Brazil expose Ireland's defensive reserves
Published 03/03/2010 | 09:08
THEY started the evening as the invited guests, but by the end of this exhibition match, Giovanni Trapattoni's Irish side were mere spectators.
Life after Paris was always going to be bleak, and a deserved loss at the hands of a Brazilian side marching towards the World Cup finals with a swagger will do little for Irish confidence.
However, you sense that Trapattoni's sleep patterns won't be too damaged by a fourth defeat since becoming Ireland manager two years ago. If anything, it merely re-iterated existing concerns that he identified before this fixture.
While his side competed well, before succumbing to a superior technical force, what this encounter cruelly drummed home is that there are a few areas where the Irish camp simply cannot afford to lose bodies.
Trapattoni believes that a deciding factor in Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifying fate will be the avoidance of injury. Shorn of Richard Dunne and John O'Shea, the Italian's rearguard were exposed as the game progressed, with centre halves Sean St Ledger and Paul McShane perpetually on the back-foot.
They looked panicked and cumbersome against a team that, admittedly, offer no barometer of what the Irish will encounter come the autumn; at times, the Brazilian interplay and ability with the ball at their feet was a joy to watch and they will be serious contenders for the ultimate prize this summer.
There was no full house at the Emirates, although, in typical Irish fashion, there were plenty of late arrivals. Yet it was the Brazilians who dominated numbers and noise-wise; their community in London are getting pretty used to making the trip to Arsenal's home.
After his late dash from Glasgow, Robbie Keane took the captaincy with Leon Best consigned to the bench, while Shay Given and Kevin Kilbane became Ireland's joint most capped players by inching ahead of Steve Staunton with their 103rd appearance.
Yet the talking point arising from the team selection was how the absence of Trapattoni's two most accomplished defenders emphasised the lack of cover in that department.
A far from ideal situation ensued, with a back four made up of three players struggling to line out regularly at Premier League level, Kilbane, McShane and Stephen Kelly, and another, St Ledger, stuck in the Championship with Preston, tasked with muzzling Kaka, Adriano and Robinho.
However, Trapattoni had suggested that he didn't expect his charges to spend the 90 minutes chasing and that analysis was initially vindicated by Ireland's positive start in a game where both sides fielded two holding midfielders in front of the back four. For a period, it looked as though they were both lining out in a 4-2-3-1 as well, with Keane dropping deep and supporting the Irish midfield with some tidy link play in the early exchanges.
The Irish were lively and succeeded in winning a series of set plays, with a couple of dangerous Damien Duff corners before a dubious free was awarded by English ref Mike Dean for a foul on Liam Lawrence by Juan.
Duff's initial delivery was poor. Second time around, it was much better with Kevin Doyle rising highest to produce a header that Julio Cesar did extremely well to claw away; the duo joked about it for the next Irish corner which soon followed.
Still, in the 21st minute, Ireland learned how quickly the South Americans can break when a rapid fire attack from a corner at the other end resulted in Kelly racing in from his right full station to deny Adriano with a perfectly timed block.
Six minutes later, it was the lone Brazilian front man who was on the offensive again, with the Flamengo star bringing Shay Given into proceedings. The Manchester City keeper had to palm a curling free kick over the bar after Kaka was hacked down by McShane in the beginning of an ongoing row.
The five times world champions had risen from their early slumber and began to ping the ball around with a little more precision, with the Irish touches becoming heavier in tandem and the foul count increasing.
Shortly before the interval, Brazil were ahead.
The source was another quick break, with Ireland stretched after a Duff cross was cleared. Kaka, closely followed by McShane, fed attacking right-full Maicon who slipped Robinho into the space. The former Manchester City man was offside, but the linesman missed it and his low cross was inadvertently turned past Given by the backtracking Keith Andrews.
Amid the celebrations, Kaka and McShane continued their verbals in an unlikely meeting of minds.
Andrews and Kaka engaged themselves in a bit of handbags after the restart, with Ireland chipper enough and continuing to barter for their fair share of set-pieces.
Alas, they lacked that bit of subtlety in the final third, struggling to create opportunities for a shot on goal.
The Brazilians, by contrast, generally succeeded in fashioning openings, with a series of Robinho stepovers prompting a cacophony of shrieks from the adoring Brazilian masses.
Trapattoni sent for Darron Gibson and Aiden McGeady in place of Glenn Whelan and Duff, yet it was a change from Dunga which almost brought the second goal when St Ledger was caught in possession by replacement Daniel Alves, who rounded Given before losing his balance and finding the side netting.
Brazil had raised the pace a notch and suddenly the Irish defence, who were given ample time on the ball in the first half, were being harassed by the eager Brazilian new-boys. Both McShane and Andrews were caught in possession in separate incidents; they were saved by the offside flag and poor finishing.
James McCarthy received one of the louder Irish cheers on the night when he was summoned for an international debut in place of Lawrence, but he found it difficult to get actively involved in proceedings from his berth on the right side of midfield, with the momentum all going in one direction.
There was an inevitability about their second goal, which came 15 minutes from time with the Irish static as the sometimes brilliant Robinho instigated a series of one-twos, collecting a flick from Grafite through the legs of McShane to penetrate into the area and calmly dispatch beyond his old pal Given.
Game over, with the Brazilians taking another assured step towards South Africa.
Ireland, on the other hand, can look forward to May friendlies with Algeria and Paraguay where Trapattoni will get the opportunity to search for strength in depth that is desperately needed.