Just a couple of weeks ago, it looked like just two teams - Fluminense and Corinthians - would be battling it out for the Série A title in the second half of the season. But some shaky form in recent matches has meant that today just four points separate leaders Flu and fourth-placed Cruzeiro.
Corinthians 0-1 Grêmio
The Timão headed into Saturday's game at the Pacaembu eager to defend their unbeaten home record, but were stunned by a resilient Grêmio side undergoing a long awaited resurgence in form. Corinthians were without Ronaldo, rested ahead of Wednesday's showdown with Fluminense, as well as three of their first choice back-line; Moacir, Paulo André, and Leandro Cástan lined up alongside captain William. Grêmio, on the other hand, were close to full strength; buoyed by the recent return to fitness of Souza, and the form of star pair Jonas and Douglas.
In a tentative start to the game, Corinthians struggled to exert their usual influence; an early injury to midfielder Ralf hardly helped matters. It was Grêmio who started to show the greater ambition; Gabriel brought a fine save from Júlio César, before Douglas put the visitors ahead with a wonder goal. Drifting in from the right, the mercurial no.10 burst into the area after nutmegging Paulo André, going on to release a ferocious drive into the top corner. The goal sent the Grêmio fans into raptures, but the man himself declined to celebrate against his former employers. Corinthians almost reacted instantly through their own left-footed wizard; but Bruno César's free-kick curled millimetres wide.
Corinthians, in their retro centenary kit (the designers of which obviously downed tools before getting round to the goalkeeper's shirt - a flourescent yellow number with lightning strikes) came out fighting in the second period, and went close through substitute Danilo. Their golden opportunity, though, arrived on 55 minutes; referee Francisco Carlos Nascimento pointed to the spot after Bruno César went down under Vilson's challenge. The decision looked harsh, and Grêmio's misery was compounded by the red card shown to the defender. Justice was done, however, when Victor saved Iarley's weak penalty. The veteran striker would have another gilt-edged chance before the ball went out of play, but his close-range effort was cleared off the line by Rafael Marques.
Yet more chances fell to Adílson Batista's men; Bruno César drilled wide, Matías Defederico hit the side netting, and Iarley again fluffed his lines with a header. Grêmio held on, though, for a priceless win; they have now taken 10 points from the last possible twelve, and look a new side under Renato Gaúcho. Corinthians, meanwhile, must forget this result and focus on Wednesday's crucial match.
Gameweek 21 Round-up
Fluminense also warmed up for that clash with a disappointing loss; going down 2-1 to Atlético Goianiense. Washington continued his excellent goalscoring run, putting Flu ahead after some standardly classy build-up from Deco and Conca, but the Dragão reacted with a lovely goal of their own; playmaker Elias found William, who slotted home after a quick turn. The minnows went on to snatch the points at the death thanks to Juninho's scuffed strike. On this form, they won't stay in the relegation zone for much longer, something that cannot be said about lowly Grêmio Prudente. The Abelha went down 1-0 to Atlético Mineiro, who recorded their sixth win of the season thanks to Obina's late effort.
On Saturday evening, the permanent soap opera that is Flamengo rolled into Volta Redonda, one of the club's revolving selection of temporary homes with the Maracanã undergoing a renovation. Fla managed two goals in a game for the first time since May, but it was not enough to earn them maximum points against a brave Vitória side. Júnior headed the Leão into the lead from close range, but Kléberson levelled things up with a smart finish. The former Manchester United man would later be the Rubro-Negro's saviour, tapping home in the last minute to cancel out Schwenk's imperious volley. The Rio club's malaise continues, then; if Fla don't beat Grêmio Prudente in midweek, coach Silas' future may well be decided by Saturday's derby with Fluminense. At Flamengo, after all, every coach is on borrowed time.
Cruzeiro maintained their impressive romp up the standings; their victory over Avaí was their fourth on the trot. Roger netted the Raposa's first from the spot (after another soft penalty call), before Thiago Ribeiro's shot rebounded into the net off Avaí 'keeper Renan. Youngster Laércio bagged a late consolation for the Florianópolis side. There was precious little excitement at the Beira-Rio (Inter 0-0 Goiás) or at the Pacembu (Palmeiras 0-0 Vasco), and only Mazola's late individual effort for Guarani rescued their game against Atlético Paranaense from the same fate.
Botafogo consolodated their third-placed position by beating São Paulo 2-0 at the Engenhão. After a goalless opening period, it was fan favourite 'Loco' Abreu who broke the deadlock, pouncing from close range after Caio Canedo's shot was parried by Rogério Ceni. With ten minutes to go, Edno sealed the points, running onto Renato Cajá's through ball to fire low into the corner. Santos, meanwhile, suffered their second consecutive loss, beaten 2-1 by Ceará in Fortaleza. Magno Alves gave the hosts the advantage with a well-placed header, before the Peixe equalised; Keirrison firing his first for the club past Michel Alves after a glorious assist by Neymar. The Vovô, though, claimed their first win in six when Geraldo powered home at the far post. There was some confusion after the final whistle; Santos players were apparently unhappy with the rough treatment received throughout by Neymar, and midfielder Marquinhos claimed to have been struck by a military policement. Only in Brazil, folks!
Results; Flamengo 2-2 Vitória, Corinthians 0-1 Grêmio, Atlético-GO 2-1 Fluminense, Atlético-MG 1-0 Grêmio Prudente, Avaí 1-2 Cruzeiro, Botafogo 2-0 São Paulo, Palmeiras 0-0 Vasco, Internacional 0-0 Goiás, Guarani 1-0 Atlético-PR, Ceará 2-1 Santos.
(Photo credits; (1) Marcelo Ferrelli, (2) Jarbas Oliveira.)