For once, I am going to put aside all the cynicism and disdain I normally reserve for England international friendlies, especially those sandwiched in between vital Premier League fixtures for the teams who provide the core of the squad – Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham – and are rightly reluctant to release their players at such a key stage of the season.
Because let’s be honest, it isn’t every day that Brazil are the visitors to Wembley and nothing says glamour match like the sound of the samba beat coming to town.
The Three Lions’ first fixture of an important year is as high profile as a friendly can get, with the five-time World Cup winners in town not just to give England a stern test ahead of the remainder of their Brazil 2014 qualification bid, but also to help the Football Association celebrate 150 years of their (chequered) existence.
Bobby Moore’s tackle, Gordon Banks’ save, John Barnes’ goal, David Seaman’s catastrophic error: the 22 previous meetings of the two sides are littered with classic, unforgettable moments and any time England face Brazil, it is impossible not to get a bit excited.
A sell-out crowd at Wembley will feel the same, as will Ashley Cole, who is set to win his 100th cap. But for Roy Hodgson (who, let’s face it, doesn’t tend to get excited about much) this match will be viewed as a stepping stone to ensuring they have the chance to face Brazil next year when the real stuff gets underway.
Hodgson, always one to downplay expectations, has been at pains to suggest England may not win their qualifying group (they should) and now captain Steven Gerrard has – under the manager’s instructions? – said that they may need the play-offs to qualify for the World Cup.
Failure to do so would be a disaster, but with the trip to Montenegro next month obviously the priority, how England line up will be interesting.
Of course, Brazil have no such worries as hosts next summer, which makes this match arguably more important for them than it does for England, with an expectant nation already demanding a tournament win for the hosts and no less.
To this end, a new era has begun for Brazil. Or more accurately, an old era revisited.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, the scourge of English football after knocking Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team out of three consecutive major tournaments and who, don’t forget, nearly replaced the Swede in 2006, is back in the hottest of international hotseats.
Eleven years after he guided Brazil to World Cup glory in Japan and South Korea, the pressure is already on the former Chelsea boss to replicate that success in Rio in 18 months’ time.
‘Big Phil’ takes over from Mano Menezes, who could hardly be described as doing a bad job, but such is the nervousness around Brazil that they must, must win the World Cup as hosts that they have gone back to the future into the knowing bosom of a familiar figure.
Whether it works remains to be seen. Although extremely talented, this Brazilian vintage is young and still has it all to prove, and is not in the Ronaldo/Rivaldo/Ronaldinho class that Scolari previously worked with.
Perhaps this is why he has recalled Ronaldinho from international exile after the former world player of the year starting showing some good form for Atletico Mineiro.
But with a patchy record since leaving his post as Portugal boss (which includes failure at Stamford Bridge, as well as in his last job at Palmeiras), Big Phil has it all to prove.
Brazil are the favourites at 27/20 to give Scolari a winning return, with the draw at 23/10 and England 19/10 to get 2013 off to winning start.
Scolari’s first Brazil side were probably the last of the traditional, swashbuckling, all flair, we’ll-score-one-more-than-you Brazil teams that people imagine: with Cafu and Roberto Carlos pushing on as auxiliary wingers, his all-out attack philosophy brought great dividends.
But will he set up the same way in his second stint? At this stage it is impossible to tell, which makes tipping up Brazil a bit risky.
Nevertheless, that is what I am going to do at 27/20.
Because no matter how Brazil line up, they boast better players than England, who I am just not convinced about.
In fact, that is an understatement and a half: I haven’t seen anything from Hodgson’s England since the former Fulham boss took the job that makes me think the Three Lions are making any improvement whatsoever, and recently they have been poor.
Two wins in five doesn’t look great on paper, but it is even worse when placed under closer scrutiny.
The wins came against Moldova and San Marino with pedestrian displays, while a fortunate home draw with Ukraine and a lucky stalemate in Poland have left England with it all to do to qualify for Brazil 2014 – a situation that should never have come to pass.
Their last match, a 4-2 loss in Sweden, wasn’t good either and on the back of a poor Euro 2012, I can’t have England at all.
And it goes without saying that England struggle against Brazil: they haven’t beaten the South Americans since 1990, a run of eight matches, with four Brazilian wins out of the last six.
With Scolari’s return sure to put a spring in the step of a team that have won seven of their last eight, and with the need to make an immediate impression paramount for Big Phil, I see a Brazil win here, spoiling the party at 27/20.