Monday, 29 November 2010

Title Race Goes Down to Wire as Top Three All Win; Guarani Relegated

The penultimate round of the 2010 Brasileirão saw all twenty clubs play simultaneously on Sunday evening. Leaders Fluminense and third placed Cruzeiro both came from behind to record wins, meaning that the title will be decided in the final rodada. Corinthians (who also picked up a victory) sit just one point behind Flu, with Cruzeiro a further point back. The battle for the final Libertadores spot (which will only be in play if Goiás fail to win the Copa Sul-americana final...I hope you're paying attention at the back) will also be resolved next week, as both Grêmio and Botafogo claimed maximum points. Things are a bit clearer at the bottom, where Guarani have now joined Grêmio Prudente and Goiás in being relegated to Série B. Atlético Mineiro are now safe, as are Flamengo and Avaí barring some cricket scores next week. That leaves only Vitória and Atlético-GO fighting it out for the sanctuary of 16th place; conveniently, those two will play each other next Sunday.

Palmeiras 1-2 Fluminense
Just like last week, Fluminense travelled to São Paulo to face a bitter rival of title challengers Corinthians. Just like last week, the fans of that team had spent most of the build-up to the game pleading their side to roll over and gift Flu the points. Just like last week, the home side's goal was greeted with a communal "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" rather than genuine celebration. And just like last week, Fluminense eventually ran out comfortable winners, one step closer to a historic title.

If anything, the sense of inevitability surrounding this match was even more palpable than that which preceded the São Paulo game. Palmeiras players and staff were bitterly disappointed to lose their Copa Sul-americana semi-final with Goiás, and spent most of the week moaning about how demotivated they were for this clash. Luiz Felipe Scolari, though, contrary to expectations, fielded a strong side, including key players Kléber and Marcos Assunção. Fluminense, for the first time in months, boasted a full-strength attack; the quartet of Fred, Emerson, Deco, and Conca were able to start a match together for the first time.

Carlinhos (right) salutes the crowd after his equaliser.

Within minutes of kick-off, Palmeiras (decked out in a kit that made them look like the Ireland rugby team) went ahead. Some careless Tricolor defending allowed Dinei to steal the ball, before unleashing an impeccable half-volley into the top corner of Ricardo Berna's goal from 30 yards. A true golaço, and one which briefly suggested that this could be a closely-fought battle. What followed however, was total dominance by Fluminense. The visitors spurned a flurry of chances over the following minutes; Emerson saw his header come back off the bar, and Deco and Fred both wasted presentable chances. An equaliser soon arrived, though, and it was Carlinhos who made the breakthrough. The left-back made space for himself on the edge of the box before curling the ball neatly into the far corner.

Muricy Ramalho's side continued to boss things until the half-time whistle, but, as so often recently, lacked the ruthlessness that would have seen them rack up a hatful of goals; chances came and went for Fred, Conca, Emerson and Gum. The start of the second half followed much the same pattern, and eventually Fluminense bagged their second. Tartá, on as a sub for the injured Deco, collected a rebound and coolly beat Deola in the Palmeiras goal. That was the end of the contest; players from both sides spent the remaining thirty minutes jogging round, occasionally trying half-hearted passes to their teammates. Palmeiras forward Kléber, for instance, usually such a hard-worker, could barely even be bothered to disguise his lack of interest. It was a disappointingly predictable end to the match, but Fluminense will have no complaints; they remain in the box seat ahead of their final game against Guarani.

Gameweek 37 Round-up
Corinthians kept the pressure on Fluminense with a routine 2-0 win over Vasco in front of a rapturous crowd at the Pacaembu. The Timão went ahead when Bruno César's speculative cannoned off Dedé and slid under the body of Fernando Prass. It was the midfielder's 14th goal of the campaign. The victory was sealed in the second period, when Roberto Carlos' tempting cross was converted by Danilo at the far post. Corinthians will travel to play Goiás next week, hoping their rivals slip up.

Vasco's Zé Roberto is watched by Dentinho and Roberto Carlos.

Despite going behind to Diego Maurício's early strike (a simple finish after a lovely Diogo pass), Cruzeiro proved too much for Flamengo, claiming a 2-1 victory. Roger's deflected free-kick brought the Raposa level, before Thiago Ribeiro nodded home Walter Montillo's inch-perfect cross. Cruzeiro's local rivals Atlético Mineiro finally secured their Série A survival with a 3-1 win over Goiás at the Arena do Jacaré. Diego Souza slotted the Galo into an early lead, before Éverton Santos flicked home a clever equaliser. Dorival Júnior's men were not to be denied however; Renan Oliveira and Diego Tardelli both added emphatic finishes to seal the win. Much credit must be given to Dorival for turning round the club's fortunes since his arrival in September.

Botafogo earnt their first win in five games, overcoming Grêmio Prudente at the Engenhão. Prolific centre-back Antônio Carlos headed home his seventh of the season from a Lúcio Flávio corner to give O Glorioso the lead, before Edno rifled home a spectacular second. Willian José reduced the arrears with a fine lone-range strike, but Marcelo Cordeiro's spot kick put the game to bed. Joel Santana's men, though, must beat Grêmio in their final match in order to claim the final Libertadores spot, after the Porto Alegre side brushed aside Guarani. André Lima's simple header put the Tricolor ahead, before Jonas converted a penalty and young striker Diego added a breakaway third in the final minutes.

A hattrick from diminutive midfielder Caio inspired Florianópolis side Avaí to a stunning comeback victory over Santos. Some magical skill from Neymar allowed Keirrison to bundle home the opener, and Neymar himself put the Peixe two goals to the good with a typically cool finish. From there on in, however, Santos were forced to take a front row seat for the Caio show. The 30-year-old skipped past five challenges to knock home a glorious first, before smashing home two unstoppable drives from the edge of the area, one with either foot. It was a lovely way to ensure the club's continued Série A status.

Elias (left) celebrates his vital goal for Atlético-GO.

The remaining three games all finished as 1-1 draws. Rafael Santos gave Atlético Paranaense the lead over Ceará, but the Fortaleza club equalised thanks to Magno Alves' heavily deflected effort. At the Beira-Rio, it was Adaílton who smashed Vitória into the lead against Inter, only for Rafael Sobis to spare the Colorado's blushes with a well-taken solo goal. São Paulo took the lead in their clash with Atlético Goianiense when Rogério tucked home a penalty, but were pegged back by Elias' scuffed finish. Those results mean that Vitória's game against Atlético-GO is a straight shootout for survival. Vitória need to win that match; a draw would see Atlético survive due to having scored more goals, even though the teams have the same goal difference.

Results; Atlético-GO 1-1 São Paulo, Corinthians 2-0 Vasco, Internacional 1-1 Vitória, Flamengo 1-2 Cruzeiro, Atlético-MG 3-1 Goiás, Avaí 3-2 Santos, Palmeiras 1-2 Fluminense, Guarani 0-3 Grêmio, Ceará 1-1 Atlético-PR, Botafogo 3-1 Grêmio Prudente.

(Photo credits; (1) Ivan Storti, (2) Eduardo Viana, (3) Carlos Costa.)

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