In a match that began with a celebration of Steven Gerrard's 100th England cap (actually his 101st), Ronaldinho's 100th Brazil appearance (his 95th) and a minute of silence in honour of the 20th anniversary of Bobby Moore's death, the Three Lions took a major scalp by dispatching the Selecao 2-1. It was a thrilling, back-and-forth affair which either side could have won, and one suspects that the 87,000 strong crowd at Wembley Stadium wouldn't have been at all disappointed by the display*.
*Unless they were there to watch Neymar.
Both sides were in an attacking mood from the off, and Julio Cesar was called into action within minutes after Wayne Rooney found space on a corner and powered in a goalbound header. The Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper acrobatically pawed clear only to find his efforts rendered irrelevant by the referee, who deemed Rooney's challenge on Ramires.
At the other end of the pitch, Oscar showed the Selecao's intent by blazing over on a rapier-fast counterattack, and the Chelsea midfielder was involved as in the first big chance of the match -- a 19th minute penalty. It was his interchange with Ronaldinho which allowed the veteran to find space for a cross, a delivery which was rather unfortunately intercepted by Jack Wilshere's hand.
Fortunately for the Three Lions, Ronaldinho's spot kick was poor and easily saved, allowing Joe Hart to push away a tame early effort, and scramble the rebound clear before Tom Cleverley ended the threat by putting off Neymar, who tried to claim a second penalty for a foul that had occured after he'd already skewed his shot well wide.
And then England were ahead. Jack Wilshere blew by Ramires in midfield and split both Dante and Adriano with a lovely through ball to Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott. Cesar came out to block the shot, wiping out Walcott in the process, but the rebound went straight to Rooney at the top of the box, who swept home with a composed finish.
Walcott tried his best to extend England's lead immediately, but his surging run was snuffed out by a combination of David Luiz and Adriano. Danny Welbeck's close range shot was smashed over, as were Ashley Cole's and Glen Johnson's effort.
The hosts were on top, but their defence still looked shaky whenever it was put under pressure. Neymar should have equalised in the 37th minute after magnificent work from Oscar, whose wicked cross put the Santos star in on an open goal from three yards. He missed. At the other end of the pitch, Walcott repeatedly skinned the awful Adriano and it took a fine save from Cesar to prevent the Three Lions from making it 2-0.
We got our slew of halftime changes mandated by this being an international friendly, but England remained on the front foot. A long-range effort by Steven Gerrard was parried by Cesar, with David Luiz doing very well to prevent Wilshere stabbing in the rebound.
And then Gary Cahill struck. For the wrong team. The Chelsea defender's known for his ability to run the ball out of defence, but he took a completely nonsensical liberty in presenting possession to Lucas Moura, and suddenly Brazil were free on Hart's goal. Fred's finish was cool and composed, and Brazil were suddenly level.
It took a minor miracle for that state of affairs to last another thirty seconds. Cahill once again coughed up possession -- this time to Oscar -- within a few yards of goal, and Fred's curling effort hit the angle of post and bar with Hart completely stranded.
The centre back did at least partially redeem himself by tackling Oscar after he and Neymar had worked their way into the penalty area, and it took a magnificent save by Cesar to prevent Cahill putting England back in front when he demolished David Luiz on a corner and nodded goalward.
David Luiz did rather against Frank Lampard when he produced a goal-saving tackle to prod clear when a rebound was about to fall the England midfielder's way, but Lampard was not to be denied and he punished Arouca for a giveaway at the top of the box by hammering a shot in off the post to reestablish the lead.
As it turns out, the 34-year-old's goal would be the last signficant chance of the game. That was at least partially due to Fred stepping on the ball and falling over when played in after great work from Oscar and Lucas Moura. Brazil tried to find the equaliser once again, but England's defence held firm, letting the Selecao nowhere near Joe Hart's goal.
The defensive effort paid off with an impressive 2-1 win. Yes, it was a friendly, and Brazil almost certainly had another gear to turn to (Neymar alone has another eight or nine in him), but Hodgson's side was, save for the Cahill error, disciplined and focused, and played like, for what seems like the first time in an age, more than the sum of their parts.