Sport Soccer

Thursday 14 December 2017

Polluted by stale whiff of injustice

David Kelly

David Kelly

"Mr Blatter, it's Mr Delaney again. Er, any chance of a rematch? I can try and get Croke Park ... " Injustice continues to dog Ireland with all the nagging persistence of a spring flu.

Luckily, this didn't mean so much, but Robinho being blatantly offside in the build-up to Keith Andrews' own goal narked an Irish team still psychologically scarred from the hand of galling Gaul. That they continue to fight back surely augurs well for their ongoing prospects.

Let's just hope they no longer have to rely on the whim of the global game's hapless devotion to Luddism. The sport demands more, even if Brazil don't arouse nostalgic, romantic notions of old.

Robinho may have marked his return to England with a neat finish to a slick move late on but Brazil did little to strike fear into their World Cup opponents.

A florid inscription greeted the Brazilian and Irish players as they arrived into Arsenal's Emirates Stadium last night. "The deeper the foundations, the stronger the fortress."

It may have more architectural relevance than necessarily being akin to the 'home' side's often cavalier approach to what the Brazilians call la jogo bonito, but the maxim seems to fit, incongruously, both Giovanni Trapattoni's austere Ireland and Brazil's newfound pragmatism.


"It's just like watching Ireland," one might have paraphrased during Brazil's recent qualifying run towards yet another World Cup qualification, when they lost just one of 23 qualification matches, effectively a dead rubber against Bolivia.

It is now 99 days and counting until the World Cup begins; for Ireland it is 103 days since their South African dreams ended amidst a whirr of consternation.

Enveloping the main stand of this superb stadium, constructed by the same firm who are on the verge of completing the revamped Lansdowne Road, are several collages of famous ghosts from Arsenal's past.

In one, Thierry Henry is pictured from behind in an emotional embrace with Liam Brady. One suspects that Brady, enjoying an Irish swansong on his employers' turf, would demur from such a representation given his caustic response to the Parisien nightmare.

Last night's friendly exhibition featured no such sizzling subtext.

Robbie Keane, hurtled into fitness with puzzling haste -- at the behest of organisers fearful of flagging ticket sales, we mused -- led the Irish team out on what, for them, is effectively the opening bow of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

Dean Kiely had walked out of the Irish squad for less, so praise be to Leon Best for comporting himself with suitably appropriate decorum after being done like a Brazilian.

As he surveys the potentially inextricable decline of his club career from the unforgiving football slums of the SPL, Keane's need for decent exposure was rather more pressing than securing Kaka's shirt for young Robert's bedroom wall.

And, with the possibility of him earning his 100th Irish cap on the Aviva Stadium's opening-night extravaganza against Argentina this August, perhaps it wasn't merely the accountants from Kentaro who demanded his presence in North London.

Brazil, of course, are the star attraction, and the reason why so many thousands of Irish supporters have been utterly disregarded in the race for short-term gain and obsequious deference to a faceless global sports agency.

Perhaps the extra few euro might provide some ballast for Irish football's woefully neglected domestic sector, as the M50 league nears its resumption on Friday night.

In Dunga, Trapattoni may spy a younger version of himself. Unsurprisingly, Dunga is of slightly Italian extraction and a period the 1994 World Cup winner spent in Italy has clearly shaped him.

So too his disregard for Brazil's occasionally flawed pedigree, particularly the days of Tele Santana, who led a team with whom so many young football fans were besotted in the 1980s.

Dunga, himself the spine of a functional Brazilian World Cup-winning side in '94, likes to ridicule the Santana legacy by sniffing that the side of Zico and Socrates were "specialists in losing".

Like Il Capo, Dunga professes that results trump talent and aesthetics; the collective subsumes the individual, much to the chagrin of those proffering banners questioning the absence of messrs Ronaldinho and Pato.

Solid foundations benchmark his group -- they have had 14 clean sheets under his watch -- and, just like Ireland, Brazil's system is predicated upon the ballast of two holding midfielders.

From there towards the opponents' goal, Dunga allows Brazil to play. And boy can they play. So too Ireland, when allowed to demonstrate, as Wenger averred, "the freedom of personality they expressed against France".

Shay Given, joining Kevin Kilbane as a record caps holder, although unlike the previous incumbent Steve Staunton, not completed at a World Cup tournament, arguably adheres too literally to Wenger's thesis in the opening throes.

He challenges Adriano to a dribbling contest on his penalty spot but sheepishly loses out. Ireland dominate the possession though, Keane lying deep, Keith Andrews driving forward and Duff loitering with intent.

Brazil resort to crunching tackles from Juan and Bastos to stem the flow; 23 years ago, Brady scored the winner against Brazil in Dublin and Dunga refused to swap shirts with John Aldridge.

There is a biting edge to tonight's proceedings too, with referee Mike Dean forced to separate Kaka and Keith Andrews early in the second half as an affray develops. A sublime Kaka backheel reminds us that silk and steel still co-exist within the Brazilian side.

The galactico then attempts a pirouette nearer his own goal; Andrews ripostes with a steal and deft change of feet. Dunga protests loudly. Trapattoni claps encouragement. Three cynical fouls by the Brazilians in 20 seconds illustrate the tenor of the mostly lacklustre proceedings. Andrews tries an overhead kick which is Brazilian in thought, Blackburn in execution.

But the game is turned on a whim of reckless law enforcement. Truly an exhibition. Not, sadly, of beauty.

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