Soccer

Scolari, Ronaldinho return in Brazil's loss to England

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Associated Press
2/6/2013 5:28:48 PM
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LONDON -- Luiz Felipe Scolari and Ronaldinho endured disappointing returns to international football as Brazil lost 2-1 to England, while Spain, Germany and Argentina all won high-profile friendlies on Wednesday to justify their position as the world's top three teams.

World and European champion Spain stretched its unbeaten run to 17 games by beating Uruguay 3-1 in Doha, Germany came from behind to beat France 2-1 away and Lionel Messi failed to score but played a key role in Argentina's 3-2 win over Sweden.

Scolari, who led Brazil to its fifth and most recent world title in 2002, took charge of his first game in his second spell as coach and handed Ronaldinho a recall to the team for his 100th cap.

The former Barcelona playmaker, who hadn't played for Brazil for a year, had an early penalty saved at Wembley Stadium before Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard scored goals to help England end a 23-year winless record against the Brazilians.

"I'm used to losing the first game but after this I'm used to winning games and winning competitions," Scolari said. "I'm not disappointed and I'm not sad."

Also, Marco Verratti scored a stoppage-time equalizer for Italy in a 1-1 draw at the Netherlands and Cristiano Ronaldo scored in a losing cause for Portugal, which was beaten 3-2 at home to Ecuador.

Spain and France were looking for confidence-boosting results ahead of their meeting in a crucial World Cup qualifier next month -- and it was the top-ranked Spanish who will be more satisfied as international football returned to the schedule for the first time in 2013 with some glamorous matchups.

Pedro Rodriguez took his tally to nine goals in his last six internationals by scoring twice in the second half after Cesc Fabregas' 16th-minute opener was cancelled out by Cristian Rodriguez in the 32nd.

"Uruguay defended well and was dangerous in counterattacks but we played a good game," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "Pedro made the difference for us in the second half."

Spain was captained by Carles Puyol on the defender's 100th national-team appearance.

Germany hadn't beaten France in their last five meetings and needed a second-half turnaround to end that poor run.

Diminutive winger Mathieu Valbuena headed in from close range just before halftime for France, but Thomas Mueller equalized in the 51st and Sami Khedira scored the winner 16 minutes from time for second-ranked Germany's first win over the French in 26 years -- when it was still West Germany.

"It was our first big test of 2013, we played with a lot of rhythm and showed some of the good things that were missing last year," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.

Sweden's home match with Argentina was being dubbed as a head-to-head between strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Messi, who spent a year together at Barcelona before Ibrahimovic left for AC Milan in 2010 after losing his place as centre forward to Messi.

Neither scored at the Friends Arena but Messi -- the four-time world player of the year -- had a bigger impact and even had a close encounter with a pitch invader, who ran onto the pitch, embraced the forward and kissed him on the forehead.

Mikael Lustig turned Gonzalo Higuain's shot for Argentina's opening goal before Sergio Aguero and Higuain added further goals after Jonas Olsson had equalized.

Ibrahimovic was substituted at halftime with his team 3-1 down and Rasmus Elm's free kick in injury time came too late for the hosts.

England grew in belief after goalkeeper Joe Hart saved Ronaldinho's penalty in the 19th and Rooney scored seven minutes later, sweeping in the loose ball after Theo Walcott's shot was saved.

Fred equalized in the 48th after a defensive mistake but substitute Lampard clinched victory for England over the 2014 World Cup hosts by curling in a shot from the edge of the area that went in off the post.

"We've got to get to Brazil, but if we continue with that attitude and get a bit more flow to our game we should be all right," said Lampard, whose Chelsea teammate Ashley Cole also made his 100th international appearance.

Brazil is down in 18th place in the FIFA rankings, partly because of a lack of competitive games as it qualifies automatically for the World Cup, and is looking for Scolari to restore the team's fortunes after coming in as a replacement for Mano Menezes last year.

"We aren't in the best physical shape yet but we will work on it," Scolari said.

The Netherlands looked like condemning Italy to a sixth straight friendly loss when Jeremain Lens put them in front in the 33rd, only for Verratti to come off the bench and score a last-gasp equalizer.

"Everyone lost the plot at the end, we gave it away," Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said.

Wayne Rooney (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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