Tuesday 18 November ~
The Brazilian federation are clearly not expecting huge public interest in their match with Portugal tomorrow that is to be held in a 20,000-capacity stadium in Gama, a suburb of the national capital Brasilia. The public gets to see their national team on a fairly regular basis with South American World Cup qualification these days involving nine home games for each country. But it is nonetheless astonishing that this will be Brazil's first friendly at home for a decade. In part this is because the Brazilians receive plenty of invitations to play elsewhere and partly that their various sponsors are keen to parade Robinho, Kaka et al in various commercial markets around the world, a trend that began with the so-called "Nike tours" of south-east Asia in the 1990s. But despite the low-key nature of the latest match several of Brazil's star players are flying out from Europe to play in it, as is Cristiano Ronaldo for their opponents. By contrast England's team for their match with Germany in Berlin has been significantly weakened by withdrawals.
This is England's first game in Berlin since 1972 and their first non-competitive match in Germany in 21 years but it has been a long time since anything like a first-choice eleven was able to turn out for a friendly. It is become something of a tradition that each England manager falls out with his club counterparts when players are pulled out of squads. This time around, Liverpool have protested about Steven Gerrard having to travel to have his groin injury, which will supposedly take a week to heal, assessed by the England medical staff. With Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdiand among the other withdrawals Fabio Capello will have no more than four of his preferred starters available in Berlin. Having been duly embarrassed he has decided to make a show of defiance, claiming today that certain players' international careers may be in jeopardy.
Of course, Capello has no intention of following through with this threat. Having found out that there is distinctly shallow pool of talent available to him he can't afford to fall out with key players whose withdrawals are in any case due to their obeying instructions from their clubs rather than seeking to defy the international manager. Indeed there does seem to be a tactical element to the latest batch of minor niggles. Ferdinand and Rooney were omitted from Man Utd's match with Stoke at the weekend but Lampard's rib injury was deemed to be serious only after Gerrard's groin gave out, even though the latter played a full 90 minutes against Bolton.
The obvious solution would be to scrap friendlies held at this time of year when important league and European club fixtures are coming up. Even if they provide an opportunity for fringe members of the squad, the managers is not going to learn much from seeing untried players brought into a scratch team. Indeed one might almost wonder whether the people who arrange such matches really have any idea what they're doing. But Berlin may come to seem like a sensible venue for a fixture compared to what will be in store once the 2018 World Cup bid gets into its stride. Jimmy Bullard may yet get his international chance in that 20,000-capacity stadium in Brasilia.