The excitement continues to flow thick and fast in the Campeonato Brasileiro, as the midweek fixtures produced no fewer than 33 goals around the country. Corinthians continue to lead the way after their win over Santos, but Fluminense and Cruzeiro remain hot on their heels; both picked up convincing home wins. At the other end of the table, Grêmio Prudente, Goiás, and Atlético Mineiro remain rooted in the relegation mire.
Santos 2-3 Corinthians
I suspect Corinthians indulged in some schadenfreude during the week, as they watched their forthcoming opponents lurch into controversy following the sacking of Dorival Júnior. There could have been no better moment to face the Peixe; interim coach Marcelo Martelote had just two days to prepare his charges (many of whom, one assumes, must be somewhat bitter about the dismissal of Dorival) for this clash. Neymar, the player at the centre of the debacle at the Vila Belmiro, was duly returned to Santos' starting line-up.
Despite their woes, it was Santos who raced into a second minute lead. Marquinhos' corner found defender Durval, whose sweet half-volleyed finish was one of which any striker would have been proud. The lead would not last long, however, as Corinthians hit back in typically clinical fashion. Midfield dynamo Jucilei danced past a couple of challenges before releasing Iarley on the left side of the area. The veteran made no mistake, guiding a shot past Rafael for his sixth goal in seven games.
What occured next had been written in the script from the start of the week; Neymar scored for Santos. The youngster tapped home after Marcel's shot was parried by Júlio César, and proceeded to celebrate in the most saccharine manner; sprinting over to the bench to hug his teammates. Only the most gullible of observers would have bought his "I'm a team-player, me!" schtick. Corinthians, though, were not about to become the fall-guys for the Neymar show, and again hit back before the interval. Bruno César released Elias, whose rasping shot snuck into the far corner via the goalkeeper. The dynamic midfielder would the following day be rewarded for his fine recent form with a call up to the seleção.
The second half couldn't live up to the excitement of the first, and in truth both teams looked slightly worn out by their earlier exploits. Corinthians, though, showed the kind of ruthlessness that wins championships; conjuring up a goal almost from nothing. Jorge Henrique's cross was played back across goal by substitute Danilo, giving centre-back Paulo André the easiest of tasks to head home. One may have expected an onslaught from the Peixe, but it didn't materialise; Léo's disallowed goal was the closest they came to getting back into the game. In truth, the result was an appropriate reminder to the Santos board that short-termism is always a gamble.
Gameweek 24 Round-up
Santos now sit in seventh in Série A, having been overtaken by in-form Atlético Paranaense. The Furacão picked up an impressive win over Internacional, thanks to a trademark free-kick by SKP favourite Paulo Baier. The goal was noteworthy due to some very odd defending by Inter's Tinga; the midfielder sprinted from his position on the post in order to play an Atlético forward offside, only to watch in horror as Baier placed the ball exactly where he'd been standing. Palmeiras made their way into the top half of the table, beating Grêmio Prudente 1-0 at the Prudentão. Márcio Araújo netted the winner for the Verdão.
Ricardo Oliveira scored on his return to the São Paulo starting XI, converting with his knee to hand the Tricolor a 2-1 win over Guarani. Marlos had given São Paulo the lead with a delightful individual effort, but Baiano's penalty had levelled things up. The win is the latest in a good string of results for the Morumbi club, who are rumoured to be considering appointing Dorival Júnior as coach. Cruzeiro claimed their seventh win in nine matches, comfortably overcoming Ceará at the Arena do Jacaré. Walter Montillo maintained his fine goalscoring form the penalty spot, before fellow Argentine Ernesto Fárias poached a late second from close range.
Atlético Goianiense continue to show signs that they could escape the relegation dogfight, beating lowly Goiás 3-1 away from home. Elias' lovely opener for the Dragão was cancelled out by an Amaral header, but further goals from Gilson and Juninho gave Atlético maximum points. That result leaves Avaí teetering precariously above the drop zone, after they were soundly beaten in Salvador by Vitória. Júnior scrambled home Vitória's first after a mazy run by Egídio, before Elkeson smashed home a second from the edge of the area. Thiago Humberto added another late on to seal a first home win since the 14th of August for the Leão.
At the Olímpico, Grêmio were denied victory over Flamengo by a late Dejan Petkovic goal for the Rubro-Negro. Douglas put the home side ahead with a slick run and finish, before Fla equalised; Kléberson flicking home Léo Moura's brilliant cross. Jonas' instinctive finish looked to have won it for the Tricolor, but Petkovic had other ideas. The Serbian ran on to Léo Moura's chipped through-ball, rounded Grêmio 'keeper Victor with his first touch, and slotted into the empty net. It was a delightful, if slightly fortuitous, goal.
Fluminense got their title challenge back on track, trouncing Atlético Mineiro 5-1 at the Engenhão. Leandro Euzébio gave Flu the lead, heading home from Conca's corner, but Atlético pulled level when Daniel Carvalho bent home a stunning free-kick from 25 yards. Carlinhos restored the Tricolor's advantage with a low drive, before fellow defender Gum rose to head home a third. Carlinhos bagged his second with a powerful run and finish, and Marquinho compounded the Galo's misery with an fifth in injury time. More performances like this should ensure that Muricy Ramalho's men push Corinthians (and Cruzeiro) all the way in the battle for the Brasileirão. Atlético, on the other hand, are in real trouble; coach Vanderlei Luxeburgo was (finally) dismissed in the wake of the game.
Vasco met Botafogo in Tuesday's clássico carioca, a game that produced plenty of drama and four goals. Vasco started the better, and should have led within five minutes, but Rafael Coelho scuffed wide when it looked easier to score. The Gigante da Colina did take the lead just minutes later, though, thanks to left-back Ramon's deflected effort. Botafogo suffered a huge blow when attacking midfielder Maicosuel collapsed with a knee injury; scans after the game revealed that he'll miss the rest of the Série A campaign. When Vasco added a second, then, thanks to a smart finish by Éder Luís, it looked like a day to forget for O Glorioso. Joel Santana's men, however, mounted an improbable second half comeback. A rare error from Vasco goalkeeper Fernando Prass allowed Herrera to head home in the 55th minute, before Titi conceded a stoppage time penalty after handling in the area. 'Loco' Abreu, so often the Alvinegro's saviour, made no mistake, cooly sending Prass the wrong way from the spot.
Results; Grêmio Prudente 0-1 Palmeiras, São Paulo 2-1 Guarani, Goiás 1-3 Atlético-GO, Cruzeiro 2-0 Ceará, Vasco 2-2 Botafogo, Santos 2-3 Corinthians, Grêmio 2-2 Flamengo, Atlético-PR 1-0 Internacional, Vitória 3-0 Avaí, Fluminense 5-1 Atlético-MG.
(Photo credits; (1) Eduardo Viana, (2) Celio Messias, (3) Cleber Mendes.)