England, Brazil finally boast 'modern' strikers like Harry Kane, Gabriel Jesus
The cross came in from the left wing, and the sizeable centre-forward rose at the far post and met it with a towering header. Brazil 0-2 England. "It changed my life completely, that goal against Brazil," the scorer, Mark Hateley, recalled in 2013. It didn't merely seal a victory for a weakened England team at the iconic Maracana Stadium. It earned Hateley, then a second-division player with Portsmouth, a move to AC Milan, where, in one of history's most dramatic upgrades, he was eventually replaced by an all-time great, Marco van Basten.
As England and Brazil reconvene Tuesday at Wembley, that 1984 meeting should come to mind again and not merely for John Barnes' stunning solo goal that preceded his cross for Hateley's goal. In 2017, just as back then, a host of withdrawals should give opportunities to inexperienced players, only now, unlike in 1984, there will not be an old-fashioned No. 9 among them.
There is no Hateley clone in the current England squad. Calls for target men, whether Andy Carroll or Peter Crouch, to go to the World Cup as a mythical Plan B are fanciful at best. England are weaning themselves off an addiction to the "bruiser" or the "beanpole" in attack. Brazil have actually produced one such striker, but Diego Costa chose to represent Spain instead. England have the rookie Tammy Abraham. While he has been compared with Didier Drogba, he resembles Romelu Lukaku rather more, not using his physique to intimidate.
Therefore, England's clash with Brazil on Tuesday will highlight the rise of other types of strikers. Gareth Southgate is likely to select a speedster, whether Marcus Rashford or Jamie Vardy, as the furthest man forward. In itself, that is nothing new: Hateley lost his place in the 1986 World Cup, so an inside-forward, Peter Beardsley, could play behind an electric predator, the eventual Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker. England have talked about playing possession football, but counter-attacking pace has worked before and could again.
If not for a knee injury, England's No. 9 would have been Harry Kane. Like his Brazilian counterpart, Gabriel Jesus, the Tottenham man highlights the emergence of hybrid strikers, men with the skillsets to occupy other positions and who, in earlier generations, would have been wearing a different shirt number.
Kane is a "nine and a half," dropping off in the style of a No. 10 and leading the line with the willingness of a No. 9. He has elements of both halves of England's Euro 1996 partnership, the relentless scoring of Alan Shearer and the roving habits of Teddy Sheringham, but he has adapted to an era in which teams often line up with only one striker.
"He's got everything I had and more," Sheringham told the Sun earlier this year. "And he's got everything Shearer had and more." Kane's immediate predecessor as England's regular attacker, Wayne Rooney, was a No. 10 who ended up as a No. 9 on international duty.
Meanwhile, Jesus is part of another new breed. He is the "winger-striker," a player blessed with the trickery of a creator but the goalscoring instincts to operate in the middle. "A year ago, I was playing as a winger, and then I start to play as a centre-forward," he told ESPN Brasil in September.
Ronaldo, another great dribbler, saw similarities between himself and Jesus, but despite his capacity to run with the ball, the idea of the winger-striker might owe more to his namesake, Cristiano Ronaldo. Jesus' ability to play through the middle helps another who shares similar attributes but who, in a modern way that inverts the normal trend, can be the winger who outscores the supposed strikers: Neymar.
The world's most expensive player is destined to become his country's record scorer. Jesus is tasked in part with being a foil. Strikers are supposed to be selfish, but the Man City star is valued for his work off the ball by both Tite and Pep Guardiola. Brazil now press in a more modern 4-3-3 with Jesus, Neymar and Philippe Coutinho in a mobile and modern front three. Their tactics have been transformed after the antiquated approaches of Dunga and Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Jesus seems Brazil's anointed one, lavished with praise from Selecao greats, whether Cafu or Careca, Ronaldo or Romario. It is in part because of his promise and in part because of who he is not -- namely Jo and Fred, the mediocrities with the mundane monikers who were their 2014 World Cup strikers.
Jesus has filled a void. In the years between Ronaldo's decline and Jesus' emergence, Brazil have had plenty of talents competing to wear No. 10 -- Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho, Coutinho, Neymar -- but few, with the possible exception of Luis Fabiano, deserving of the No. 9. The No. 10 shirt immortalised by Brazil's greatest forward, Pele, became more coveted; Brazil produced more flair players than specialist finishers. They still do, but Jesus has adapted.
Historically, England had a contrasting problem, with managers able to pick from a surfeit of strikers but often lacking sufficiency in prosaic teams. Now their football is changing. There are no touchline-hugging wingers to provide the crosses that Hateley and his ilk wanted. The striker is changing, and in their different ways, England and Brazil both reflect that.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.