The semi-finals of the Brazilian cup were settled on Wednesday evening, with Santos and Vitória earning their places in the decider.
Santos 3-1 Grêmio
After losing out 4-3 in the first leg, Santos needed a win at the Vila Belmiro to reach the final. Recognising this, coach Dorival Júnior selected an attacking line-up (with Paulo Henrique Ganso behind a front three of Neymar, André, and Robinho), but none of his stars was able to break the deadlock in a goalless first half.
If there were any doubts forming in the minds of the Peixe fans, they were quickly and resoundingly dispelled in the second period. Just six minutes had passed when Ganso advanced on the left and rocketed an unstoppable drive into the top corner. A glorious goal.
Santistas into raptures.
Five minutes later, Grêmio provided a reminder that they could still spoil the home side's party; Rafael Marques (not that one) netting from close range after Felipe spilt a Douglas free-kick. The revival, however, would prove to be short-lived. Energetic Santos midfielder Wesley outpaced his marker, rounded Victor, and found a finish from a tight angle.
It was a second half performance that embodied Santos' rise in 2010. Theirs is not only a fluid, aesthetic football; it is a potent and effective one too. It also provides a timely reminder that skill and entertainment, those traditional hallmarks of the Brazilian game, can be compatible with success even in this age of physical conditioning and professionalism. Perhaps the seleção ought to take note.
Vitória 4-0 Atlético-GO
Even if the honeymoon appears well and truly over for Atlético Goianiense (after their first Série A loss and defeat here), they can still fall back on the joy of (bear with me...) having married a girl way out of their league. In a more literal sense, their league is probably Série B, and a cup run to the semi-finals remains a historic achievement, despite their elimination at the Barradão.
Uelliton (yes, that's what Wellington looks like when spelt phonetically/really, really badly) put the home side ahead with a simple header, before Júnior bagged a brace. Injury time produced some drama, when Vitória won a spot-kick. Viáfara, the Leão's penalty-taking goalkeeper scored with a paradinha, but was promptly booked for doing so (see below), and ordered to retake. He converted his second attempt, but will now miss the first leg of the final.
The days of the paradinha are numbered, it seems, after FIFA confirmed it would not allow the technique at the World Cup, a decision which will also apply to competitions worldwide from the start of the tournament. Globo analysed two types of kick; the paradona (big stop), which involves a dummy when the kicking leg has already been pulled back, and the paradinha (little stop), which involves a stutter or dummy in the run-up. The former, but not the latter, will be disallowed. (Globo's labelling is a bit confusing, though, since it's precisely the former which has been going by the name of paradinha...)
A week of substantial activity in Rio has seen Vasco appoint a new coach, and Fluminense all but seal an enormous transfer coup. Celso Roth has taken the reigns at the São Januário, with Gaúcho stepping aside to take up the role of assistant. Roth led Atlético-MG with considerable success last term, and having already had a spell at Vasco, looks a decent appointment. Fluminense appear to have tied up a deal for Chelsea midfielder Deco, who has often stated his desire to return to his native Brazil. Although seemingly a declining force in the European game, Deco would undoubtedly be a superb signing for the Tricolor, and at 32, should still have a few years of football left in him. With Flu already having a talented player (Conca) behind the strikers, Muricy Ramalho might consider playing Deco as a deep-lying playmaker, a role he performed with some aplomb (albeit only occasionally) at Stamford Bridge last season.
Tonight sees two Libertadores games; Internacional travel to La Plata to face Estudiantes, and Flamengo face Universidad in Chile. Look out for a round-up of these games (plus Wednesday's game between São Paulo and Cruzeiro) tomorrow.
(Photo credits; (1) Miguel Schincariol, (2) Agência Estado, (3) Daniel Dal Zennaro.)