he long ago stopped be­ing re­garded as sim­ply a boy from Brazil.

Ney­mar is the man who makes Brazil tick in a man­ner sim­i­lar to the many greats of the past.

Pos­sess­ing a work-rate that would make a marathon run­ner blush, his ar­ray of skills on the ball make Paris St Ger­main’s £196m man a de­light to watch.

Be it how he glided past three English mid­field­ers with the slight­est of shim­mies mid­way through the first half or the floated pass with the out­side of his left foot that re­leased Je­sus mo­ments later, ev­ery­thing Ney­mar did in front of an ap­pre­cia­tive Wem­b­ley crowd oozed with class.

He was also in­vari­ably be­hind the sec­ond-half op­por­tu­ni­ties that threat­ened to bring a be­lated goal. The killer passes to Paulinho and Dani Alves cer­tainly de­served bet­ter than shots that Joe Hart was able to beat away.

Such was the 25-year-old’s frus­tra­tion at a team-mate be­ing un­able to add the fin­ish­ing touch that he could not be blamed for go­ing it alone in stop­page-time af­ter dis­pos­sess­ing Jesse Lin­gard in the cen­tre cir­cle.

Much to Hart’s re­lief, how­ever, the fin­ish was also lack­ing from the game’s stand­out player and the ball rolled harm­lessly wide.

A cou­ple of out­ra­geous back heels from Marcelo also drew ap­plause from many more than those sport­ing yel­low in one corner of Wem­b­ley.

So, too, did a drilled shot from Fer­nand­inho that kissed the out­side of Hart’s right-hand post 15 min­utes from time.

That Eng­land stood firm un­der such pres­sure owed a lot to John Stones, ma­tur­ing fast into a player wor­thy of the £50m out­lay by Manch­ester City a cou­ple of sum­mers ago.

Harry Maguire, de­spite some un­usu­ally sloppy dis­tri­bu­tion at times, also im­pressed along­side Joe Gomez in a three-man back­line that is South­gate’s stated blueprint for next sum­mer.

Hart had just one save to make in the first half, the West Ham United goal­keeper beat­ing away a Je­sus header low to his left.

Even though he was busier af­ter the restart, Eng­land can be pleased with their ef­forts on a night when only Alis­son’s last­gasp block on Solanke in stop­page time pre­vented what would have been only a sec­ond win over Brazil in 27 years.

PIC­TURE: MIKE EGER­TON/PA WIRE

SO CLOSE: Eng­land’s Do­minic Solanke has a shot blocked by Brazil goal­keeper Alis­son Becker as the hosts threat­ened to grab a late win­ner at Wem­b­ley.

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