Juninho's spark lights Boro's fire

Phil Shaw finds the Brazilian is more than capable of carrying the weight of Middlesbrough's expectations of him after watching him in the 1-1 draw with Leeds
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The Independent Online
The artist formerly known as Oswaldo Giroldo Jnr jetted out to join the Brazilian squad in Buenos Aires yesterday, leaving Middlesbrough to reflect on a debut which, if not exactly princely, contained some massively promising purple patches.

With his boyish face and slender physique, Juninho looks as if he might find a paper-round too taxing. As the Riverside Stadium rose to greet him, one feared his shoulders might not be broad enough to bear the burden of expectation. Some 8,000 extra season-tickets had been sold, not to mention so many yellow-and-green shirts and flags that a royalty on each would have slashed Brazil's national debt.

Any doubts were dispelled during the first half, as a blowtorch in red and white became the definitive symbol of the pace of change under Bryan Robson's regime. Swift and selfless, instinctive and incisive, Juninho created an early goal for Jan Age Fjortoft with a slide-rule pass and so bemused Leeds with his surges that two players were booked for tripping him.

After their midweek roasting by Ronaldo, one could almost see the visiting defenders asking what they had done to deserve being victimised by the buys from Brazil. Juninho compounded their problems by frequently switching flanks, as well as engaging with the midfield heavyweights like a scrum- half suddenly taking on a pack of props.

As introductions to English football go, it was more influential than, say, Eric Cantona's or Dennis Bergkamp's. However, one of the cliches with which Juninho will become acquainted is "game of two halves". After an equaliser against the run of play by Brian Deane, "the Little One" tired rapidly and Leeds' big ones totally dominated the last 35 minutes.

Juninho's second coming, providing he is not too jaded by Wednesday's match against Argentina and the travelling it entails, will be Sunday's visit by Sampdoria for the official opening of the ground. Until then, there is much to savour. Those lynx-eyed enough to see it will relive the moment he nutmegged Carlton Palmer, as well as the Pele-style dummy he sold to let a pass find Nick Barmby.

A video of the latter incident, in which Juninho kept running for the return pass, should be shown to everyone from the rest of the Premiership to primary-school children. Whereas colleagues were often static when receiving the ball - a conspicuous factor in British Eurofailures - he was always on the move.

The fact that Juninho will not play competitively again until 18 November is a mixed blessing. Robson can use the interim to integrate him into the squad and the region (it may be a disappointment to find that Billingham Synthonia do not play samba). Yet by the time Juninho faces Vinnie Jones at Wimbledon, evoking images of the infamous first meeting of Tommy Smith and Ossie Ardiles, he will have had one "proper" match in five weeks.

However long he stays, Juninho may never fathom the ways and words of Howard Wilkinson. Asked his view of Middlesbrough's No 25, the Leeds manager let out a long sigh before giving a grudging endorsement. It ended thus: "He can control and pass, he's got a quick mind... he's small, he's Brazilian."

Wilkinson may have been preoccupied with thoughts of Leeds, who always appear two or three players short of being able to sustain a challenge. Tony Yeboah in particular is crying out for support and service. Still awesome in full flight, he also set up the goal with a brave challenge, although there were moments during his eighth successive goalless game when the Ghanaian must have wondered what he had let himself in for.

Therein lies a lesson for Midlesbrough. Enticing the world champions' player of the year from Sao Paulo was the easy part. Down by the Riverside, the challenge will be to ensure that Juninho does not come to feel like a fish out of the Tees.

Goals: Fjortoft (11) 1-0; Deane (45) 1-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Walsh; Liddell, Pearson, Vickers, Morris; Hignett, Mustoe (Moore, 65), Pollock, Juninho (Moreno, 78); Barmby; Fjortoft. Substitute not used: Blackmore.

Leeds United (4-1-3-2): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Jobson, Worthington; Pemberton; Whelan, McAllister, Palmer; Yeboah, Deane. Substitutes not used: Couzens, Ford, Masinga.

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

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