Welcome, reader to the first of my weekly round-ups in 2011. It's been, for the most start, a fairly subdued start to the state championships, with many of the star attractions (such as Ronaldinho and Neymar) not in action. In the Paulistão, Santos' brilliant start suggests that they will again be the team to beat, whilst São Paulo have also claimed maximum points from the two rounds this week. In Rio, there were victories for three of the big guns, but Vasco already appear on the brink of meltdown after a home loss to Resende.
Flamengo 2-0 Volta Redonda
The signings of Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves, and the attendant media whirlwind, have hiked up the (never insignificant) sense of expectation at Flamengo in recent weeks. With the crushing disappointment of their 2010 campaign seemingly wiped from memory, many expect Fla to be the team to beat in the Rio state championship. Despite the absence of the aforementioned pair, the Rubro-Negro got their campaign got their campaign off to a good start on Wednesday, overcoming Volta Redonda 2-0 at the Engenhão.
The early stages of the state championships, it must be noted, tend to favour the smaller teams, whose schedules allow them more time to prepare. Voltaço, for instance, who didn't compete in a national tournament in the second half of 2010, had been preparing for the Carioca for over a month, whereas Flamengo had undergone barely two weeks of pre-season training before this clash. The superior fitness level of the Volta players was visible in the early stages, and Fla 'keeper Felipe had to produce a fine save to prevent Lopes opening the scoring.
It was against the run of play, then, that Flamengo took the lead just before the break; Vander burst into the box, dribbled past his marker, and saw his cross canon in via the legs of Volta defender Padovani. The goal capped a fine evening for the 20-year-old, who has looked sharp since joining on loan from Bahia. The hosts' lead was doubled after the interval, when Léo Moura's delightful cross was headed home by another recent acquisition, Wanderley. His phonetic namesake, Fla coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, looked on contentedly for the remainder of the tie, as Fla secured maximum points.
Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Reigning Brasileirão champions Fluminense were without Darío Conca and Emerson for their opening fixture, and were frustrated for long periods by minnows Bangu. Souza, making his first competitive start for Flu since joining from Grêmio, had a bad day; getting himself sent off for two yellow card offences in quick succession. With five minutes remaining, former Lyon striker Fred settled the match, powering home a glorious header from Tartá's perfect cross. Botafogo, meanwhile, came from behind to record a 2-1 win over Duque de Caxias, with 'Loco' Abreu and Caio on the scoresheet.
At the São Januário, Vasco were booed off by their own fans following a humbling loss to Resende. The visitors were on top throughout, and it took a fine performance from Vasco stopper Fernando Prass to keep them out until the 85th minute. Even Prass, however, was helpless to stop Resende's winning goal; some lax marking allowed Alexandro the space to slam a header into the far corner of the net. Vasco boss PC Gusmão has plenty of work to do on this evidence, and his task was further complicated on Thursday with the confirmation that Zé Roberto is joining Internacional. It could be a long season for the Gigante da Colina.
Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Ever keen to get one over on those lazy buggers in Rio, São Paulo crammed two rounds of state championship action into the opening week of the season. The early leaders are Santos, who enjoyed comfortable wins over Linense (4-1) and Mirassol (3-0). With Paulo Henrique Ganso still recovering from a knee injury, and Neymar at the South American Youth Championship (of which more later), the spotlight has fallen on electric attacking pair Zé Éduardo and Maikon Leite, who have bagged three goals apiece. The latter had agreed to join Palmeiras in June, but his exploits this week seem to have encouraged Santos to enter a legal battle for his services. Zé Éduardo, on the other hand, looks to be off to Italy in the near future, with Genoa believed to have had a bid accepted today. Meanwhile, in what nobody is calling "Big Name Player Back in Brazil Watch," Elano made his return to action, picking up an assist and generally impressing against Mirassol.
