On oddly truncated set of games in the Brasileirão came to an end on Saturday night, having begun back on Wednesday with the Clássico do Povo (the People's Derby) between Flamengo and Corinthians. The São Paulo side could only draw that game, allowing Fluminense and Cruzeiro to pull away at the top.
Fluminense 2-0 Grêmio
This game was billed as a battle between two of Série A's most silky creators; Argentine Darío Conca has been in fine fettle all season, while Douglas' recent exploits for Grêmio have earnt him a spot in Mano Menezes' latest seleção. With two such sublime talents on display, fans at the Engenhão were always likely to be in for a treat; but only one of the left-footed playmakers would stamp their mark on this encounter.
Fluminense were again missing many established names; Emerson, Deco, and Fred are still struggling to shake off injuries, while former Chelsea utility man Juliano Belletti continues to be used sparingly by Muricy Ramalho. Conca once more lined up behind lone striker Washington in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Grêmio, reinvigorated of late under the management of Renato Gaúcho (a former Fluminense player and manager), arguably had more attacking talent at their disposal; the strike partnership of Jonas and André Lima has bloomed in recent weeks.
Despite pressing well early on, the hosts were lucky not to go behind; Léandro Euzébio's clearance cannoned of Gum, and dribbled just wide of Ricardo Berna's goal. The close shave was forgotten withing minutes, however, as Conca opened the scoring in emphatic style. Receiving a pass from Mariano, the No.11 spun his marker before dispatching an unstoppable volley into the top corner. Golaço! Grêmio did build up a head of steam before the interval, but finished the half 1-0 down.
The Porto Alegre side came out fighting in the second period, and should have had a penalty when Jonas was clearly clattered by Léandro Euzébio. The protests of the Grêmio players were still ringing in the air when Fluminense doubled their advantage. Conca (who else?) slipped a clever pass to Washington, who returned the ball accross the six-yard line. Conca, who had continued his run, tapped in to seal a vital victory for the Tricolor Carioca. After the match, the Argentine again mentioned his concern over a possible new contract with the club. On the evidence of this game (heck, of this whole season), Fluminense would be utterly foolish to let him go.
Flamengo 1-1 Corinthians
The rivalry between Brazil's two most popular clubs, Flamengo and Corinthians, has been given added spice in recent years, ever since Ronaldo snubbed the former to sign for the latter. O Fenômeno famously spent months recovering from injury at Flamengo's Gávea complex, yet opted for the São Paulo giants when the Rubro-Negro stalled on a contract offer. For 45 minutes on Wednesday evening, Ronaldo showed the Rio club what they missed out on. The former Real Madrid striker, despite being far from his physical peak, was central in everything that the Timão did, and deservedly found the net with a typically ruthless finish. After receiving Bruno César's pass, Ronaldo rifled a shot into the far corner of Marcelo Lomba's goal. Weight is temporary, class is permanent, as they (should) say.
Ronaldo faded in the second period, however, and Corinthians were pegged back by Vanderlei Luxemburgo's men. Renato Abreu flicked on Marquinhos' corner, and Diogo found himself free to nod home from close range. It was the striker's first goal in 12 matches. One might have expected the game to explode into life at this point, but instead it fizzled out. Tite replaced both Iarley and Bruno César with more defensive players, and Flamengo only created a couple more half-chances. In truth, 1-1 was a fair result at the Engenhão.
Gameweek 32 Round-up
At the Serra Dourada, Atlético Goianiense met Ceará, with both sides looking to put distance between themselves and the relegation zone. Atlético went ahead when Marcão poked home a loose ball, but then proceeded to waste countless chances. They were made to pay late on, when Michel's free-kick snuck through the hands of goalkeeper Márcio. São Paulo picked up a 2-1 win over Atlético Paranaense, the former club of coach Paulo César Carpegiani. Ricardo Oliveira showed impressive pace and composure to smash the Tricolor into the lead, only for Joffre Guerrón to level with a smart strike. The match was settled just after the interval, when Miranda rose highest to head home Dagoberto's free-kick.
Vitória overcame Vasco da Gama in a goalfest at the former's Barradão stadium. Adaílton bagged the first with a fine individual effort, before Elkeson doubled the home side's lead from distance. Neto Coruja's scrambled effort put Vitória 3-0 up, but Vasco pulled one back with Nunes' header. The Rio side scored again late on through a Fumagalli free-kick, but Vitória were home and dry by that stage, thanks to Júnior's powerful volley. The three points propelled Vitória above Guarani, who lost 1-0 to Avaí. Vandinho scored the game's only goal, heading home from Eltinho's cross.
In a pulsating clash at the Beira-Rio, Santos held hosts Internacional to a 1-1 draw. The Peixe went ahead through Zé Éduardo's sweet left-footed strike, but Léandro Damião responded for Inter just minutes later. Santos had what looked like a legitimate goal ruled out, when Nei cleared Edu Dracena's effort from behind the goal line. Botafogo struck late to snatch three points from their game with Atlético-MG. Edno put O Glorioso ahead with just 15 minutes remaining after some unselfish play by 'Loco' Abreu, before Abreu himself sealed the victory with a cute chip.
Cruzeiro joined Fluminense on 57 points with a routine win over Grêmio Prudente. Léo's long-range rocket gave the Raposa a 19th minute advantage, before Robert sealed the result with a simple header. At the Arena Barueri, Palmeiras battled to a 3-2 victory over lowly Goiás. The Verdão took the lead with Tinga's deflected effort, before Márcio Araújo curled home a delightful second. Jones bundled home for Goiás, but Dinei restored the hosts' two-goal lead with a glancing header. Everton Santos' tap-in came too late for Goiás to mount a serious comeback.
Results; Flamengo 1-1 Corinthians, Atlético-GO 1-1 Ceará, Fluminense 2-0 Grêmio, São Paulo 2-1 Atlético-PR, Vitória 4-2 Vasco, Inter 1-1 Santos, Atlético-MG 0-2 Botafogo, Palmeiras 3-2 Goiás, Grêmio Prudente 0-2 Cruzeiro, Avaí 1-0 Guarani.
(Photo credits; (1) Cleber Mendes, (2) Paulo Sergio, (3) Ricardo Rimoli.)