Visitors take time to find their feet

SOCCER: Republic of Ireland... 0 Brazil..

SOCCER: Republic of Ireland ... 0 Brazil ... 1:The Brazil team may have been largely composed of the lesser members of world football's royalty, but they still managed to show at Croke Park last night that sometimes class really does matter. Though the Irish battled hard and the contest was lively rather than lovely, Robinho's neatly finished second-half goal ensured the occasion finished with a result that reflected the quality of the visiting side.

A crowd of around 70,000 turned out on a bitterly cold night, most there to cheer on the home side, but all anxious to see just what the five-times world champions could do.

Though their reward was slow in coming, they were ultimately treated to an open and engaging encounter in which the Brazilians, predictably, showed the better touches and generated the better chances.

Tirelessly, though, the Irish worked to test their defence and contain their attack and either side of Robinho's 67th-minute strike they might have scored.


Expecting to see them at their sublimest best would, in the circumstances, have been asking too much of the visitors, but, to their credit, they managed short bursts of it, even as they sought to get to grips with the conditions through the opening half.

Gilberto Silva, the only one here to have started the World Cup quarter-final against France in which the then defending champions made their exit, pushed the ball around well from in front of the back four, but it was farther upfield the most impressive exchanges took place - Josue, Diego and Julio Baptista displaying a knack for a change of pace or direction.

Late in the first half the Irish looked particularly stretched down their left-hand side as the Flamengo full back started to swing past Josue on the overlap

Kevin Kilbane was left to scramble more than once and Damien Duff was caught between stools when Robinho and Josue worked their way in from a narrow angle before the latter shot and Shay Given could only parry the ball behind.

Duff, who had a decent night, was not the only one obliged to lend a hand in defence. Following one Brazilian corner the entire Irish team was briefly inside its own six-yard box and more than once the visitors' efforts to work their way into shooting range were thwarted by sheer weight of numbers.

The Irish, though, did their share of attacking, even if much of it was on the break. Early on, so much effort appeared to go into getting the ball into the box that there never seemed to be anyone to aim a cross at, but Aiden McGeady gave Moura a few problems during the opening 20 minutes while Duff was beating his man alright from early on - it just took a while longer for him to start getting his angles right.

In midfield, Ireland's industry was rewarded with plenty of possession and early in the second half there were chances for Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle.

Perhaps the best opportunity to score, though, came when Keane got the better of Gilberto Silva and Duff was narrowly beaten to his low through ball by Julio Cesar.

In the swirling breeze, set pieces proved a problem for Don Givens' men and Alex missed a great chance 10 minutes into the second period after Diego's free had flown past a cluster of players to bounce in front of him at the far post.

The goal, though, came from open play, the Brazilians moving the ball swiftly out of defence after an attack by the Irish, who paid a price for the freedom afforded to Stephen Kelly to pour forward.

Baptista and Diego moved things forward nicely before Robinho picked up possession just outside the area. Lee Carsley scurried back to fill the gap left by his right back, but the Real Madrid man sized up the situation wonderfully and slipped the ball through Carsley's legs and into the bottom right-hand corner.

By then, Given had had to save well on a couple of occasions to keep the sides level, while Luis Fabiano - who forced the best of the Given stops - had skimmed the outside of the post from close range when he really should have scored. So the Brazilians taking the lead was neither a great surprise nor a huge injustice.

Still, Ireland's attacking effort seemed to deserve something, particularly after Kilbane twice bamboozled Moura before crossing with his right foot for Doyle in the centre.

Then, as so often, the size and strength of the Brazilian centre backs proved the key factor, though the pair were less well equipped to cope with quick movement and slick passing around the box.

Late on, Keane narrowly failed to capitalise on a parried Duff shot but the best chance of an equaliser came in the dying seconds when McGeady, John O'Shea and Kilbane all played first-time balls and Julio Cesar had to come bravely to gather at Keane's feet.

The chance slipped away, though, and with it the Republic's hopes of upsetting football's aristocracy.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND:Given (Newcastle United); Kelly (Birmingham City), Dunne (Manchester City), O'Shea (Manchester United), Kilbane (Wigan Athletic); Duff (Newcastle United), Carsley (Everton), Miller (Sunderland), McGeady (Celtic); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Doyle (Reading). Subs: Potter (Wolves) for Miller (half-time), Hunt (Reading) for Doyle (72 mins).

BRAZIL:Julio Cesar (Inter Milan); Moura (Flamengo), Alex (Chelsea), Luisao (Benfica), Richarlyson (Sao Paulo); Gilberto Silva (Arsenal); Josue Wolfsburg), Diego (Werder Bremen), Julio Baptista (Real Madrid); Luis Fabiano (Seville), Robinho (Real Madrid). Subs: Anderson (Manchester United) for Diego (78 mins), Lucas (Liverpool) for Josue (83 mins), Rafael Sobis (Real Betis) for Luis Fabiano (84 mins).

Referee:R Rogalla (Switzerland).