Leandro scores winner as Brazil beats Ghana 1-0
Ronaldinho made a winning return to the Brazil team as Leandro Damiao's first international goal earned the five-time world champions a 1-0 victory over 10-man Ghana on Monday, easing some of the pressure on under-fire coach Mano Menezes.
Internacional striker Leandro marked his first start for Brazil by collecting a through-ball by midfielder Fernandinho and slotting home a low finish in the 44th minute, settling a friendly that had a one-sided feel after the sending-off of defender Daniel Opare 10 minutes earlier.
After a slow start to his first appearance for the Brazilians in 10 months, Ronaldinho grew in stature and capitalized on the extra space afforded by Opare's dismissal to dip into his vast collection of skills and tricks in an impressive second-half showing.
The two-time world player of the year brought out a couple of top-class saves from Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey from whipped free kicks and produced a sensational drilled cross in the 86th minute for substitute Alexandre Pato, whose header was tipped over the bar.
''Ronaldinho is a player we needed to bring back into the team,'' Menezes said. ''International football is much faster nowadays and he found it a bit difficult at the beginning.
''But then he got into the rhythm and showed what he is all about in the second half. He played really well.''
Menezes has come under severe pressure after his team was eliminated from the Copa America at the quarterfinal stage this summer. This was only a second win in six matches for Brazil.
Ronaldinho's impressive season with Flamengo in the Brazilian league demanded a recall to the national team, with Menezes caving in to public pressure to bring back a player whose best days are arguably behind him.
Whether the flamboyant forward will still be around for the 2014 World Cup on home soil is another question. For in the first half at Fulham's Craven Cottage ground in southwest London, the game largely passed him by as Ghana's midfielders asserted their authority, often in a manner referee Mike Dean often found too robust.
In a match of eight bookings, Opare picked up two, the first for a foul on the lively Neymar in the 13th and the second - somewhat harshly - for following through on Lucio as the Brazil captain made a clearance. The Standard Liege defender had been given a stern lecture a few minutes previously by Dean.
''The Ghanaians were tackling very hard in my opinion,'' Menezes said. ''After the red card, it obviously meant we could play a little more because they had one player less.''
Ghana, which reached the World Cup quarterfinals last year and is unbeaten in its African Nations Cup qualifying group, viewed Opare's dismissal as the turning point.
''The first 35 minutes were fantastic and showed that we have great quality,'' said coach Goran Stevanovic, who refused to discuss the red card. ''But against Brazil, 65 minutes with 10 players is very difficult for us.
''It was a very good performance and I am very proud of my team.''
Most of the pre-match focus was centered on the return of Ronaldinho but he was overshadowed by fellow forward Neymar, who played on the opposite wing and displayed all the skills that were the hallmark of Ronaldinho in his heyday in the middle of the last decade.
A fabulous looping pass over the defense set up Leandro for a goal in the 26th minute that was ruled out for a narrow offside but the striker did find the net on the stroke of half time, timing his run to perfection to latch onto Fernandinho's threaded pass and drill home low past Kwarasey from 10 yards (meters).
Leandro, Marcelo and then Pato wasted good chances to make Brazil's second victory in six matches more conclusive.
''This Ghana team was more or less the same that played in the World Cup,'' Menezes said. ''They are a bit ahead of us because we are still rebuilding our team.
''We are bringing through a new generation of players and what makes it difficult to judge is the fact that it wasn't 11 against 11. I am satisfied with the result ... and it's very important we could get back to winning games after losing our last games.''
Brazil: Julio Cesar, Daniel Alves, Lucio, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Lucas Leiva, Fernandinho (Hulk, 46), Ganso (Elias, 10), Leandro Damiao (Alexandre Pato, 78), Ronaldinho, Neymar.
Ghana: Adam Kwarasey, Daniel Opare, John Pantsil, Jonathan Mensah, Samuel Inkoom (Prince Tagoe, 86), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Albert Adomah, 77), Derek Boateng (Lee Addy, 46), Kwadwo Asamoah (Anthony Annan, 66), Sulley Muntari (Rabiu Mohammed, 46), Jordan Ayew (Dominic Adiyiah, 70), Isaac Vorsah.