The Campeonato Brasileiro got underway this weekend, but annouced its grand opening with a whisper rather than a shout. Many of the big clubs' marquee names (such as Paulo Henrique Ganso, Adriano, Vágner Love, Robinho, Andrés D'Alessandro, Borges, Thiago Ribeiro) were rested with cup competitions in mind; a maddening consequence of the muddled fixture list. Fans, too, were in short supply; an average of only 10,600 (paying) supporters per match according to Globo.
Both phenomena reflect the priorities of Brazilian clubs (and consequently, their fans) at this time of year. The Libertadores is understandably high on the agenda of Flamengo, Cruzeiro, Inter, and São Paulo, all of whom believe (probably correctly) that they can get away with fielding below-strength sides in the Brasileiro. The Copa do Brasil, too, is in the minds of Grêmio, Vitória, Atlético-GO and Santos, largely because the winners are granted a place in next year's Libertadores.
Despite these structural problems, things got off to an exciting start on the pitch, especially at the Engenhão...
Botafogo 3-3 Santos
On Saturday night, Botafogo displayed the kind of spirit typical of Joel Santana sides, which should go some way to staving off the relegation worries which beset them in 2009. O Glorioso started impressively, and defender Antônio Carlos headed them into a sixth minute lead. For the first half hour, Santos looked far from their free-flowing selves; second choice No.10 Madson struggled to fill Paulo Henrique's creative boots.
A goal can change everything, however, and so it proved here; Neymar netted following good work on the left by Alex Sandro and Marquinhos, and Peixe relaxed into the game. Santos took the lead just two minutes later, when André dispatched a first-time finish after a mistake from Botafogo left-wingback Somália. The home side were reeling, but they managed to nick a goal against the run of play seconds before half time; Antônio Carlos volleying in his second after Santos failed to clear an Alessandro free-kick.
Joel Santana sent on Edno and Caio at half-time in a clear sign of attacking intent, but to no great effect; rarely did any actual football break out among the petty fouls and play-acting. Fans were forced to wait for a blitz of action in the last 10 minutes, in which Zé Eduardo headed Santos into a 3-2 lead, Alex Sandro was harshly sent off, and Herrera equalised for Botafogo. The Argentine forward deserved his goal; his functional but committed approach, like his team's, provided a challenge for Santos' more fluid style. After the game, Santana declared himself disappointed with the draw, but in truth this was a fair result, and one which should hearten those associated with Fogo.
Gameweek 1 Round-up
Saturday evening saw two more games, but only one more goal; Lincoln's well placed finish which gave Palmeiras a 1-0 win over Vitória at the Palestra Itália. Perhaps of greater importance for the Verdão was the exclusion of Diego Souza from their matchday squad. The playmaker has had a fractious relationship with the team's fans of late, and it appears like he could be moving on within the next few weeks. If he does, Palmeiras' thin hopes of a title challenge will be in tatters. At the Serra Dourado, newly promoted Atlético Goianiense earnt an impressive 0-0 draw with a below-par Grêmio.
Sunday saw perennial title-contenders São Paulo travel to Rio to play holders Flamengo. In a quiet game, it was Washington who gave the Tricolor the lead, finishing off a lovely move involving Léo Lima and veteran Marcelinho Paraíba. However, some pedestrian defending in the second half by São Paulo allowed Dênis Marques (who, I feel duty-bound to inform my readers, has the worst "hairstyle" I have ever seen) what seemed like hours to trundle into the box, pick his spot, and scuff a shot past Rogério Ceni. A tentative 1-1 draw was a fair reflection of the game.
At the Pacaembu, Corinthians came from a goal behind to beat Atlético-PR 2-1. Big striker Souza cancelled out Wagner Diniz's free-kick, before Ronaldo secured a win for Timão from the penalty spot. The win will likely take some of the pressure off the team, but may not cool supporters' anger about the renewal of coach Mano Menezes' contract.
In Porto Alegre, Internacional fell to a 2-1 loss to Belo Horizonte giants Cruzeiro. Kléber gave the Raposa an early lead from the penalty spot, only for Taison to head in an equaliser minutes later. It was the Gladiator that settled things though, firing in his second after running onto a long ball.
The biggest win of the round was Avaí's 6-1 destruction of nine-man Grêmio Prudente. Centre-back Emerson did much of the damage with a hat-trick, and Caio bagged himself a brace. The Abelha will have to defend much better, especially from dead balls, if they're to compete in future weeks.
Atlético-MG's victory over Vasco could have had a similar scoreline, but the home side had to settle for a 2-1 win at the Mineirão. Diego Tardelli set up Ricardinho for the opener, and looked to have got the second himself before Muriqui selfishly tapped it in himself. Vasco rallied with a goal from Elton, but couldn't find an equaliser.
Finally, both Ceará and Guarani showed that they will be no pushovers in Série A; the newly promoted teams battled to 1-0 home wins over Fluminense and Goias respectively.
(Photo credits; (1) Pedro Kirilos, (2) Ari Ferreira, (3) Unknown.)