Juninho the instant inspiration

Brazilian debut boy lays on his side's goal and most of the entertainme nt as square Leeds are led a dance
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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 1

Fjortoft 11

Leeds United 1

Deane 45

Attendance: 29,467

SO MUCH expectancy, so apparently insignificant the slight 22- year-old Brazilian Juninho who was thrust into a rough Premiership match on a chilly afternoon in the North-east of England and against a team not best known for their warm-hearted welcomes to anyone who thinks he can play a bit. He could have been kicked into early resignation, but he cleverly escaped most of the flying studs and inspired more than just Boro's single goal.

Logically it was an occasion that should never have taken place. Here was one of Brazil's finest and youngest in the line of succession from Pele, feted and enticed by some of the world's most famous clubs: it was always assumed that one day he would make his European debut at some footballing palace in Milan, Rome or Barcelona. But this was the neat, new and almost atmospheric Riverside Stadium on Teesside, a backwater on football's world scale. A lot of his fans back in Brazil are astounded by his decision to come. So are most of Boro's.

Everyone expected him to produce some magic but, after a week like the dreadful one just past, the last thing anyone needed was to have another foreigner emphasise that only a magician could turn home- produced players into Brazilian-style masters overnight.

Bryan Robson had good cause for his slightly smug, self-satisfied grin that saw his pounds 4.75m "bargain" begin his first match, but at the same time as his "he'll be OK" half-smile crossed his face, so spread doubts. Robson must have suppressed that deep, dark feeling that the "boy" was being sent out under the glare of expectancy against a club steeped in a tradition of not suffering embarrassment gladly. Memories of Norman Hunter and the rest scything through any opponent who tried to upstage the artistry of Giles and Clarke came back with ominous clarity.

If Leeds had assigned anyone in particular to restrict Juninho he quickly moved from the right to the left side of Boro's attack to reduce the risk. For a short time the game largely passed him by and none of the Leeds players seriously attempted to watch him, so after 11 minutes they had only themselves to blame when they allowed him yards of space not far inside their own half. The manner in which he fed a long pass to Jan- Age Fjortoft, who finished with a shot beyond John Lukic, showed at once promise, reward and relief for Boro.

Soon Juninho was threading and looping more delightful passes through the Leeds square defence and from one of them Fjortoft looked hard done by to have Barmby called offside after he found the net for the second time.

Further attempts by Carlton Palmer and John Pemberton to douse the growing threat of Juninho brought only yellow cards. Leeds finally went some way towards overcoming the hangover from their poor midweek European performance when, a minute from half-time, one of their more productive moves down the right side ended first with Tony Yeboah stabbing out a foot and failing and then Brian Deane more or less miscuing the ball into the net to equalise.

Unhappily, the game became progressively more irritable and Juninho drifted out towards the left touchline, but not for any reason of faint- heartedness. Indeed at one point he tackled Yeboah so forcefully and with ugly intent that he, too, found himself in the referee's book. Bearing in mind he is only 5ft 5in, clearly he is going to take a buffeting in England. But his courage is surprising.

Gradually, Leeds began to realise that while the day seemed to be about one small man, their big strike force of Deane and Yeboah was getting more and more possession in Boro's penalty area. Gary McAllister urged more industry from the Leeds midfield and by moving forward himself greatly increased the pressure.

Although Boro sensibly substituted Juninho after 77 minutes, he had done sufficient to keep the home crowd happy and shown enough touches of smooth control and produced such a range of graceful passes to make his transfer fee seem a snip. What he has above all is the ability to find his own men with almost unfailing predictability.

Yet yesterday's was a match Leeds should have controlled from the start of the second half. Had it not been that some ghosts of past aggression came back into their play, they would have done better. At least they allowed Juninho to leave the field unscathed - or perhaps he is tougher than anyone thought.

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