Prior to kick-off, all the talk was of Kaká. Recalled to the Brazil side for the first time since the 2010 World Cup for the friendly against Iraq, the veteran midfielder enjoyed a week back in the public eye, speaking with quiet passion about his desire to re-establish himself for the seleção.
If he was nervous before the game at Malmö’s Swedbank Stadion (don’t ask), his performance certainly didn’t show it. Kaká set up Brazil’s second in thoroughly laid-back fashion before going on to add one of his own in the second period. Between those two moments came two coolly cushioned passes on the edge of the Iraq area, neither of which resulted in a goal, but which were even more emblematic of the ease with which he readapted to international level.
Yet while his display will provide him with welcome confidence boost, the night was also tinged with melancholy for Kaká, who was given a first-hand taste of the generational change that has occurred in his two-year absence. Where once he was a central figure, Kaká is now peripheral, his rangy runs shunted to the left flank and reduced to table dressing.
For Kaká wasn’t the best player on the pitch against Iraq. Not by a long shot. That honour fell to the man who is at once his long-term heir and the reason his renaissance is likely to be little more than an Indian summer. The night belonged to Oscar.
The Chelsea youngster was at the centre of everything for Brazil. His battery-powered running brought him two goals – the first a smart finish following a delightful through-ball from Neymar, the second a tap-in after he drifted unmarked into the penalty area – and ensured that he was rarely more than a few metres away from the action.
Nominally selected as the most central of three men behind Neymar but actually playing pretty much everywhere and anywhere he fancied, Oscar seemed to have more touches than all of Brazil’s other attackers combined. Not pointless touches either, for Oscar is no ball hog. He was percussive, insistent, essential. He was, in other words, everything a playmaker should be in the modern game.
For all Kaká’s talents – and they are undoubtedly numerous – he never exercised this degree of influence in the Brazil midfield. This is partly due to lottery of history; his golden years coincided with the reign of Dunga, a coach whose tactics are more Sam Allardyce than samba paradise. But even then, Kaká’s skillset is hardly that of a typical playmaker. He trades primarily in bursts and surges; he is a player of instances, not of prolonged periods.
Oscar, as anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Chelsea recently will know, likes to be involved at all times. Even with the creative abilities of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard close at hand, barely 30 seconds goes by without the Brazilian offering himself, darting into space or simply trying something. He has already established himself as a key member of Roberto Di Matteo’s side, justifying the high esteem in which he has long been held in his homeland.
The scary thing is that Oscar is only likely to improve in the coming years. “Put it this way,” seleção boss Mano Menezes laughed a few months ago. “He wears the No10 for Brazil and we don’t give that shirt out to just anybody.” After Thursday night’s hands-on demonstration, a certain Real Madrid midfielder will be all too aware of that fact.