He’s back. Luiz Felipe Scolari has returned to London, and is back in charge of Brazil. After the sacking of Mano Menezes, ex-Chelsea boss Scolari is once again head of a Selecao, with his first game against Roy Hodgson’s England on Wednesday night.
Hodgson and England have a crucial year ahead of them. Not only is the FA celebrating their 150th Anniversary with games against Brazil, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, a return fixture in Rio against Brazil, and potentially Germany and Argentina in November, but they also have critical World Cup qualification games against Ukraine, Poland, and two against Montenegro.
The Brazil game is followed by a match against San Marino, before a trip to Podgorica for a fixture with Group H leaders Montenegro. It is no surprise that Hodgson is taking the year seriously, with the U21s playing in the European Championship this summer.
“We have talked about the importance of the Under-21s and U20s next summer. In the past, the Under-21s have not been able to maximise their potential because a lot of the best players have not been available,” Hodgson told the FA website.
"I am anxious this year that some of the talented players who are in or on the verge of the first team squad get a chance to get some tournament experience so I have deliberately ignored the possibilities of four or five players,” he added.
Given how important this year is, playing Brazil in the February fixture may not have been the smartest move. With the Brazilian economy booming despite the global recession, a lot of the country’s stars have stayeded or returned to their native nation.
The likes of Neymar, Paulinho, and Leandro Damiao would have made the move to Europe already if you went back five or ten years, but now they can earn big wages in Brazil, and the Brazilian clubs no longer need to sell to stay afloat.
The Brazilian Serie A begins in May. At the moment the sides are playing in the regional leagues, which can be very uncompetitive and may lead to fitness problems for a few squad members.
Also, given it is Scolari’s first match in charge, the World Cup winner will not have time to mold the team the way he would want to. A victory over an unfit, unorganised Brazil team who are playing friendly upon friendly as hosts of the next World Cup will raise expectations artificially high, setting England and Hodgson up for a fall should they fail to thrash San Marino or beat Montenegro.
It will no doubt be a great occasion at Wembley on Wednesday, and the individual skill and flair of the Brazilians should light up a game that could fall into the black hole of recent unmemorable England friendlies. But as far as preparing England for a massive 2013, the team in yellow and blue might not be the best opponents. You may well argue an international friendly shoe horned into early February is not ideal at all, but whatever the result Hodgson needs to make sure England’s expectations are not unduly affected.
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