Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart up to the Brazilian challenge

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Joe Hart of England gestures during the International friendly between England and Brazil (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

For fans and managers of clubs challenging for honours at the top of the table, international friendly games are often the stuff of dread; a game that is ultimately of no consequence in itself may have wider ramifications if top players are injured.

Manchester United have coped on plenty of occasions without Wayne Rooney this season, while Manchester City have seldom had to without Joe Hart. In the latter case, it is questionable whether Pantilimon is adequate cover, but that has never been seriously tested. As for Rooney, his continued fitness between now and the end of the season could be decisive for United, as he appears to have hit one of his hot streaks of form.

It is often complained that English players who are key figures in teams playing well in Europe seem strangely unable to do so in the national side. (Some may point out that Hart has not been part of a successful team in Europe, but it is hardly his fault when teams like Real Madrid are allowed a dozen or more shots from the edge of the penalty area).

Whether it is a sense of priorities, tiredness during summer tournaments or a perceived over-reliance on foreign stars, the net result is England’s much-vaunted star players come up short again and again.

Wayne Rooney of England (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Rooney and Hart produced critical moments of excellence in the 2-1 win against Brazil this week to suggest this need not always be so.

The United forward scored his fifth goal in four games, as well as pouncing on a defensive error to set up Frank Lampard’s winner. Both were the actions of a player whose physical and mental sharpness are at their cutting-edge best. When Rooney strikes top form his team – whoever it is – seldom fails.

And while Rooney was excellent, Hart made an outstanding double save from Neymar’s penalty. The better of these, lest it be overlooked, was the second, when the striker followed the ball in and a combination of a fast reaction and strong hand kept the ball out. Agility, strength and bravery are the hallmarks of every top goalkeeper. Hart has them all in abundance.

Both players have had their bad games for England- and nobody can do that without it attracting banner headlines – but this time two players in form showed exactly what they are capable of. True, this was not Brazil at their best and they are in any case some way short of Spain (who England beat at Wembley last season with far less possession than this week), but the overall performance by England was highly encouraging, not least as the rigid 4-4-2 appears to have finally been consigned to the dustbin of obsolete formations, something many have been advocating for years.

Of course, it would be wrong to suggest England’s win was all about Manchester. The Arsenal pair of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were both outstanding, and instrumental in setting up Rooney’s goal.

Even so, With Rooney banging the goals in and Hart keeping them out, England had just enough to get the better of next year’s World Cup hosts, who may have much to do themselves to persuade their own critics they are the real deal.

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