18.02.2004 at 19:30 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
0 - 0
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden)
Ireland 0 Brazil 0
Brazil illuminated a dark and bitterly cold evening with all the brilliance of a mid-summer sunburst in a contest that kept 44,000 expectant fans enthralled at Lansdowne Road.
The blank scoreline meant that Ireland emerged with real credit from a confrontation that provided rich and generous entertainment. Their contribution enhanced this precious close-range examination of world champions whose canary-yellow shirts are representative of all that is good and wholesome in the game.
Brazil's style was such that one would pay to see them train again today. Their football was smooth, svelte, sophisticated. It had a deep sheen of quality, rich in texture, captivating in concept and the manner in which they processed it.
The entertainment level was hyped still further by the contrast with Irish aggression, as epitomised by the midfield mugging of Gilberto Silva after just six minutes. Gilberto loitered momentarily and was crunched between the substantial frames of Kevin Kilbane and Graham Kavanagh.
The effects of the collision were seen eight minutes later when he was forced to withdraw. As a statement of intent this was significant and essential to Ireland's survival.
Sure we were here to admire Brazil; sure Ireland's warriors spoke of the honour and glory, but the object of the exercise was to win, after all. Ireland might suffer by comparison with the team of all talents, but they were not going to lack competitiveness.
This was why they emerged with reputations enhanced, the timid hesitancy that cost them so dearly in the European Championship against Switzerland banished with arrogant pride. Ireland would accord Brazil due respect but after the pomp and ceremony of the pre-match ceremonial, it was down to business.
They applied themselves so diligently that the first half slipped by with scarcely a threat from Brazil's superstars. They enjoyed a lot of possession but were unable to penetrate a defensive line that was bolstered by a highly motivated midfield in which Kevin Kilbane showed many admirable qualities alongside the effective Graham Kavanagh.
Disappointing in this period was the anonymity of the great Ronaldo but at last we were given a glimpse of his talent after 41 minutes. Football's most deadly assassin shook off his lethargy to shake the Irish defence to its roots. An astute pass from Ze Roberto found him on the left of goal and a swift, devastating change of feet made space for the right foot shot that flew inches wide.
It was but a foretaste of what was to come. Brazil described pretty patterns as they rotated the ball from one yellow shirt to another but occasionally they injected an element of pace that was devastating. Pace was one of the most fearsome weapons in their armoury, particularly useful when employed by their powerful centre-backs Lucio, Roque Junior and Edmilson.
The introduction of Edmilson brought their World Cup winning defence up to full strength with the exception of goalkeeper Dida and their work was exemplary. The role of Edmilson was particularly interesting: he was a third centre-back when Ireland had possession, a pivot round which they revolved when they broke from defence.
There was a symmetry in Brazil's teamwork that was born of slick technique, versatility and loose-limbed athleticism. Ireland competed with a will but inevitably their movement looked stilted and fragmented in comparison.
Of course, this was entirely predictable; Brazil are the undisputed World champions after all. Rather than dwell on the unflattering weaknesses in Ireland's make-up, a more useful exercise was to highlight the honesty in their work, the degree of good organisation and discipline, particularly in defence, and the application that ensured the match was always competitive.
They had need of all of their defensive qualities in a second half when Brazil stepped up the tempo. There was real menace in their sniping runs, an ominous threat in their communal ability to identify the through pass and bitter-sweet tension in the subtle interplay between Ronaldo, the formidable Kaka and Ronaldinho.
The striking trio could, one felt, have traded passes in a telephone kiosk and Ireland's defenders emerged with credit from a contest that was as demanding mentally as it was physically.
Kenny Cunningham's calm leadership was a huge influence and Andy O'Brien's fleetness of foot an invaluable counter to Brazilians strikers with reflexes so quick they could have trapped pigeons.
Ronaldo beat a tattoo against Shay Given's body with a series of second half strikes but it was Ireland who created some of the best chances of the game. Stephen Carr shot against Dida from six yards in the first half when he looked certain to score and Robbie Keane headed over from no more than five yards early in the second. Keane shot into the side-netting two minutes from time as Ireland played their part in a promotion that was hugely enjoyable.
IRELAND (4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien, Cunningham, O'Shea; Holland, Kavanagh, Kilbane, Reid (McAteer 65); Morrison, Keane.
BRAZIL (4-3-2-1): Dida; Cafu, Lucio, Roque Junior, Roberto Carlos; Kleberson (Julio Baptista 46), Gilberto Silva (Edmilson 14), Ze Roberto; Ronaldinho, Kaka; Ronaldo.
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden).