Brazil battle opens a new chapter
OUT in the cloistered acres where Arsene Wenger and Arsenal do their work, two Italian gaffers watched the cream of Irish and English talent spin through their training routines and on balance, Giovanni Trapattoni probably enjoyed the balmy spring weather an awful lot more than Fabio Capello.
England may well be on their way to South Africa and with a decent chance of actually winning the World Cup this time but there's a black cloud hovering over everything Capello does now. His best plans have been battered by off-field infidelity and excess.
At the very moment when Wayne Rooney has risen to meet the vast expectation he's been burdened with since he was a teenager, events outside Capello's control threaten to derail the English World Cup effort before it even starts.
Evidence of that could be found at the Gunners' beautifully appointed training ground. Overhead, the odd chopper hovered by trying to grab a sneak peak of John Terry and his teammates but that was about as close as anyone got. Team England toiled on the training ground in a closed session and when they said closed, they meant closed.
Cameramen focusing on the Irish squad were told that any sign of a lazy lens leaning towards Capello and England would merit an instant red card; pompous and pointless rules to prevent the rest of the world from watching Terry run, or walk or even jump.
Who knows with Terry and some of his pals these days. Point a camera at any footballer and you never know what you might capture. Well some footballers at least.
Not Glenn Whelan though. After a weekend when he had to use para-medic skills to ease Aaron Ramsey's pain, the contrast between the completely wholesome image he presented at the pre-Brazil press conference could not have contrasted more with the philandering nature of the identikit Premier League footballer.
While Irish hacks asked Whelan about Ramsey and that sickening collision with Ryan Shawcross, it was impossible not to be impressed with the man many felt could not cut it in international or even Premier League football.
He has grown by an inch or two, Whelan, and with Trapattoni sitting beside him, never looked more like the professional and capable footballer that he is now. Trap even placed a fatherly arm around one of his chief lieutenants and smiled. "He better now than he was a few years ago, no?"
Indeed he is, and in that comes great hope for the next few years while Trapattoni remains at the wheel. If he can do so much for a player like Whelan, imagine the impact he might have on James McCarthy at exactly the right moment in the kid's career.
It's a long time since we've had a certified wonderkid to monitor. Aiden McGeady filled the role for a while but before him, you have to trawl back through the years to find days when we watched Robbie Keane and Duffer blossom and grow and dreamed of great days to come. McCarthy is the real deal, there is no doubt about that, and over the coming months and years, his name and reputation will grow. If we're very lucky he will achieve even more than Keane and Duff.
Tonight, McCarthy will get his first taste of senior international football and what better way to start. Brazil might not be what they used to be but they remain the most bankable football team in the world and an ideal way for Trapattoni and the Irish team to shake free from the legacy of Henry.
Football, as Trapattoni says, always provides the opportunity for reinvention and as one door closes another opens. Already, Irish fans are salivating at the thought of the possibilities suggested by McCarthy, Marc Wilson, Greg Cunningham, Seamus Coleman, David Meyler and a clutch of decent youngsters all beginning to make waves in England.
That's a huge leap forward from just a few years ago when the Irish senior team was in crisis. By the time the qualification campaign for Euro 2012 has peaked, the Irish team may well have changed radically from the 14 men who played in Paris and lost so cruelly.
Change for the better we hope. We will lose a few between now and then but there is a general expectation that the layer underneath the current best 11 will improve the team.
That said, with key men absent, Trapattoni has picked a defence which is not for the faint-hearted and it could be that McCarthy will be chasing shadows and the game when he takes his bow -- ankle permitting.
With Richard Dunne sidelined and a deep silence surrounding the fate of John O'Shea, Trapattoni has been forced to lean on Paul McShane and Stephen Kelly with the balance at the back completed by Sean St Ledger and Kevin Kilbane.
The Irish midfield four is the same as that which started in Paris in November and depending on how fit Robbie Keane is, Leon Best will have to wait at least 45 minutes before he takes his place on the pitch after being named as a starter by Trapattoni.
Keane's sudden reappearance may well be down to the fact that his knee has recovered sufficiently to allow him to join up with the Irish squad. But the grapevine was humming in London last night with the suggestion that match agents Kentaro had urgently requested a rethink by the Irish skipper, focused as they are on the Emirates turnstiles and the fact that advance ticket sales have not been as significant as they had hoped for. However, this line was dismissed by the FAI.
The word is that Kentaro have shifted about 40,000 tickets and are relying on last-minute walk-in punters to fill the gaps. In a town saturated with high-class football, even Brazil cannot fill a stadiuim on demand.
One way or other, Trapattoni will be delighted to welcome Keane back given the nature of the opposition and the fact that this is Brazil's only scheduled fixture between now and the first game of the World Cup finals.
But the game and the build up to it have been laced with regret. Sure, Brazil will be a decent antidote to Ireland's World Cup blues but the fact remains that no matter how many stars of the world game sympathise with Trapattoni and Ireland, we will still have our collective nose pressed up against the window while the chosen few do battle for the biggest trophy of them all in three months time.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND v BRAZIL
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