Brazil are relying on Neymar for their spark
Nation's mood glum at the moment
6 February ~ Last week's launch of a new national team shirt by Nike in Rio perhaps summed up what many feel would be Brazil's best starting XI. Scores of youngsters streamed on to the pitch wearing Neymar masks – the genuine article mingled among the wannabes – and many Brazilians will have wished they could clone the Santos star and select him in several positions against England at Wembley. Even though some feel Neymar has been playing mascarado (keeping the ball too much and ignoring his team-mates) of late, he remains the undroppable star.
Just 21, he has also bucked the convention of an early, and often premature, move to Europe – this is due to happen only after the 2014 World Cup. While Brazilians have been impressed by signs of a renewed appetite for the game in Ronaldinho, excited by Oscar's early months at Chelsea and impressed by the size of the deal that took striker Hulk to Russia, most still pin their hopes on Neymar.
England are the first test for returning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Some hope for a improvement on the cautious approach of his predecessor Mano Menezes but a cavalier gamble on youth is unlikely, especially with Brazil humbled in the recent South American Under-20 championship. There is also widespread dismay at the team's lowly 18th place in the FIFA rankings. Heavily criticised for only facing weak opposition during Menezes's tenure, the Brazilian Confederation (CBF) has lined up more testing opponents in the coming months with Italy and Russia among the confirmed fixtures.
While Wednesday's game is a sell-out there is something close to indifference back in Brazil. London has become the national team's de facto base for friendlies so playing there is almost routine – there is more expectation growing about England's rare visit to Brazil in June.
Brazilians are hardly feeling upbeat just days away from the annual Carnival. An apparently booming economy has stalled of late while the fire at the Kiss nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria in late January has so far killed 238 people. For many it was a warning to improve the approach to health and safety ahead of the World Cup. Just four days later, a trademark "avalanche" goal celebration by Gremio fans in a Copa Libertadores encounter with LDU of Ecuador hurt several people when a section of the fencing gave way at the club's new Arena stadium.
A further embarrassment for Brazil's 2014 Local Organising Committee came on Sunday when the inaugural game of the Mineirão stadium between Cruzeiro and Atlético MG was marred by a lack of water for spectators, as well as confusion over ticketing for the various sections. So a virtuoso Neymar show may go some way to lightening the national mood, temporarily. Robert Shaw