Football: Rivaldo a closed book to Page

Stephen Brenkley talks to a Welshman whose travels took in Brasilia and Barnet
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The Independent Online
WITHOUT wishing to cast aspersions in any direction, from Brazil to Barnet is about as far a journey it is possible to make in professional football in one week. Brazil, home to some of the most gloriously gifted footballers on the planet, are world champions and Barnet... well, Barnet aren't.

It is a trip that Robert Page has now made. No sooner had he marked Rivaldo in Brasilia for Wales on Tuesday night than he was contemplating Kenny Charlery at Underhill stadium for his club, Watford, in the FA Cup first round yesterday. If the central defender sensed he was passing between the sublime and the ridiculous, he refused to let on. "Kenny's got a wonderful record against us and he's always a handful," he said. But though the veteran striker scored the opening goal it was Watford who prevailed.

And for all Charlery's keen lower division wiles, which have seen him change hands seven times for a total not much above pounds 500,000, it is the pounds 12m Barcelona forward Rivaldo, not to mention his equally exotic colleagues, whom Page will remember forever.

There was the swerving, dipping, cunningly accurate 30-yard free-kick in the 37th minute from which he scored Brazil's second goal and five minutes before that there was the marvellously weighted, deceptively angled, impeccably timed little through ball which allowed Zinho to score their first.

"The pace of the game was a lot slower than in the Second Division," said Page. "International football is like that where they let you dwell on the ball. Brazil had other qualities too. They let you keep the ball in your half as though they're saying 'right let's see what you can do with it, let's see how good you are' and then you get to the halfway line. That's where they pounce on you in numbers. In the Second Division you don't have time to put your foot on the ball before some big centre forward's breathing down your collar in your own box. You don't have time to pass."

But there was more, of course there was more. "Brazil did things that you could only stand back and admire," said Page. "There are the set-pieces, the free-kicks which we knew about and now know a bit more about, but there was a period in the first half when they increased the tempo. Their running off the ball was just fabulous and some of their passing... well to be honest they could have given me a book to read all about it and I still wouldn't have been any the wiser."

Page flew out with Wales after a goalless draw with Walsall last Saturday. He and Karl Ready of Queen's Park Rangers partnered each other in central defence for the second time. Apart from a general agreement about being cautious in giving away free-kicks, they discussed how they would divide the labour. Ready would man-mark Muller and Page would keep a watchful eye on Rivaldo darting daintily about behind the the two main forwards.

"I think we did pretty well really," he said. "We were both disappointed with the first goal because it was from open play and I just didn't quite to get to Rivaldo in time. But apart from not conceding them, I don't think we could have done anything about the free-kicks. You can only learn by playing the world champions and be glad it's not like that in the Second Division every week.

"Towards the end, Rivaldo was in a bit of space well out. I was worried about his passing to the left but then he looked up and chipped the goalkeeper. Now, that doesn't happen too often in the Second Division. You just have to think 'good luck to you, mate'."

Page, aged 23, is now in his second season as captain at Watford and has won seven caps (he is a genuine Welshman from Llwynpia). He shared a room with Ready and they could also share the heart of the Wales central defence for a while yet. "The phone went while we were there and it was for Karl to say that Stewart Houston was leaving Queen's Park Rangers. It was a long way to go to hear that." And a long way back to Barnet. In every sense.