South Africa vs. Brazil: 6 Things We Learned
Brazil secured a comfortable 5-0 victory over South Africa in Johannesburg on Wednesday night in what was manager Luiz Felipe Scolari's final opportunity to see his players prior to naming his World Cup squad in May.
In truth, it was a trouble-free evening for the Selecao from the very beginning, and after just 10 minutes, they were ahead through a goal from Chelsea's Oscar.
In the end, though, it was the brilliance of Scolari's brightest star, Neymar, that stole the headlines, with the Barcelona man grabbing a hat-trick to give the game some sort of notable feature.
What, though, can we take from what was a straightforward night for Brazil in Jo'burg?
Neymar Is a Truly Special Player
It may only have been South Africa, as many will put it, but international hat-tricks do not come easily. At the age of 22, Neymar already has his second.
Indeed, in taking himself to 30 goals in 47 games for his country, he has already surpassed the goalscoring tally of the likes of Kaka in far fewer games.
The Mogi das Cruzes-born forward is a sensation, and while at Barcelona he is playing second fiddle to a certain Lionel Messi, he has shown with Brazil that he is more than capable of taking on a leading role himself.
He has been an important figure in Brazil's side since his teenage years and will enter the summer's World Cup as the most talked about player in world football.
Fernandinho Will Be Heading to the 2014 World Cup
For Rafinha and Fernandinho, Wednesday night presented a long-awaited opportunity to press their respective claims for a World Cup place. For the latter, in particular, it proved a great success.
His stunning long-range strike toward the end of the second half will justifiably grab all the headlines, but on the whole, the Manchester City player showed just why he has been earning such rave reviews this season.
Fernandinho opens his Brazil account with a stormer from range. That's him off to the World Cup, you'd imagine.— Jack Lang (@snap_kaka_pop) March 5, 2014
Per Yahoo! Sports, Reuters correspondant Mark Gleeson described his showing as "commanding." Meanwhile, the same article reveals that Scolari himself described both players' showings as "interesting."
He has left it very late, having often been off the radar in Ukraine, but Fernandinho may just have booked his last-minute place at the World Cup on Wednesday night.
Oscar Key to Unlocking Brazil's Attacking Potential
He is often lauded for his ability to make a significant defensive contribution from his attacking midfield position. But it should not be forgotten just how clever a player Chelsea's Oscar has become.
He scored Brazil's first on the night with a clever run behind the defence and wondrous clipped finish over the advancing keeper. For a difficult skill, it was all made to look rather easy.
Oscar: Always does well for Brazil, one of most consistent players. Fred: When he doesn't score, he makes an assist! pic.twitter.com/kCD1tOaLrB— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) March 5, 2014
However, beyond that, what Oscar does so well is control Brazil's attacking play, bringing the likes of Neymar into the game when they have found space in advanced areas.
As he lacks the spectacular dribbling abilities of some in his position, Oscar can often fly under the radar. But there is a reason why he is one of the first names on Scolari's teamsheet, and against South Africa, he was excellent once more.
Scolari Has Great Depth at His Disposal
Brazil made six substitutions on the night, rotating their options to give as many players as possible valuable minutes ahead of the World Cup.
What it served to underline, though, was the quality that manager Scolari can afford to keep on the bench, with the likes of Willian, Ramires, Dante, Dani Alves and Luiz Gustavo all entering in the second half.
Shakhtar Donetsk's flying winger, Bernard, went unused, while those not selected for the squad at all include Rafael, Filipe Luis, Lucas Moura and Dede.
Brazil have depth that only one or two other countries in world football could dream about, and Scolari will be the beneficiary of those options when it comes to picking a 23-man World Cup squad this May.
South African Football Is Stagnating
It was a game as comfortable as the 5-0 scoreline suggests, with Brazil in fact guilty of squandering further opportunities on the night.
While facing Brazil is a very harsh standard upon which to judge South Africa by, the hosts showed limited resistance to a Selecao who at times were able to toy with their opponents.
South Africa, like several of the world's emerging economies, have suffered several false dawns in footballing terms. However, the truth is that they were arguably a more competitive side a decade ago.
There is talent in South Africa, but it is not developing in the right way, and questions must be asked of the game's internal structure in the country.
An Act of Kindness Goes a Long Way
Now, we can all agree that pitch invaders should be handed long bans in order to ensure player safety. However, just this once, one such incident has brought a raft of positive publicity.
Neymar is the man responsible for the feel-good story of the night, rescuing a young child from the clutches of security guards and taking him to the warm embraces of his teammates.
I hope Brazil win World Cup after way they treated kid— Tony Evans (@TonyEvansTimes) March 6, 2014
Footballers get a lot of bad press for their attitudes and behaviour. However, on this occasion, it can only be hoped that they are equally widely praised.