England vs. Brazil: Time for a bit of Samba action

Mike Hewitt

Ronaldinho and Neymar and Oscar, oh my! Wednesday will see Roy Hogdson's rather dour England side take on a Selecao squad that seems to be looking for entertainment over a big result.

What better way to brighten up a dreary London February than by injecting some Samba flair into proceedings? Brazil had laboured under Mano Menezes, failing to get the results they wanted or produce the entertainment that fans of the Selecao crave -- despite the presence of some of the worst's most talented footballers on their roster. Luis Felipie Scolari has been brought in to redress the balance, and his new-look side should turn heads at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

England, meanwhile, are still England. They're an under-appreciated side, but their midfield is calamitously poor and until they fix that they'll be both difficult to watch and will underachieve when it matters. Not that this match really does. Hurray international friendlies!

Who's trying to win a place?

England have selection questions all over the place. With John Terry and Rio Ferdinand being phased out, both centre back spots are up for grabs, and Roy Hodgson will have to choose between Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka to deal with Brazil's attack. Arsenal's young trio of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere will have the opportunity to cement their places and probable first-choice players, while Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge will be looking to impress in what will probably be significant substitute minutes.

For Brazil a pair of injuries have opened the door for some bit-part players to make an impact. Thiago Silva's absence means that Bayern Munich centre half Dante will earn his first cap as a starter alongside David Luiz -- a strong performance here might even see him overhaul the Chelsea man as the first-choice partner for Thiago Silva. Meanwhile, Sandro's ACL tear means that Corinthians midfielder Paulinho will serve as the anchor-man in midfield. While it's difficult to see him coming into the picture for a starting spot in 2014, this is a good opportunity for him to prove that he's worthy of a squad spot.

Any tactical experimentation?

England's midfield is in a bit of a state at present. With Steven Gerrard captaining the side, he's a lock to start, but the Three Lions lack anyone cautious enough to start with him in the centre of midfield. Hodgson's best bet might be James Milner alongside the Liverpool skipper, but the England set-up has traditionally seen Milner as a winger rather than a real midfield operator, and that will probably mean that the hosts will be forced into a three-man midfield with Wayne Rooney leading the line as the lone forward. The rest of the team suits that shape, with some highly-attacking fullbacks in Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson and wingers who're as comfortable driving towards the box as they are on the flanks.

Luis Felipe Scolari doesn't have the centre backs available to play in a 3-4-3, so he'll probably go for a 4-3-3 as well. The back line and midfield are both fairly obvious, with Oscar beating out Lazio star Hernanes for a place in that trio alongside club teammate Ramires. Ahead of the Chelsea pair, Luis Fabiano will lead the line, flanked by the future of Brazilian football in Neymar -- and its distant past in the slightly-out-of-shape of Ronaldinho. Why? Because they can and it should be fun.

What are the managers looking for?

Brazil matches, even friendlies, are always prestige fixtures for England. Don't expect Hodgson to do anything but play his strongest side and try to win the match. Even if the Selecao are messing around a little bit by including an ancient former superstar in the side, it won't be easy for the hosts to avoid a loss.

With Ronaldinho in the lineup it's clear that Brazil aren't playing their strongest possible side (although if they think they are, they have some big problems). Essentially, this is a flag-flying mission for Scolari -- his side will be seeking to entertain. That said, he'll be hoping to get some good performances out of Dante and Paulinho.

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