Whereas the English Premier League can be roughly hewn into different sections right from the start of the season (races for the title and for the final Champions League spot, midtable obscurity, relegation battle), the Brasileirão tends to resist this categorisation until late in the season. Série A is so unpredictable, so evenly matched, that only now, after the 33rd gameweek, can we start to perform the task.
At the top, Corinthians have recovered their form to join a clear three-horse race with Fluminense and Cruzeiro. All three picked up wins this weekend. Then, from Botafogo in 4th, down to Palmeiras in 10th, come those chasing the final Libertadores spot. Just five points separate those seven sides. At the bottom, Grêmio Prudente have long looked doomed, but above them there are seven other sides (up to Flamengo in 13th) trying to avoid the three further relegation positions. The only two sides who occupy the 'nothing much to play for' group - Vasco da Gama and Ceará - will likely be more than satisfied with their safety.
Gameweek 34 Round-up
The round started in rip-roaring fashion on Saturday night, with 14 goals in three games. Grêmio continued to stake their claim to the final Libertadores spot, cruising to a 5-1 over Ceará. Douglas celebrated his recent seleção call-up with an impressive midfield display; setting up two goals and scoring one of his own. His early cross was converted by André Lima, before his smart cut-back was guided home beautifully by Jonas. Fábio Rochemback struck next with a low free-kick, before Douglas got his goal; his deep free-kick fortuitously drifted into the top corner of Michel Alves' net. The rout was completed when André Lima grabbed his second; flicking home after a glorious run from Jonas. Magno Alves smashed home a late consolation for the Fortaleza side.
In the town of Sete Lagoas, Atlético Mineiro coach Dorival Júnior came face-to-face with former club Santos. Predictably enough, it was Neymar (whose conduct was the major contributor to Dorival's dismissal) who opened the scoring; the youngster's opportunistic strike snuck in at Renan Ribeiro's near post. The Galo reacted in some style, however; Diego Tardelli's subtle header brought them level, before Obina pounced on a fumble from Santos goalkeeper Rafael make it 2-1. With time running out, though, Santos would rescue a point; some defensive confusion allowed (yep, you guessed it) Neymar to turn home his second. The result leaves Atlético perilously close to the drop zone.
At the Serra Dourada, Internacional produced a fine second half recovery to earn a point against Atlético Goianiense. The Dragão went ahead in the 11th minute; some over-elaborate play from Inter 'keeper Pato Abbondanzieri allowed Juninho to poke home from close range. Elias doubled Atlético's advantage from the spot following an inexplicable decision by referee Sandro Meira Ricci. A powerful Leandro Damião header got Inter back into contention, before the Colorado were awarded a dubious penalty of their own. Youngster Giuliano made no mistake, sending Márcio the wrong way and earning a point for his side.
Sunday's early kick-offs saw Cruzeiro and Corinthians pile the pressure on Fluminense, who played later in the evening. Cruzeiro were not at their best against Vitória, but bagged three priceless points when defender Jonas turned Thiago Ribeiro's searching cross into his own net. Corinthians visited the Morumbi, home of bitter rivals São Paulo, knowing that a win would send them top. The Timão, boosted by the return of Dentinho (who replaced the much-maligned Iarley up front alongside Ronaldo), came flying out of the blocks; Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, and Bruno César all tested Rogério Ceni early on. As so often, though, it was Elias who stamped his mark on the game for Corinthians. The midfielder ran onto Jucilei's measured pass, and fired high into Rogério's net. São Paulo improved in the second period, but couldn't find a way past Júlio César in the visitors' goal. The Tricolor were then caught cold in 85th minute; Alessandro's cross somehow reached Dentinho, who tapped home to seal the victory for Corinthians.
Fluminense were down to third place, then, when they met Vasco at 7.30pm local time. If the Tricolor had any pre-match nerves, they were instantly settled; Tartá tapped home in the 3rd minute after Washington's effort was spilled by Fernando Prass. It was an emotional moment for the 21 year-old, who has only recently returned to the first team fold. With Washington continuing his dry patch up front, Flu endured some worrying moments, but held on until the final whistle. The return of attackers Emerson and Fred cannot come quickly enough on this evidence. Fellow Rio side Botafogo, meanwhile, saw their meagre title hopes evapourate in Florianópolis; O Glorioso could only manage a lacklustre goalless draw with Avaí.
Atlético Paranaense and Palmeiras both did their Libertadores hopes a world of good, scraping 1-0 victories over Flamengo and Guarani respectively. SKP favourite Paulo Baier grabbed the winner for Atlético with an emphatic penalty, and Leandro Amaro's header was enough for Palmeiras. At the Prudentão, Grêmio Prudente dealt a colossal blow to Goiás' survival hopes with a 4-1 win. Rafael 'He-Man' Moura put the Esmeraldino ahead with a towering header, but it was all Prudente from there on in. João Vitor crashed home a sumptuous first-time effort, before Willian José nodded in a second. Wesley then tapped in his tenth of the campaign, and the oddly-monickered Rhayner rounded off the scoring with a nice individual goal.
Results; Atlético-MG 2-2 Santos, Grêmio 5-1 Ceará, Atlético-GO 2-2 Internacional, São Paulo 0-2 Corinthians, Grêmio Prudente 4-1 Goiás, Vitória 0-1 Cruzeiro, Avaí 0-0 Botafogo, Palmeiras 1-0 Guarani, Flamengo 0-1 Atlético-PR, Fluminense 1-0 Vasco.
(Photo credits; (1) Gil Leonardi, (2) Ari Ferreira, (3) Ricardo Ramos.)