Despite tough Finalissima loss to England, Brazil poised to make a splash at World Cup

In 2012, there was a change of the guard at Wembley. A match at the London Olympics between Great Britain -- effectively an England side -- and Brazil drew a crowd of just over 70,000 -- the biggest attendance the country had ever seen for a game of women's football.

Back then, there was no doubt about the favourites. Brazil had a claim to be the best team in the world despite falling short in the big finals. Ranked fourth in the global rankings going into those Olympic games, that night at Wembley made it clear that the good times had come to an end, for a while at least.

Great Britain scored early. Brazil's superstar Marta unable to glide past opponents with what had been customary ease. This was no reflection on her -- and every reflection on the speed with which the sport was developing. Defeat that night, immediately followed by quarterfinal elimination at the hands of Japan, brought an era to an end.

Brazil have not come close to serious silverware in the subsequent years. They dominate South America. But this only means that they are the bosses of a small hill. The country rested on its laurels. Attempts to grow the sport were feeble and half hearted -- while elsewhere it was developing quickly. Brazil were falling behind.

The good news is that progress is now being made. Brazil's domestic league is attempting to make up for lost time, with visibility, investments and quality. And after the last World Cup in 2019, vastly experienced Swedish coach Pia Sundhage was brought in to take charge of the national team.

But when she brought her team to Wembley for Thursday's Finalissima, once more there was no doubt about the favourites -- and it was not Brazil. Winning last year's Copa America without conceding a single goal was all very well. But the chasm between that competition and the Euros was obvious. And this was reflected in Sundhage's starting lineup to face European champions England.

Brazil began against England with an unfamiliar three centre-back system, the selection of the extra defender a clear concession to caution. It did not work. It probably did not deserve to. Brazil played a poor first half, defending deep and spending most of the first 45 minutes watching the England team trying to pass around and through them.

With the exception of the pace of Geyse, left on her own up front, they had little to offer and even less ambition. At the interval they could easily have been trailing by more than the single goa, a fine collective move rounded off by Ella Toone. It was the moment of truth.

What would Sundhage do? Were Brazil really so over-awed that they were content to avoid humiliation? In warm up for the Copa last year they lost to Denmark and Sweden. More recently they fell to Canada and the United States at the SheBelieves Cup. Did they aspire to nothing more than mediocrity?

The response came quickly. Sundhage made two substitutions at halftime. Crucially, she came off the three centre back formation that had seen the team trapped back close to its own goal. Brazil would now take the risk of defending much higher up the pitch. But no risk, no return. They went about their business aggressively, snapping into tackles, winning possession in places where they could alarm the England defence. Suddenly under surprise pressure, England went to pieces. Every touch was an error, every pass misplaced or mishit. The first twenty minutes of the second half were the most one sided phase of the game.

England appeared to have weathered the storm, and with the introduction of more attacking pace they were getting behind the Brazil defence and causing problems. But Brazil's stoppage time equaliser was thoroughly deserved -- and if it came from a rare error from keeper Mary Earps, it was also the result of a team which had grown into the game, and had become sufficiently confident to throw players forward in number.

True, Brazil lost the title on penalties. Far more important, though, is the point that the team proved to itself as the World Cup looms this summer. Up against the best opposition, Sundhage's side do not need to be merely reactive. They can go out and seek to impose their game on the other team, whoever they might be and wherever the match might be taking place. Brazil lost some of that confidence at Wembley in 2012. Maybe now they can get it back. If so, then more than the Finalissima, Thursday's match at Wembley might be the start of something.