Sometimes football defies logic; it certainly defies statistics. It can even defy what previously had taken place. Dominance is inverted by a flash of brilliance.
Roy Hodgson reeled off his host of stats on the eve of this encounter to defend his England team from criticism. But here is one from Sunday night’s game: Wayne Rooney touched the ball once in the opening 14 minutes. His first involvement at the re-opening of the Maracana, this most evocative of stadiums, was inauspicious also – he mis-controlled allowing Thiago Silva to steal away possession. Not a moment to remember. It seemed to sum up his season; his fall from pre-eminence. It appeared ominous, depressing, foreboding.
And here is another. Having been out-played for long tracts of this match, having appeared short of confidence, in a downward spiral, Rooney then scored a world-class goal to ignite this venue. It came after Hodgson finally eschewed his negative approach and introduced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It was positive, bold even. Oxlade-Chamberlain scored, from Rooney’s lay-off and then, as Brazil’s fragile confidence dropped, James Milner broke away, his determination taking him through a challenge. He fed Rooney and the striker ran on, curling a wonderful shot high into net beyond Julio Cesar.
It felt almost cathartic after what Rooney had been through, subjected himself to, this campaign where his future at Manchester United is now so fragile that it would be more of a surprise if he stayed this summer than if he went.
He appears on the cusp, on the wane, in need of a new challenge, possibly even in danger of burn-out. The expectation on him is great, the pressure on him even more so, partly because there is such a dearth around him, partly because he achieved so much so quickly and appears not able to drive even further.
Sunday night’s goal was a reminder of what remains possible. It was almost like that first goal he scored, as he burst on the scene as a 16-year-old at Everton, beating Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman from a similar distance and with such chutzpah.
Suddenly there was a throwback. A glimpse. There was also light where previously the discussion had centred on Gary Lineker’s “Dark Ages” jibe on England’s formation, form, philosophy. Hodgson added the peculiar rider that he did not actually discuss formations with his players but Sunday night verged on 9-1 – it was emphatically, unambitiously 4-5-1 at best - with Rooney that lone striker. At times a full 40 metres separated him from his team-mates.
And didn’t he know it. Rooney’s arms were out-stretched, he slapped his thighs in frustration. He could not get a sniff. It looked all too familiar. On a special occasion England needed a performance from the man Fabio Capello had termed the nation’s “special player”. The Italian constructed a system – Steven Gerrard coming in from the left, Emile Heskey as a battering ram of a striker – to get the best out of Rooney.
Sunday night was different. He was up there on his own and as honest a player as Phil Jones is it was, in truth, an affront to see him occupying the number seven shirt. Creativity is not his gift. His task is to seek and destroy.
This was a big ask. An 11-hour flight at the end of a long, taxing season and with a depleted squad in sapping heat and with Brazil attempting to re-find their own sense of supremacy with the Confederations Cup coming up fast and a World Cup Finals to follow.
For England, this friendly was always a risky as well as a prestigious proposition. Heavy defeat or a poor performance could do serious damage to the prospects of returning to Rio for next year’s World Cup finals.
When Rooney’s face appeared on the giant screens around the stadium and when his name was read out the cheers were raucous. When the encounter started, England tried to stifle everything. They were negative, unadventurous, conservative and dependent on Joe Hart’s brilliance and Brazil’s obvious anxiety.
Hodgson had understandably bemoaned his lack of options. Injuries had denied him of Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Ashley Young but – between them – that quartet have collected just 15 goals in 60 appearances and only nine of those in competitive fixtures.
It means Rooney is all the more important. For a while his passing was poor - he over-hit return to Theo Walcott then scuffed a ball intended for Jones. There was a shot form the edge of the penalty area which was blocked.
It improved. Rooney developed the play and Glen Johnson eventually picked out Walcott who had a clear sight of goal – but shot straight at Julio Cesar.
By then Brazil had wasted a host of chances – 19 shots the first-half alone – and England were simply hanging on.
It helped Hodgson’s cause that Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari is only marginally more adventurous than he is – each of his increasingly conservative substitutions was met with growing derision. Finally Hodgson did react and with an uncustomary boldness to withdraw Glen Johnson and introduce Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It worked. England were energised and maybe this Rio gamble worked. With four qualification ties to negotiate to discover whether England can return to Brazil next summer there was, at last, a positive vibe in this most vibrant of cities.
The brilliance of Rooney, the vigour of Oxlade-Chamberlain provided it. Can Hodgson now capture that?