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Friday, 25 March 2011

Papai Joel Leaves Botafogo; Deco Hands Fluminense Libertadores Lifeline

There was yet more managerial turmoil in Brazil this week, with the lovable Joel Santana parting company with Botafogo after thirteen months at the helm. Fluminense and Santos, meanwhile, both of whom are themselves without full-time coaches, spent the week chasing replacements. On the pitch, Corinthians moved to the top of the Paulistão, whilst Fluminense boosted their hopes of qualifying for the the knockout stages of the Libertadores with a win over Mexican side América.

Vasco da Gama 2-0 Botafogo
Fans of Botafogo should be careful what they wish for. The torrent of abuse aimed at coach Joel Santana (which reached its apex with a mass chorus of "Joel out!") during and after Sunday's clássico loss to Vasco prompted the 62-year-old to tender his resignation on Tuesday. When the blood of those Botafoguenses drops below boiling point, however, they will surely come to regret their conduct.

An emotional Joel Santana speaks to the press on Tuesday.

Santana, nicknamed Papai Joel in reference both to the Portuguese for Santa Claus and to his paternal management style, had, given the meagre resources at his disposal, done an admirable job at the Engenhão; victory in last year's Rio state championship was followed by a strong Série A campaign which very nearly culminated in Libertadores qualification. Although only managing to reach the semi-finals of the Taça Guanabara, Santana's side had started the segundo turno of the Carioca well, and top Group B despite the derby defeat. The grief-stricken tone of Joel's midweek press conference suggested that he had himself been shocked to witness the club's supporters turn on him.

The man charged with replacing Santana is Caio Júnior, who had been coaching Qatari club Al-Gharafa. Despite a previous spell as manager of Flamengo, Júnior is hardly a household name in Brazil, and will have his work cut out to fill the shoes vacated by Joel. Sunday's loss suggested that defensive stability should be his priority; Botafogo's backline was perforated too easily in the run-up to Diego Souza's opener, and lapsed again to allow Éder Luís to wrap up the points. Such frailties, though, exist largely in spite of Santana's stewardship, rather than because of it. It remains to be seen how Botafogo will fare in the coming months, but one thing seems clear; fans will regret the day they stopped believing in Papai Joel.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Fluminense began the week in terrible fashion, both in footballing and administrative terms. A 2-0 loss to Boavista on Saturday (a match which was graced by a stunning long-range free-kick from centreback Gustavo) preceded an undignified scramble for a permanent coach. The Tricolor initially annouced the appointment of Gilson Kleina, only for the 42-year-old to state intention to stay at Ponte Preta. Kleina was, embarrassingly, the fourth coach to turn down the job since Muricy Ramalho's exit; Cuca, Levir Culpi, and Adílson Batista had also received approaches from the Laranjeiras club. Finally, later in the week, a solution was reached; the experienced Abel Braga will assume command when his contract with Al-Jazira (the club, not the phonetically-similar news channel) expires later in the year. Enderson Moreira will be the caretaker manager until then.

Rocket man; Boavista defender Gustavo (right) celebrates his wondergoal.

One almost expected Flamengo to conjure up some drama of their own to stay in the spotlight, but the week was a quiet one at Gávea. A side shorn of the suspended Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves could only manage a goalless draw with Cabofriense, and the club passed up the opportunity to sign a controversial former star...

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
That's where Corinthians come in. The Timão sealed the signing of Adriano on an 18-month contract, and are expected to unveil the striker officially next Tuesday; at the very sime time that São Paulo had scheduled the presentation of Luís Fabiano. This attempt at one-upmanship, though, seems misplaced; a case of "anything you can do, we can do worse," given the relative qualities (both psychological and physical) of the two players at this moment in time.

Corinthians did, however, manage to get one over on their neighbours this week, moving to the head of the Campeonato Paulista. Tite's side followed up a 1-0 victory over Americana with a more comfortable win over Oeste, a game in which Liédson scored his tenth goal in just nine appearances. Just how Levezinho will combine with the decidedly un-leve Adriano will be a crucial question for the Corinthians management to address. After gaining three points against Grêmio Prudente at the weekend, São Paulo lost ground on Wednesday night; the Tricolor fell to defeat against Paulista, despite Rogério Ceni's 99th career goal. The veteran goalkeeper will be hoping to seal his century in Sunday's derby against- yep, you guessed it - Corinthians.

Corinthians striker Dentinho celebrates his goal against Oeste.

Palmeiras moved up to second in midweek, thrashing Linense at the Arena Barueri. Patrik continued his impressive recent form, bagging two goals in that game. The Verdão remain two points adrift of Corinthians however, due to having dropped points against São Caetano at the weekend. Santos recovered from a loss to Bragantino with a Paulo Henrique Ganso-inspired win over Mogi Mirim, but were dealt a severe blow by that very player; Ganso looks destined to leave in the near future after stating his desire to play in Europe. Milan and Internazionale are believed to be the favourites for his signature.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
Fluminense, who have struggled in the Libertadores this term, were handed a lifeline on Wednesday; a late Deco goal gave them a scarcely-deserved victory over América at the Engenhão. Gum's header cancelled out Vicente Sánchez's opener in a tense first half, but an own-goal from Digão gave the Tricolor a mountain to climb. Araújo brough Flu level, however, before Deco sent fans into raptures. It was a rare goal from the former Portuguese international, who later admitted to having considered hanging up his boots last season.

Best of the Rest
Grêmio enjoyed a fine week in the Campeonato Gaúcho, racking up nine unanswered goals in games against Porto Alegre and Internacional-SM. Internacional could only draw with Novo Hamburgo on Saturday, but bounced back with victory over São José-RS. In Minas Gerais, Cruzeiro continued to impress with a 3-0 win over Funorte, whilst Atlético Mineiro picked up a win over Vila Nova. The latter also annouced the signing of striker Guilherme, a former Raposa favourite whose career in Europe failed to take off as many expected.

Selected results. Carioca; Vasco 2-0 Botafogo, Fluminense 0-2 Boavista, Cabofriense 0-0 Flamengo. Paulista; Bragantino 2-1 Santos, Corinthians 1-0 Americana, São Caetano 1-1 Palmeiras, Grêmio Prudente 0-1 São Paulo, Santos 3-1 Mogi Morim, Corinthians 3-0 Oeste, Palmeiras 3-0 Linense, Paulista 3-2 São Paulo. Libertadores; Fluminense 3-2 América.

(Photo credits; (1) Wagner Meier, (2) Cleber Mendes, (3) Tom Dib.)

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