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Greatest Dublin sporting events: Beating Brazil gave us reason to back Big Jack

Ireland v Brazil 1987

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NO HIDING: The Republic of Ireland’s Kevin Moran chases down Brazil’s
Ricardo during their international friendly at Lansdowne Road in May 1987. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

NO HIDING: The Republic of Ireland’s Kevin Moran chases down Brazil’s Ricardo during their international friendly at Lansdowne Road in May 1987. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

NO HIDING: The Republic of Ireland’s Kevin Moran chases down Brazil’s Ricardo during their international friendly at Lansdowne Road in May 1987. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

"Now you're gonna to believe us. Now you're gonna believe us …"

It was a day we felt like singing.

Admittedly it was a friendly match. But for the home supporters on the afternoon Ireland beat Brazil 1-0 at Lansdowne Road in May 1987, the future looked inordinately bright.

Jack Charlton had been appointed Ireland manager the previous year and had been in charge for ten matches, five friendlies and five European qualifiers, by the time recently-appointed coach Carlos Alberto Silva took his players to Dublin 4.

The clubs Charlton had coached in England had been criticised for playing boring football and in Ireland he'd already caused controversy with his cavalier treatment of respected coach Liam Tuohy and stylish defender David O'Leary, who'd been acrimoniously dropped from the squad.

Having won a World Cup medal for England under Alf Ramsey, it was perhaps understandable that Charlton would adopt many of that coach's traits, including having his players, regardless of their skill set, adhere to the tactical plans he believed were most suitable.

"Football's not complicated," the bluff northerner told me more than once. "There's no substitute for hard work."

Puzzled

It wasn't just the Ireland supporters who were puzzled by Charlton's approach. The players also had doubts. Until they started winning.

As Mick McCarthy recalled, Jack's instructions were blunt and to the point. "You all play in the English or Scottish League," he reminded his squad. "So we will play a British-style football and let the other team bloody well try and come to grips with it."

A 1-0 loss to Wales in his first match, a friendly, provided his critics with ammunition, but Charlton wasn't going to waver.

Outlining his philosophy of football to me over dinner one evening at the team hotel, he barked, "Get it up. Get it behind them. Make 'em turn and close 'em down facing their own goal. Put it into the box and have somebody there to knock it into the back of the net. That's what the game's about. Scoring goals."

His methods began to get results.

With the exception of a 2-1 European qualifier away loss to Bulgaria seven weeks prior to the visit of Brazil, Ireland hadn't lost a match in the nine games they'd played since Charlton's debut.

Kevin Moran said he'd never played under a more positive manager.

According to Mick McCarthy, the turning point had been the early three-match tournament in Iceland when Ireland drew one (Uruguay) and won two (Iceland and Czechoslovakia). A positive team spirit had begun to develop.

"Jack kept drumming into us how he wanted us to play," recalled Mick. "He was also getting to know the players and they were reacting to him as well. Two away victories, that bonded the squad together."

Charlton explained how Ireland had begun to foil their opponents.

"We invented a type of game that threw a spanner in the works of teams that played from the back," he said. "We wouldn't play the ball into them. We'd start behind them. We'd condense areas. We'd mark people tight in their area of the field and we wouldn't give them room and time to move out."

In the European qualifiers there had been draws against Belgium, both home and away, and against Scotland at home, as well as an away loss to Bulgaria, leaving a 0-1 away win against Scotland as the only competitive win Jack's squad had before the visit of Brazil.

And Irish fans were acutely aware that when these two sides last met five years earlier, Brazil had delivered a 7-0 drubbing to an under-strength Ireland on the infamous 1982 tour.

Totally demoralised, Liam Brady had attempted to quit the tour early after that match.

The Brazilian squad that arrived in Dublin was without recent retirees such as Zico, Socrates, Éder and Junior but, as every football fan knew, this was still Esquadrão de Ouro, football's Golden Squad.

And they had an abundance of talent including Mirandhina, who had scored against England a few days earlier.

The chance of John Aldridge scoring his debut goal for Ireland in his 11th international against keeper Carlos, and eager new defenders Ricardo Rocha and Josimar, seemed unlikely.

In terms of public support, Ireland's international football reputation was in the doldrums and the old Lansdowne Road venue was half empty for the occasion.

Those who stayed away missed a peach of a goal by Liam Brady, who slipped two Brazil players before laying the ball off to Aldridge whose pass broke under a challenge and found the oncoming Brady who mesmerically wrong-footed the defenders and the keeper and cooly placed a low drive inside the near post.

The execution of this crucial goal proved the veracity of the Arsenal fans' chant, "Brady is magic."

Paul McGrath almost got in on the scoring action in the first half but his shot went over the bar.

Ireland rode their luck a bit in the second half with Packie Bonner, clad in a silver top instead of his customary yellow shirt, making important saves from Valdo and Romario.

Ireland made some chances too but Carlos thwarted midfielder Kevin O'Callaghan and later got down to deny Aldo.

Ken De Mange replaced captain Mick McCarthy in the second half for the first of his two international caps.

When the Swiss referee signalled time, Ireland were 1-0 winners.

And while it hadn't been a thriller against the young Brazil side, it had been a morale-boosting win against the iconic yellow shirts.

Afterwards, those who saw the match dared to dream of a future for this squad.

It was agreed that, yes, as we'd always believed, there was an abundance of talent in this Irish squad. And yes, unlikely as it may have seemed, Jack Charlton might just be the man to achieve what no previous Ireland coach had managed to accomplish, guide Ireland to qualification for a major international tournament.

Following that win against Brazil, Ireland went on to win the final three European qualifying matches, scoring two goals in each match.

There were even less people, an estimated 26,000 supporters, at the last qualifying match, a 2-0 home win against Bulgaria, in October that year.

In November, Gary Mackay scored the only goal when Scotland played Bulgaria in Sofia, guaranteeing Ireland a place in the Euro '88 finals in Germany.

That's when Joxer and his many friends came out of hibernation, bought a few inflatable shaky shamrocks and became unofficial Irish ambassadors abroad.

Charlton went on to take the squad to two World Cup finals. There would be many twists, turns and controversies along the way, but those die-hards who watched Ireland defeat Brazil in Lansdowne Road that Saturday afternoon could legitimately claim to have glimpsed an exciting future.