Dublin date is serious business for Brazilians

Ronaldo hints he would like to play in the Premiership as Irish welcome world champions
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The circus surrounding Brazil had an even more chaotic sideshow here yesterday with an intriguing suggestion from Ronaldo that he would like to play in the Premiership - and a bizarre pitch invasion of the World Champion's final training session in the gloom of Lansdowne Road.

Hundreds of schoolchildren, invited to attend, just could not resist and it quickly brought a halt to proceedings with the Brazilians scampering hurriedly and, judging by the falling temperature, happily back into the main stand. "It's like this wherever we go," said their coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, with a jocular insouciance.

Earlier, Ronaldo had stood before the decaying construction. He offered an intriguing response to the direct question as to whether he would like to play in England, fuelled by the inevitable, and re-emerging, suggestion that Chelsea are chasing his services along with those of his club and international team-mate Roberto Carlos, who will also play tonight.

"I'm very happy at Real Madrid," Ronaldo said. "Of course, when there is interest from other teams you must hear it, especially when the interest comes from England because I've never played there. I have to hear it but I'm very happy at Real Madrid."

It was the kind of teasing half-denial to send fans all of a flutter, although it was punctured slightly by an unceremonious question to his coach. Was Ronaldo, Parreira was asked, a bit too big (i.e. fat)? "No, no. He's not overweight. He is strong," came the patient reply.

It was a curious scene at the old stadium, due for a refit soon, for a friendly which, both sides admit, means little in itself but is the precursor of more substantial encounters. "Every time that Brazil play, it's a serious game," Parreira said. "It's part of our preparation for the World Cup. This is the only chance we have because all our players play in Europe and we have to use this team."

Indeed the Brazilians will have to qualify for the next World Cup after the guidelines were changed. And on 30 March they have a crucial match against their group leaders, Paraguay. The only noticeable absentees here are Roma's Emerson, who is injured, and Rivaldo, who is rehabilitating his career, although his exclusion hands an opportunity to the prodigiously talented Kaka.

Little wonder that the 44,000 tickets sold out in a dozen or so minutes with the Football Association of Ireland cleverly packaging the match with the forthcoming, and less appealing, friendlies against the Czech Republic and Romania. It means the Irish will turn a profit of £1.5m over the three games. Not bad considering the £450,000 fees demanded by the Brazilians, plus the surrendering of the lucrative television rights.

For the Irish it is a daunting prospect, although their captain, Kenny Cunningham, while admitting he did not want to be "embarrassed", was direct in dismissing the importance of the result even though it is part of their preparation for the World Cup qualifiers in a group containing France.

"There's not much at stake," he said before slipping into the sort of language usually reserved for Sky TV adverts. "Every game is unique but Brazil have come to town and it will be an extravaganza of football." Indeed history is on Ireland's side as the last time the two countries met was 17 years ago on the same ground with the home team winning through an early Liam Brady goal, even if their talisman, Damien Duff, is not playing.

An Achilles injury forced the lamented withdrawal of their most talented performer, but the manager, Brian Kerr, while admitting that his players had a duty to attack, was more preoccupied with his defence.

"It's nice that the defensive players are all playing," he said of the fact that fringe candidates such as Richard Dunne and Andy O'Brien are now club regulars. "There are eight different options," he said. Not that, he added, he intended to field them all at the same time.

Kerr paid tribute to the "collective perfectionism and individual brilliance" of his opponents and compared them with the Brazil team of 1970. "Whether their names linger in the memory as long is another matter," he said. Parreira was having none of that. The best Brazil side, he said, was clearly the 1958 vintage and he proceeded to reel off the starting XI.

Kerr's XI may not compare but he will, probably, recall Jason McAteer, available for the first time since Mick McCarthy, now his manager at Sunderland, quit. McAteer is struggling with injury as is Matt Holland, although the young tyro Andy Reid may be given his head. "It's a big step up - going from playing against Walsall and Rotherham to playing the world champions, Brazil," the 21-year-old Nottingham Forest midfielder said. "But that is what I want to do and this is where I want to be." If he can shine, then the Irish will have another star in their firmament.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable 4-4-2): Given (Newcastle United); Carr (Tottenham Hotspur), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Brien (Newcastle United), O'Shea (Manchester United); McAteer (Sunderland), Holland (Charlton Athletic), Reid (Nottingham Forest), Kilbane (Everton); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Morrison (Birmingham City).

BRAZIL (4-3-3): Dida (Milan); Cafu (Milan), Lucio (Bayern Leverkusen), Roque Junior (Siena), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid); Gilberto Silva (Arsenal), Kleberson (Manchester United), Ze Roberto (Bayern Munich); Ronaldinho (Barcelona), Kaka (Milan), Ronaldo (Real Madrid).

Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).