A veritable avalanche of goals descended on stadiums across Europe on Wednesday, as over 30 friendlies provided entertainment and enlightenment in equal measure. South American teams in particular will likely be pleased with their evening’s work: Brazil saw off Sweden 3-0, a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina ran out impressive 3-1 winners over Germany, and Uruguay put in a traditionally solid display in a 0-0 draw with a misfiring France. Elsewhere, there were also useful results for Belgium, England and Switzerland, which should stand all three nations in good stead before European Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ gets underway in September.
The big match
Sweden 0-3 Brazil
Goals: Leandro Damiao 32, Alexandre Pato 84, 86 (pen)
Four days after coming unstuck in the final of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament, Brazil bounced back in style by comfortably defeating a Swedish side that appeared to be sorely missing absent star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Moved back into central attack alongside Leandro Damiao, Neymar seemed considerably more at ease, setting up his strike partner’s headed opener with a superb cross whipped in from the left.
The two men created numerous chances for themselves, but it fell to late substitute Alexandre Pato to show them the path to goal, scoring twice in three minutes. The victory underlined A Seleção's massive attacking threat, but Mano Menezes now has less than two years to polish the less proficient areas of his team’s collective game.
The other games
Taking on a young Italy side that began the match at a startling pace, attacking in waves, England withstood the majority of the pressure, fighting back from a goal down to secure a notable 2-1 win. Daniele de Rossi had initially given La Nazionale an early lead with a powerful header, but Phil Jagielka, with an excellent diving header, and Jermaine Defoe, who cut inside his man and unleashed a tremendous shot into the Italian net, were on hand to help the Three Lions complete an admirable comeback.
Deprived of several first-choice regulars, Germany struggled defensively in their 3-1 loss to Argentina, and were unable to prevent Lionel Messi from putting in a virtuoso performance for the away side. Joachim Low’s charges did well to limit the damage in the first half, with substitute goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen – brought on after the sending off of Ron-Robert Zieler – saving a penalty from Messi. The South Americans made the breakthrough in stoppage-time before the interval, pressuring Sami Khedira into scoring an unfortunate own goal from a corner.
After the break, La Pulga took full control of the match, doubling La Albiceleste’s* advantage *with a low drive before going on a trademark run that saw him leave four Germans in his wake and strike the right-hand post. Angel di Maria subsequently made it 3-0 with a remarkable long-range effort. On a night that Messi showed that he is set to continue where he left off last season, and that his understanding with Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain could make Argentina a force to be reckoned with again, Germany managed to save some face via a fine diving header from Benedikt Howedes.
There were goals aplenty in the Low Countries derby between Belgium and the Netherlands, during which six men were on target. The Belgians ensured that their fans went home happy by turning the game around with three goals in five second-half minutes, emerging 4-2 winners from an entertaining encounter.
Against a Uruguayan side boasting an extremely well-organised defence, France once again found their path to goal blocked, and despite a good second-half display, had to settle for a 0-0 draw in the end.
With Xherdan Shaqiri pulling the strings in midfield, Switzerland pulled off a fine 4-2 win over Croatia in Split, putting in possibly their best performance under Ottmar Hitzfeld in the process. The Croatians, who had twice got themselves back into the game through Eduardo, were finally overcome by two clinical Mario Gavranovic strikes.
Portugal made light work of Panama, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring one and setting up another for Nelson Oliveira in a 2-0 success. The Real Madrid attacker was then taken off after an hour of play. Spain’s 2-1 win versus Puerto Rico should have been equally straightforward, but the world and European champions made things difficult for themselves, allowing the modest islanders back into the match in the second half through Marc Cintron’s breakaway goal, after Santi Cazorla and Cesc Fabregas had put La Roja in the driving seat just before half-time.
Côte d'Ivoire, led by a lively Didier Drogba, held Russia to a 1-1 draw in Moscow, despite the home side going ahead with a goal from the on-song Alan Dzagoev, who was joint-top scorer at UEFA EURO 2012. The Ivorians, guided by Sabri Lamouchi, unbeaten in his three matches in charge of Les Eléphants, equalised through Max-Alain Gradel.
Elsewhere, there were good results for Greece, who won 3-2 in Norway, and Korea Republic, who beat African champions Zambia 2-1 with a double from Ulsan striker Lee Keunho. Ghana left things late against China PR, Rennes defender John Boye scoring the leveller in a 1-1 draw ten minutes from time.
Fifty-four years after his brace in the Final of Sweden 1958 brought him to the attention of the world, Pele returned to Stockholm’s Rasunda Stadium, the scene of one of his greatest triumphs, to officially launch a repeat of the famous Brazil-Sweden clash. O Rei made no mistake with the kick-off, symbolically finding latest heir apparent Neymar with a precisely struck pass.
Croatia 1-1 Switzerland, Eduardo 20
Eduardo, the Brazil-born striker instantly controlled a low cross with his right foot, spun around and fired an unstoppable left-foot volley past Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. The Swiss players had the last laugh, however, going on to win the game 4-2.
4 – The number of coaches making their debut this evening, all on the lookout for a convincing result to boost morale ahead of qualifying for Brazil 2014. Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Russia all entered a new era, with Marc Wilmots, Didier Deschamps, Louis van Gaal and Fabio Capello now respectively in charge. Wilmots, who has been confirmed in the position full-time after a period as caretaker coach, was the only one of the four to register a victory on the night.