This was to be their year. What better way to celebrate the club's centenary that by winning South America's biggest club competition? Corinthians' spending matched their ambition; since qualifying via the Copa do Brasil last year, the club has brought in Roberto Carlos, Iarley, Tchecho, Danilo and Matías Defederico. Given that the spine of the team (Felipe, Chicão, Elias, Ronaldo) was already one of the strongest on the continent, expectations were legitimately high. Yet at the Pacaembu last night, it was Flamengo who advanced to the quarter-finals of the Libertadores on away goals; Vágner Love's goal just after the interval proving the difference between the two sides.
It had all started so well; a cross by Danilo was turned into his own net by Rubro-Negro centre-back David as Corinthians came out fighting. Their coach Mano Menezes had taken the bold step of playing both Dentinho and Jorge Henrique behind Ronaldo, sacrificing the more defensive midfielder Jucilei. This was the formation that had taken the Timão to the Brazilian cup last term, and the side looked substantially more dangerous than at the Maracanã a week ago.
Just before half-time, Corinthians doubled their advantage on the night; Dentinho skipped away from his marker on the left and floated in a delicate cross with the outside of the foot. Ronaldo had drifted cleverly into space, and slammed his header home. It was nothing more than Corinthians deserved; Ralf and Elias were bossing the midfield, and Bruno had been forced into good saves from Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo. Going into the dressing rooms at half-time, the home side was undoubtedly in the driving seat.
An away goal, however, would change everything, and so it proved. Kléberson found some space on the edge of the penalty box, and slipped a pass through for the onrushing Vágner Love. The forward made no mistake, cooling finishing left-footed. Corinthians continued to press, and twice went close from Chicão free-kicks, but in truth it was Flamengo who had the better chances late on. The Timão's Libertadores dream drifted agonisingly away, and when the final whistle blew, many of their players were left in tears. The team will have to go all-out in the Campeonato Brasileiro in order to win some silverware in their centenary year.
On Tuesday evening, São Paulo guaranteed themselves a berth in the quarter-finals after beating Universitario of Peru on penalties. After an edgy goalless drew, Tricolor 'keeper Rogério Ceni was the hero; despite himself missing São Paulo's first spot-kick, he dusted himself off and pulled off two outstanding stops to deny la U a shock victory.
Cruzeiro beat Nacional of Uruguay 3-0 in the Mineirão, and advanced with a 6-1 aggregate score. Thiago Ribeiro opened the scoring with a thumping drive from range, and second half goals from Diego Renan and former Tottenham man Gilberto sealed the win.
Tonight sees Internacional facing Banfield, the winners of which will face reigning champions Estudiantes in the next round.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
Santos rounded off a great week by seeing off Atlético-MG and progressing to the semi-finals of the cup, where they will meet Grêmio. André, Neymar, and Wesley got the goals for the Peixe, with Correa scoring little more than a consolation for Atlético. Grêmio secured their spot by beating Fluminense 2-0 at the Estádio Olímpico. Hugo opened the scoring with a lovely finish and Jonas tapped in a second.
The second semi-final will be see Vitória face surprise package Atético Goianiense. The former went down to a 3-1 defeat to Vasco, but sneaked through on away goals. Atlético-GO pulled off the shock of the round; beating mighty Palmeiras on penalties after a 1-0 victory drew them level on aggregate.
(Photo credits; (1) Vipcomm, (2) Rubens Cavallari/Folha Imagem, (3) EFE.)