Palmeiras and Corinthians, those most bitter of rivals, both managed four points from a possible six this week. The Verdão, whose performance in the 0-0 draw with Botafogo-SP was tepid (to put it politely), recovered some pride with the 4-1 routing of Ituano. Kléber, the budget Brazilian Carlos Tévez, was on target twice for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side. Corinthians ran out comfortable winners over Portuguesa on Sunday, but were held by a determined Bragantino side in midweek. The first game was lit up by a fantastic gol olímpico from Roberto Carlos, who continues to delight well into the twilight of his career.
Speaking of veterans, one of this week's most intriguing stories involves former Barcelona and seleção icon Rivaldo, he of the chiselled jawline and propensity for theatricality. The 38-year-old is currently president of Mogi Morim, and would have played against São Paulo on Sunday if not for the fact that his registration hadn't been cleared on time. Mogi suffered a 2-0 defeat in that game, and if rumours are to be believed, stand to lose plenty more besides. São Paulo, not content with taking three points from their opponents, are reported to be weighing up a transfer bid for Rivaldo himself. The player enjoyed a long reunion with former Brazil teammate (and São Paulo captain) Rogério Ceni after the game, and apparently impressed Tricolor officials with his physical condition (honestly, I'm not making this up). I await further news with bated breath. On the pitch, meanwhile, São Paulo notched up another win on Wednesday, beating São Bernardo thanks to goals from Dagoberto, Marlos, and Fernandinho.
South American Youth Championship
The Brazil U20 side got off to a flyer in Peru, overcoming Paraguay in a pulsating opening tie. The star of the show, predictably enough, was Neymar, who resembled a man among boys, and bagged all four goals in the seleção's 4-2 victory. The fourth goal was the pick of the bunch; a deft left-footed chip over the advancing Paraguay goalkeeper. It wasn't all plain sailing for Brazil; Zé Éduardo (the Parma player, not his Santos namesake) and Henrique were sent off, and coach Ney Franco was sent to the stands for moaning about a refereeing decision.
The U20s then made it two wins in two on Thursday, with a 3-1 win over Colombia. Despite the final two-goal margin, the Colombians provided a far stiffer challenge for Franco's side, and went into the halftime break on level pegging. Brazil, though, took control in the second period, thanks largely to three São Paulo youngsters; midfielder Casemiro nodded home the opener, and Lucas brilliantly set up Willian José for the second. Cardona tucked away a penalty to give Colombia hope, but Neymar wrapped up the scoring in emphatic style; beating his man and slamming home a shot at the near post.
Best of the Rest
The start of the Campeonato Gaúcho has been particularly muted, with both Grêmio and Internacional fielded weakened sides in the first week. Inter lost 1-0 to Cruzeiro-RS at the weekend, but recovered with a narrow victory over Porto Alegre on Wednesday; Ricardo Goulart bagged the only goal of that game. Perhaps more significant news for the Colorado was the surprising sale of youngster Giuliano, who joined Ukrainian side Dnipro in a €10million deal. Giuliano was one of Inter's best players last term, and many believed that a move to one of Europe's top clubs was well within his grasp. Grêmio, meanwhile, could only manage two draws; 2-2 against Lajaedense (thanks to goals from Jonas and Rafael Marques), and 1-1 against Ypiranga.
Série B champions Coritiba have made a strong start in the Paraná, winning both of their opening games. In the Campeonato Baiano, both Vitória and Bahia suffered opening day defeats, whilst in the Santa Catarina tournament, top flight Avaí sit bottom following consecutive losses. The Campeonato Mineiro, meanwhile, starts this week.
Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 2-0 Volta Redonda, Vasco 0-1 Resende, Botafogo 2-1 Duque de Caxias, Bangu 0-1 Fluminense. Paulista; Linense 1-4 Santos, Mogi Morim 0-2 São Paulo, Palmeiras 0-0 Botafogo-SP, Corinthians 2-0 Portuguesa, Santos 3-0 Mirassol, São Paulo 3-0 São Bernardo, Bragantino 1-1 Corinthians, Ituano 1-4 Palmeiras. Other; Brazil U20 4-2 Paraguay U20, Brazil U20 3-1 Colombia U20.
(Photo credits; (1) Gilvan de Souza, (2) Cleber Mendes, (3) Ivan Storti, (4) Mowa Press.)