Round 35 could well prove to be the decisive one in the outcome of the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro. Corinthians took a huge step towards the title on Saturday night, beating fellow challengers Cruzeiro by one goal to nil. That victory sent the Timão back to the top of Série A, as Fluminense could only manage a draw at home to Goiás. In the race for the final Libertadores spot, Atlético Paranaense leapfrogged Botafogo and Grêmio into fourth place. Down at the bottom, things are tighter than ever; just three points separates six teams above the doomed duo of Grêmio Prudente and Goiás.
Corinthians 1-0 Cruzeiro
A packed Pacaembu awaited, but anyone expecting a rip-roaring game of football between Corinthians and Cruzeiro, two of Série A's most consistent performers this term, was to be disappointed. As so often in football, this most important of games failed to produce a lively spectacle. In fact, all of the drama was condensed into the final five minutes, which at least provided the excitement which had been lacking for the previous 85 minutes.
Corinthians were at full strength, with Dentinho continuing in support of Ronaldo in attack. Midfielders Jucilei and Elias were able to play this game, despite being due in the Middle East for Wednesday's clash between the seleção and Argentina. The Corinthians attack, however, was well contained by the Raposa; Fabrício and Henrique largely nullified the creative threat of the hosts' No.10, Bruno César. Corinthians were reduced to just a handful of efforts in the opening period; Elias twice went close, and Ronaldo smashed an effort just over the bar. At the other end, Cruzeiro offered little, but could have had a penalty when Thiago Ribeiro went down under the challenge of Júlio César.
The second half brought some improvement; Ronaldo and Thiago Ribeiro both missed presentable chances, and the entrance of Jorge Henrique momentarily sparked the Timão's fans into life. Cruzeiro really ought to have taken the lead with ten minutes to go, but Wellington Paulista could only shoot at Júlio César with the goal gaping. The visitors would live to regret their profligacy; Corinthians were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes of the game, after Gil barged Ronaldo in the area. The Cruzeiro players protested furiously; Fabrício and Gilberto were booked for their troubles, and coach Cuca was sent to the stands. The decision was certainly a debatable one, but the challenge from the Raposa centre-back was a clumsy one. Ronaldo stepped up and coolly tucked the spot-kick away to put Corinthians in pole position in the title race.
Gameweek 35 Round-up
Back on Wednesday evening, Botafogo travelled to Fortaleza with the hope of resuscitating their Libertadores dreams, but could only draw 2-2 with Ceará. 'Loco' Abreu flicked home a cross to put O Glorioso ahead, but in-form Magno Alves levelled matters following Leandro Guerreiro's error. Veteran midfielder Geraldo then smashed home a glorious second for the home side, before Abreu equalised; the Uruguayan turned expertly before slotting into the far corner. Joel Santana's men slip to fifth, but remain ahead of Santos and Grêmio, who battled to a goalless draw at the Vila Belmiro.
Atlético Goianiense appear to be edging closer to safety, and recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Palmeiras at the Serra Dourada. Gilson headed the Dragão into the lead, and a brace of instinctive finishes from Robston sealed the victory. Meanwhile, two of the more realistic relegation candidates, Guarani and Vitória, earnt a point apiece in their clash. Adaílton tucked home from close range to put Vitória ahead, but Geovane responded immediately for the hosts; his corner snuck in off the far post for a gol olímpico. Atlético Paranaense snuck into the top four on Sunday, with a win over Grêmio Prudente. SKP favourite Paulo Baier was the star of the show, netting a first half penalty and adding a second with a placed header. Willian José netted for the Abelha, but they couldn't find a way back into the game.
When Vanderlei Luxemburgo's torrid spell with Atlético Mineiro came to an end in October, he would have been forgiven for thinking that the Flamengo job represented the perfect coaching tonic. The Rubro-Negro, while a shadow of the team that won last year's title, looked safe in mid-table. How ironic, then, that the club that Luxemburgo left in the relegation zone should drag his current club into the very same battle for survival; Atlético thrashed Fla 4-1 at the Arena do Jacaré, and now sit just a point behind the Rio side. The Galo took the lead when Obina (a former Flamengo player) pounced on Marcelo Lomba's fumble, and added a second through Renan Oliveira. Diego Tardelli added a third with a classy individual effort, before Renan Oliveira scrambled home his second of the game. Marquinhos' late goal was all that Fla could manage.
Fluminense fluffed their lines in the title race, slumping to a 1-1 draw with struggling Goiás at the Engenhão. Rafael Moura opened the scoring for the Esmeraldino with a trademark header, and Flu again had Darío Conca to thank for their point; the Argentine drilled home a late penalty after Rodriguinho had dived in the area. At the São Januário, Vasco took the lead against São Paulo with a stunning Éder Luís strike, but had to settle for a draw when Lucas Gaúcho stylishly flicked home with ten minutes remaining.
Avaí boosted their survival hopes with an impressive 3-2 win away to Internacional. The Florianópolis side took the lead with just 15 seconds on the clock, with one of the best goals you're ever likely to see. Inter actually kicked off, but Alecsandro's slack pass gave the ball straight to Rudnei. Avaí then launched an unstoppable passing move down the right, culminating in a stunning finish from right-back Patric. Que golaço! Batista added a second for the visitors with a deflected strike, but Inter showed their mettle to fight back to 2-2; Leandro Damião tucked away a neat finish, before Rafael Sobis dug out a glorious lofted equaliser. This was to be Avaí's day, however, and they snatched the win with another tidy move; Caio's through ball found Patric, whose chipped cross was nodded home by Robinho. A great result for Avaí, who are finally returning to the attacking football that served them so well early in the campaign.
Results; Ceará 2-2 Botafogo, Atlético-MG 4-1 Flamengo, Santos 0-0 Grêmio, Corinthians 1-0 Cruzeiro, Fluminense 1-1 Goiás, Internacional 2-3 Avaí, Guarani 1-1 Vitória, Atlético-GO 3-0 Palmeiras, Vasco 1-1 São Paulo, Atlético-PR 2-1 Grêmio Prudente.
(Photo credits; (1) Ari Ferreira, (2) Gil Leonardi, (3) Paulo Sergio.)