In 1978, it was the goals of Juary and Pita, as well as the intelligent prompting of the waiflike João Paulo at the Morumbi which enabled Santos to lift the Campeonato Paulista a week later. In 2002, it was a trio of Europe-bound starlets which took the club to its first Campeonato Brasileiro. It was fitting, then, that one of the three, Robinho (Elano and Diego being the others), was playing on Sunday, when the third generation of 'Vila Belmiro Kids' came of age and claimed the São Paulo state championship. The Peixe lost 3-2 on the day to Santo André, but claimed victory due to their superior record from the competition's first stage.
The bright futures of Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso have long been assured, but their performances at a packed Pacaembu still managed to draw a new wave of plaudits from the Brazilian press. Neymar scored Santos' first, collecting a cute Robinho flick, dribbling past Júlio César and slotting past two defenders on the line. He doubled his tally later in the first half, calmly beating the Santo André keeper at his near post. The day, though, belonged to Ganso (which translates as 'goose' - a harsh but probably fair nickname). It was he who set up Neymar's second with a sumptuous back-heel, and generally bossed the game. "The soul of the champions," declared Lance!; whilst Globo observed that the youngster displays "the maturity of a veteran."
The importance of the two (as well as of Robinho and the raw goalscorer André) has been acknowledged by club officials, who have already launched a project for keeping the group for another year. It's not an easy task; despite their prodigious academy, Santos remains a relatively small club. The Vila Belmiro may be atmospheric, but a capacity of little more than 20,000 suggests the youngsters will, sooner or later, look for a bigger stage to exhibit their skills. Fans of the club can at best, I think, hope that the squad stays together long enough to mount a serious challenge for the Campeonato Brasileiro, which starts soon. Even this hope may be dashed if Neymar and Ganso join Robinho in Dunga's World Cup selection; although this currently looks unlikely.
Turning back to yesterday's game, I feel I should give an honourable mention to Santo André. The minnows turned in an inspirational performance yesterday, marked by some lovely goals. It was they who opened the scoring within a minute of play; Cicinho running onto Branquinho's visionary through-ball, rounding the keeper, and squaring for Nunes to finish. Alê nicked their second from a corner, before Branquinho put the finishing touches to a great team move. If Rodriguinho's goal not been ridiculously ruled out, things could have been so much different.
Elsewhere, Grêmio lost 1-0 to Internacional, but claimed the Gaúcho crown 2-1 on aggregate. Giuliano got the goal with a drive from distance, but violence again marked this rivalry; Taison needlessly kicking out at Jonas. Atlético-MG capped a busy week by securing the Campeonato Mineiro; beating Ipatinga 2-0 with goals from Diego Tardelli and Marques.
(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Ari Ferreira.)