If only every international friendly could be as watchable as this one. Giovanni Trapattoni might prize the result above all else and it would have grated with the Italian that his Republic of Ireland team suffered another reverse in a non-competitive fixture. This was a sixth friendly defeat in 14. In qualifying ties, Trapattoni has lost only two of 17.

Yet there was plenty to admire about Ireland's swashbuckling efforts against the World Cup semi finalists. In Shane Long, the hosts had a powerful and willing centre-forward, who pressed his claims for the Euro 2012 qualifier away to Macedonia in June while behind him, Keith Fahey and Liam Lawrence were among those to show their offensive qualities.

An experimental Ireland did not lose heart at 3-1 down at the interval and their second-half bluster might have yielded an equaliser on another night. Unfortunately for them, the attacking stars were not exclusively in green. Uruguay passed and moved with great fluency and in Adel Hernández and Edinson Cavani, they had a clinical edge in the final third.

It was easy to pick holes in the defending, particularly that of Ireland, who were regularly pulled apart by Uruguay's fluid movement. Trapattoni grimaced at all of the goals his team conceded, particularly the second, when Maximiliano Pereira was allowed to coast from right to left, across the Ireland backline, before picking his pass for Cavani. But it was a night when exuberance dominated. The only disappointment was that the Aviva Stadium was so sparsely populated.

Trapattoni name-checked Fahey, the defender Darren O'Dea and the goalkeeper Keiren Westwood who, after his assured performance in the qualifying win over Macedonia on Saturday, once again showed his "personality" and "presence". His double save from Cavani and Hernández was of the highest order. Yet one Irish player hogged the plaudits.

"Long is a very important player and if I was a manager at club level, I would look for him," Trapattoni said, of the in-form Reading man. "He was still young a year ago, but now he is mature."

Oscar Tabárez, the Uruguay manager, named nine of the players who had started for him in the World Cup semi-final defeat to the Netherlands while Trapattoni's line-up was his second string. "It was a good performance considering that we put together nearly a new team in two days and we played against a super team," Trapattoni said. "In particular, it was a new defence."

There was good fortune about Uruguay's opening goal. Fahey's clearing header from Diego Forlan's free-kick hit Cavani and fell kindly for the captain Diego Lugano, who swept past the exposed Westwood. But the visitor's second and third brimmed with ruthless class.

Cavani showed why he has attracted the attention of some of Europe's wealthiest clubs when he took one touch from Maximiliano Pereira's ball and whipped the second low into the far corner. Hernández's finish was similarly impressive. Alvaro Pereira robbed Lawrence, bolted forward and fed the 20-year-old, who opened up his body to beat Westwood. Hernández was the least known commodity up front for Uruguay but he bristled with boldness and raw ability.

Ireland had equalised through Long's header from Lawrence's excellent cross and the striker also helped win the penalty that set up the exciting second period. He outstripped Lugano to cross for the disappointing James McCarthy, who was fouled by Martin Cacedes. Fahey directed the penalty inside Fernando Muslera's right-hand post.

Ireland pressed and Long spurned their best chance to equalise after Muslera had spilled a drive from Andy Keogh. Uruguay, though, radiated menace on the counter and, but for Westwood, they would have added to their lead.