In most countries, domestic action pauses when the national team plays. Not in Brazil. The midweek Série A games went ahead as usual, producing some intriguing results. Fluminense and Corinthians both lost, allowing Cruzeiro to break their duopoly at the head of the table with a win over Goiás. In fact, Cruzeiro aside, none of the top six could manage a victory; Inter, Botafogo, and Atlético Paranaense all failed to register maximum points. Lower down the table, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel for Flamengo...
Flamengo 2-0 Atlético Goianiense
It must be tough being a Flamengo fan. An ever-changing cast of players, coaches, technical staff flutter in and out of Gávea, meaning that only the club's name and shirt design provide any semblance of continuity. When Silas left the club last week (following hot on the heels of Zico, a club idol and Director of Football for all of four months), the Flamenguistas would have been forgiven for fearing the worst; their side had picked up just one win in ten games, and were slipping dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Now let's be clear. Flamengo remain just five points from the drop zone; this, of course, was just one win. But, for this writer, Flamengo have reason to be cheerful; they have appointed Vanderlei Luxemburgo, one of Brazil's most successful coaches. True, 'Luxa' has just come off the back of a horrid spell at Atlético Mineiro, but in the context of his career, this looks like an anomaly; a quick glance at his achievements (five Campeonato Brasileiro and eight Campeonato Paulista titles) leaves one with little doubt about his prowess. If anyone can drag Flamengo from this latest crisis, it's him.
Against Atlético-GO, the Rubro-Negro lined up with much the same personnel as have been underperforming of late; Deivid and Diogo continued up front, with Petkovic providing support from midfield. Diogo, however, limped off in the first period, to be replaced by the bizarrely under-used Diego Maurício. In a tight opening period, it was Fla who went closest; Willians sent a header just wide, before Correa threatened with a smart volley. The half, though, would end goalless; a familiar tale of late for the Rio side.
Fla came out fighting in the second half, however, and soon laid siege to the Dragão goal; Correa, Petkovic, and Diego Maurício all saw efforts well saved by Márcio. The opener, though, would come from an unlikely source; Val Baiano, a forward so out of form (and out of shape) that he's become the butt of a series of jokes in Brazil (samples; "for Val Baiano, there's no such thing as an ugly goal. Or a beautiful one." "When Val Baiano plays football with his son, his son lets him score."). The former Bareuri man, though, stuck it to his critics, powerfully heading home from a Marquinhos cross. Baiano celebrated exactly how you'd expect a man who hadn't scored for months to celebrate.
Flamengo looked comfortable, but made sure of the victory with a second goal. Diego Maurício bullishly held off two markers, before slotting smartly home. As Luxemburgo danced a jig down the touchline, it was hard not to see this as a turning point for Flamengo. The Rubro-Negro will, of course, face much harder tests than this, but with struggling Avaí next up, the side will fancy themselves to pull away from the relegation dogfight, at least in the short-term.
Gameweek 28 Round-up
Fluminense suffered a huge blow to their title challenge at the Engenhão, going down 3-0 to a Zé Éduardo-inspired Santos. The striker overshadowed some of the more well-known forwards on display (Neymar, Fred) to net a stunning second half hat-trick for the Peixe. He got off the mark with a smart bicycle kick after Neymar's effort came back off the woodwork, before added an opportunist second; chasing a long-ball before volleying gloriously past Rafael. Promising left-back Alex Sandro created the third, skipping away down the left before squaring to give Zé Éduardo the easiest of finishes. Flu were dealt a further blow when Fred limped off with yet another injury.
Grêmio continued their fine form, seeing off quasi-namesakes Grêmio Prudente at the Olímpico. The Tricolor led within a minute when André Lima poked home, and doubled their advantage when Jonas finished off a slick move. Jonas, the league's top scorer, then volleyed home an impeccable effort from 25 yards, before completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot. Grêmio are now closing in on Botafogo and Atlético-PR, neither of whom could claim a win on Wednesday night. Atlético played out a goalless draw with Vasco at the Arena da Baixada, while Botafogo drew 1-1 with Guarani. Barboza headed the Bugre ahead, but 'Loco' Abreu responded in kind for Fogo.
São Paulo beat Vitória at the Arena Bareuri, on Paulo César Carpegiani's first game back in charge of the club. Dagoberto flicked home the opener following some delightful build-up, and Fernandinho powered his way through to tuck home a second. Fortaleza club Ceará picked up a useful victory too, beating Internacional at the Castelão thanks to Heleno's rocket. Atlético Mineiro's upturn in fortunes continued, as they came from behind to beat Corinthians 2-1. Paulinho put the Timão ahead following another goalkeeping error from Fábio Costa, but second half headers from Werley and Zé Luís gave the Galo an important three points. If they avoid relegation, Dorival Júnior's reputation will only be strengthened further.
Cruzeiro moved to second in Série A with a tight win over Goiás at the Serra Dourada. The unlucky Jonílson headed the game's only goal into his own net after a dangerous Walter Montillo cross. Palmeiras maintained their resurgence, routing Avaí by 4 goals to 1 at the Pacaembu. Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia was the main protagonist, heading the Verdão into the lead before later smashing home from 25 yards. Roberto scrambled home Avaí's lone effort, but Kléber's penalty and Gabriel's long range strike completed the goleada.
Results; Fluminense 0-3 Santos, Grêmio 4-0 Grêmio Prudente, Guarani 1-1 Botafogo, São Paulo 2-0 Vitória, Atlético-PR 0-0 Vasco, Atlético-MG 2-1 Corinthians, Ceará 1-0 Internacional, Flamengo 2-0 Atlético-GO, Goiás 0-1 Cruzeiro, Palmeiras 4-1 Avaí.
(Photo credits; (1) Maurício Val, (2) Cleber Mendes, (3) Bruno Cantini.)