With Keane & Dunne out, and the match being played in London, Ireland look in trouble against the mighty Brazil

Republic of Ireland v Brazil, International Friendly, March 2, 2010

Republic of Ireland 8/1; Draw 7/2; Brazil 1/2

Ireland still live under the black cloud of Le Hand of Henry.

The now infamous double handball from the France forward denied the Republic a place at the 2010 World Cup finals later this year, and with it much of the hyped Irish spirit has been deflated. Even the upcoming friendly against the Samba Boys has left most in Eire uninterested, with the fixture bizarrely being staged at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium rather than in Ireland itself.

Dampening the mood further, the bulk of the pre-match Irish discussion has centred on the slew of dropouts ahead of the Brazil challenge. Ireland’s leading goalscorer Robbie Keane will miss the match after the on-loan Celtic striker aggravated his knee during Sunday’s Old Firm defeat by Rangers. (Brazil are EVS to keep a clean sheet.) And with their main centre-forward out through injury, Ireland will also have to make do without their star centre-half as Richard Dunne has withdrawn himself from the squad after sustaining an unspecified muscle injury in Aston Villa’s Carling Cup final defeat by Manchester United.

Turning to the positives, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni appears to be prepared to use the match against Brazil as an opportunity to blood some youngsters and begin the building process for Ireland’s forthcoming 2012 European Championships qualifying campaign. Trapattoni has already begun his planning by adding three newcomers to the squad – Portsmouth’s Marc Wilson, Wigan’s James McCarthy, and Manchester City’s Greg Cunningham. (Ireland are 6/1 to keep a clean sheet.)

While Wilson, a right-back, and McCarthy, a talented young central midfielder, maybe known to knowledgeable Irish fans, few will have seen 19-year-old left-back Greg Cunningham who has yet to make his senior debut for Manchester City. Cunningham, though, has made his way up through the Under-19 Irish squad this season, having started all six games for manager Sean McCaffrey in the campaign to date.

Ireland’s best chance of getting anything out of the match with Brazil rests with their midfield. Littered with players with top flight experience, Ireland have the likes of Aiden McGeady, Damien Duff, Darron Gibson, Glenn Whelan, Stephen Hunt and Liam Lawrence to choose from. Up front things start to look a little more sparse with Kevin Doyle likely to spearhead the attack from the kick-off, while Anthony Stokes, Leon Best and Shane Long could all be available from the bench. (Ireland are 5/1 to score in both halves.)

While the friendly from an Irish perspective is all about building foundations, from Brazil’s point of view the match is far more significant being their last scheduled friendly before the World Cup in South Africa kicks-off. (7/2 on Draw/Brazil.)

With very few opportunities left to rejig his squad, consensus opinion seems to be that Brazil coach Dunga will employ much of his strongest team against the Irish, with only a few experiments left in the offing. That means that Ronaldinho had again be left out of the squad will midfield enforcer Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo get the nod, and question marks remain over whether Ramires, Kleberson, Elano and Carlos Eduardo can prove themselves more deserving of a place than the Rossoneri’s star playmaker. (Brazil are 2/1 to win both halves.)

Question-marks also hang over the left-back position in the Brazil squad, with Dunga toying with Lyon’s Michel Bastos or Cruzeiro’s Gilberto (formerly of Spurs) as the current main candidates for the position.

Up-front Brazil have been served with a blow with the withdrawal of leading striker Luis Fabiano. In his absence, while the likes of Kaka and Robinho can help join the attack from slightly deeper positions, Dunga will have the options of playing either Adriano, Grafite or Nilmar in the Selecao’s forward-line.

101gg predicts: Republic of Ireland 0 – Brazil 3 (11/1)

Republic of Ireland 8/1; Draw 7/2; Brazil 1/2

Full match odds here.