Much was expected from Neymar at Wembley, just as much will be expected every time the primped, precocious prince of Brazilian football takes the field from here to his home World Cup and beyond.
This time, Neymar fell short. His influence was rarely felt in Brazil's attacking effort and his slight, boyish frame was found wanting more than once when he needed a strong shoulder to lean on. Neymar will have his day, but this was not it.
This day belonged to Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, whose first start for England since June 2011 delivered on all the expectancy that comes with being one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation. Wilshere was not just the best player in a white shirt, he was the best on the pitch.
England manager Roy Hodgson can take credit for his well-considered formation, which employed Steven Gerrard at the fulcrum of midfield and placed Wilshere alongside Tom Cleverley in front of him. Gerrard's assured presence liberated both of them, and instilled a confidence in Wilshere that brought out his very best.
Wilshere's first contribution was a driving run through the middle that evoked memories of Paul Gascoigne in his prime—Wilshere swaying past tackles and turning on the afterburners to escape a second bite. It was good to be back, and Wilshere wasn't going to waste a second of it after all those months ruled out through injury.
Even the penalty he conceded was the result of his exuberance—Wilshere having dashed back to put in a defensive shift when his arm met a cross from Ronaldinho. The ponytailed Brazilian maverick saw his spot-kick saved, with Joe Hart scrambling across to deny him a second time from the rebound.
England made Brazil pay soon after and Wilshere, inevitably, was involved. Having played a neat one-two coming in from the left, he slid in his Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott with a delightful pass inside his man. Walcott's shot was blocked, but Wayne Rooney was on hand to squeeze a shot home and give England a deserved lead.
The goal was Wilshere's in the making. Soon after, he was skipping past yellow shirts again, in another burst through the Brazil midfield, and by halftime had already stolen the show from the star-studded cast around him.
Then came England's wobble. Gary Cahill's mistake presented Fred with an opening on 48 minutes and the substitute smartly finished past Hart. A minute later, Chris Smalling opened the buffet to Oscar, but the Chelsea midfielder could only find the crossbar with his curling shot.
England's winner came on the hour mark and owed a debt to Rooney's persistence. The Manchester United striker got in front of his man to present Frank Lampard with a difficult chance on the edge of the box. The veteran midfielder—on as a substitute for Cleverley—volleyed a fine finish into the corner, for his 27th international goal.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil tried for an equalizer, but England never looked like giving one up. But for their lapse at the start of the second half, Hodgson's team were well-organized and played as cohesively as they have for some time.
Gerrard and Wilshere, who both played the full 90 minutes, were the standout players. And, on this evidence, should be deployed in these exact roles in every game going forward for England.
They came to see Neymar. They left talking about Wilshere.
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