Gilberto: Ireland clash crucial to our Olympic build-up

NO Ronaldinho. No Kaka. No Pato. If it was any other country arriving without three of their franchise names you’d feel cheated but this is Brazil and the ‘Seneçao’ never lose their allure.

The top three sides in the English Premier League have all contributed familiar faces in the forms of Gilberto Silva, Anderson and Alex. Real Madrid’s Robinho is expected to start alongside them. Still a strong cast then.

Others have gathered from Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Brazil itself and, though the absence of Pato – described as the ‘next big thing’ – is a disappointment, the rest of the squad is awash with potential.

Almost half of the squad in Dublin are Under 23, the age limit for players in this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. The Olympics is the one big tournament Brazil have never won. They badly want that to change.

“I’m not sure what Dunga has in mind to replace those missing players but we will probably have a mixture of older and younger players who will play in the Olympic Games,” said Gilberto Silva.

“It is a difficult decision for him to make because we have two (World Cup) qualification games to play in June as well so he is trying to prepare both teams at the same time. After this, we won’t have so many chances to prepare for the World Cup qualification games and Olympic Games.”

The World Cup qualifiers are first on the agenda. First up are Paraguay who lead the South American group after four games. After that come Argentina, their great rivals and the only other team above Brazil in the current standings.

To that end, the opposition is almost immaterial to the visitors tonight, although coach Dunga will be hoping that Ireland can provide as stiff a test as the last time Brazil visited these shores for a 0-0 draw in 2004.

The majority, if not all, of the Irish players will be unknown to most of the Brazilian squad but Gilberto has encountered all but a few of them by now having spent the last number of seasons at Arsenal.

“I know some of the players from playing against them in the Premier League. Robbie Keane, of course, and I remember the last time we played here it was very difficult and I expect it to be the same again. Most teams play their best against us. Everyone wants to beat Brazil. We will try to find the weakest point in our opponents and take advantage of that.”

Ireland’s current managerial predicament hasn’t escaped the 31-year old’s attention either.

“They still haven’t chosen the manager but they will be looking to play as well as they can for the population. It is not for us to get involved but it is good motivation for them. It is an opportunity for them to play for their country and their pride, just like us.”

Brazil arrive in rude health, but not everyone is enamoured with the current team. Most of the misgivings are directed at coach Dunga who, as a no-frills defensive midfielder, has never been flavour of the month in his native country.

Dunga captained the side to the 1994 World Cup victory and lost only three times in his 94 international appearances, but many Brazilians saw his ownership of the armband as a betrayal of their soccer heritage.

It is a feeling that has persisted despite the team’s success at last summer’s Copa America where they trounced a fancied Argentina side 3-0 in the final despite being without the likes of Kaka and Ronaldinho.

Both players sat out the tournament at their own request but they have also suffered the ignominy of being dropped by Dunga, as have the likes of Emerson, Ronaldo and Adriano.

Other attack-minded old hands in the shape of Cafu and Roberto Carlos have been handed their P45s as tricks and flair take second place to efficiency and organisation. Pele was quick to voice his support but not everyone likes what they see.

Irish fans will get to judge the new-look Brazil for themselves this evening. As ever with friendly matches, substitutions will be two-a-penny come the second-half but what does the Brazilian coach expect of the hosts?

“I expect to see several players with technical skill on the Irish side but also players who are strong footballers as this is a characteristic of players from Europe. Most of the players play in England and this is a sign of their technical abilities.”

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