Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brazil blaze in London but Dunga deaf to Ronaldinho calls

Brazil 2:0 Republic of Ireland
Emirates Stadium, London 40,000

Fabio Capello was in the stands at Arsenal tonight, one of no doubt an army of World Cup team spies on hand to watch the South American giants and joint favourites for the World Cup.

The England coach will have left Ashburton Grove pondering just what his team can do in South Africa to defeat what, along with Spain, is the most impressive team going into the tournament.

Ireland, in their first outing since the trauma of Thierry Henry's handball in Paris wrecked their African dream, were the fall guys for the samba storm. The Irish started confidently though and were unlucky not to steal the lead when Julio Cesar made a fingertip save to deny Kevin Doyle a quarter of an hour in. Robbie Keane, back from injury, and Damien Duff on the left were real irritants to Brazil's muscular back four. There are worse teams than Ireland who will be in South Africa this summer, and few better fans. For Giovanni Trapattoni, who was not his usual jolly self post-match following a sobering evening, there is a manageable Euro 2012 qualifying group to look forward to, with Russia and Slovakia the main challengers.

Ireland had battled well from the off, but with a minute left until the interval, disaster struck as Robinho received a pass from Maicon in what looked a decidedly offside position on the right wing. No flag appeared and the Santos star's whipped-in cross was tragically diverted by Keith Andrews's outstretched leg past his own goalkeeper to give Brazil the interval advantage.

After the break, the South Americans were just too hot to handle, driving a fiery wedge down the middle of the Irish half, with Kaka once more the prime instigator. Robinho seemed to be enjoying himself immensely on his return to England, scoring one, missing a sitter and watching another in the net disallowed for offside. For a while the Irish looked like whipping boys and a rout was even on the cards.

Daniel Alves came on and hit the side netting with his first foray when he might have scored, while substitute striker Grafite, who plays in Germany for Wolfsburg, was also a real danger in attack. Michel Bastos, in only his third appearance for his country, gave an assured performance with his left-sided link play and could yet be an unheralded star in South Africa.

The killer second arrived in the 76th minute when a flowing forward charge involving Kaka and Grafite let Robinho slot coolly under Shay Given with a right-footed finish.

The Emirates was only two-thirds full, thanks to tickets priced more than England v Egypt the following night, no doubt to pay for this stop on 'Brazil's World Tour'. That said, the 40,000 present were largely pro-Brazil and generated some noise once the selecao really got into their stride after the break.

On tonight's showing, Brazil look likely contenders for the crown in South Africa, with perhaps only Spain capable of upsetting them when they are on top form. Dunga's pragmatic approach found room for Adriano as the main striker tonight in Luis Fabiano's injured absence, but the former World Cup winner apparently has shut the door to another veteran hero - Ronaldinho.

Repeated questions at the press conference afterwards elicited the same response - that every player has had their chance to impress and there are no practice games left to stake a claim.

"We have the team already built and decided," Dunga told journalists. Ditto no entry for Milan teammate Alexandre Pato, frozen out but aged only 20, nine years Ronaldinho's junior and with years left in him. Ronaldinho's absence in South Africa will disappoint many a fan and marketing man but the determination in Dunga's face was evident.

"We have been working three and a half years."

Republic of Ireland: Given, Kelly, St. Ledger, McShane, Kilbane, Lawrence (McCarthy 69), Whelan (Gibson 56), Andrews, Duff (McGeady 56), Doyle (Best 78), Keane. Subs Not Used: Westwood, Brian Murphy, Foley, Wilson, Stokes, Cunningham, Long.

Brazil: Julio Cesar, Maicon (Carlos Eduardo 84), Lucio (Luisao 82), Juan, Michel Bastos, Ramires (Dani Alves 64), Silva, Felipe Melo, Kaka, Adriano (Grafite 64), Robinho (Nilmar 77). Subs Not Used: Doni, Thiago Silva, Gilberto, Josue, Julio Baptista, Kleberson.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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