Scotland v Brazil – Game On!

by Martin Campbell

I am as excited as Alex Salmond in a pie shop. Scotland, after a hiatus of 13 years, are once again renewing our love affair with the mighty Brazil.

The SFA and CBF have agreed an international challenge match between the two countries taking place on Sunday 27th March at The Emirates Stadium in London.

Over the years we have met on no less than 10 occasions including 4 times at the World Cup. In fact we were drawn in the same World Cup group every alternate tournament between 1974 and 1998. Then we stopped qualifying and the sequence was broken. Next month though we cosy up to each other once again and I can’t wait for it!

Last time we faced Brazil in 98, I was a lowly skint student living in Edinburgh who couldn’t afford to go to Paris for the match, so off to the pub it was for the big game.

If I recall correctly it was a glorious sunny Wednesday in the capital and I remember the feeling waking up that morning was something a kin to Christmas morning. Brazil in the opening game at the World Cup is probably as big as it gets for Scotland.

As my mates and I piled into the Junction Bar in Edinburgh to watch the match on the big screen you could feel the atmosphere of excitement building hours before kick off. It wasn’t just football fans, there were literally all sorts of folk getting into position waiting for the greatest show on earth to get underway. The excitement was not so much for us kicking off our campaign, it was the fact we were playing Brazil.

I dare say if our opening game of the World Cup had seen us open up against the hosts France for example, the sense of excitement just wouldn’t have been the same. The fact that it was Brazil we were facing got us Scots all excited. There is something about Brazil that appeals to us Scottish football fans, perhaps more than any of our British cousins.

Perhaps it’s recalling the past meetings between the nations in which we have, on occasion risen to levels above ourselves, and inflicted a bloody nose on the Boys from Brazil (never a toe poke from big Dave Narey!!) Perhaps it’s putting up with the general drudgery and conservatism of our club and national game that makes the silky Samba stars so appealing. Perhaps after all is said and done, deep in our hearts and souls, we know will we never be as good as them and the chance to see them strut their stuff is just too good a chance to pass up.

It is perhaps for all of the reasons above that, after missing out in 98, I will be making my way down to London for the match along with huge numbers of my fellow Tartan Army comrades.

The fact that the game is in London (mainly for a host of financial reasons) and not Hampden doesn’t take anything away from the fixture in my opinion. If anything it adds a little bit of romance and heightened excitement to the occasion. Taking place in the city where we have conquered the English on their own pitch many times before, taken over city squares like Trafalgar and where so many expats reside means the game will be set in a familiar location.

So after presumably many beers and expert testimony from many fans in the bars and pubs in the build up to the game on the Saturday, can we expect to be fulfilled by what we see on the Sunday?

Well it’s true that the Brazil team we are likely to see in action isn’t of the same vintage as the squads we remember fondly from yesteryear. Players with the flair of Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are in shorter supply these days.

However its still Brazil we are talking about and there are still smatterings of brilliance throughout the team. Leading lights such as Kaka, Robinho, Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Luis Fabiano and Adriano are all still kicking around, although few of them featured in the 1-0 defeat against the French in Paris earlier this month. Hopefully some of them will be back in action in the Emirates.

Since Dunga got the boot after the World Cup last summer new coach Mano Menezes has instigated a number of comings and goings with a few younger players coming through the ranks.

Furthermore as the game is in London I think we can expect to see a clutch of Premiership players featuring at the Emirates. The likes of David Luiz & Ramires of Chelsea, Man Utd’s Rafael and Anderson and Lucas Leiva of Liverpool are all potential inclusions. Maybe even a token appearance from Arsenal’s Denilson, or is that a step too far???

Regardless of who pulls on the famous yellow shirt and lines up against us, i will be a little disappointed not to see the great Ronaldo. Surely when he announced his retirement he was unaware of this fixture. I mean who wouldn’t want to sign off their career with a game against Scotland?

So much for Brazil, what about Scotland?

An excellent 3-0 win in Dublin against Northern Ireland last month on the back of a 3-0 victory against the Faroe Islands and a fine display against world champions Spain has encased the national team in a haze of cautious optimism and positivity. We’ve had too many false dawns over the years to get carried away.

However recent performances from our midfielders and forwards in particular have washed away the 4-6-0 debacle that took place in Prague earlier in the Euro qualifying campaign.

The midfield looks particularly strong at the moment and there appears to be plenty of talent kicking about. Scott Brown, Kris Commons and Charlie Adam have been sensational for their respective club sides this season. Captain Darren Fletcher is the pick of the Man Utd midfield and the up and coming talents of James McArthur and Barry Bannan are enjoying breakthrough seasons in the Premiership. Even second half substitutes in Dublin, Robert Snodgrass and Craig Conway played well and almost got amongst the goals.

Elsewhere on the pitch, we are fine in the goalkeeping department with either Craig Gordon or Allan McGregor between the sticks, the full back positions are locked down by Alan Hutton and Phil Bardsley and as long as Kenny Miller stays fit up front, assisted by the soon to return talisman James McFadden we will score goals.

Concerns remain about the centre back positions however. Various combinations of the Caldwell brothers, Stephen McManus, Christophe Berra and Davie Weir have been used this season without producing the definitive partnership required.

The Caldwell’s seem to be injured more often than not, Berra is improving but not the finished article yet and Davie Weir is ready for the pipe and slippers. Maybe we will have to make do until Danny Wilson makes the breakthrough at Liverpool!!

All in all though, things are looking up for Scotland at the moment and it should be a cracking spectacle against Brazil. An enjoyable weekend for the Tartan Army in London beckons with the chance of seeing Charlie Adam firing home a glorious freekick to join the select group of legends that include Stevie Chalmers, David Narey and John Collins who have scored against the Boys from Brazil.

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