It's a testament to the unpredictability of Brazilian football that, just a couple of months into the season, two of the sides widely tipped for success this year - Fluminense and Santos - find themselves in turmoil. The latter, who still have no permanent coach in the wake of Adílson Batista's dismissal, are teetering on the brink of elimination from the Copa Libertadores after defeat against Colo Colo. The return of Paulo Henrique Ganso from injury does offer some solace, but the Peixe face an uphill battle to progress past the first stage of the continent's biggest competition. Things, though, could be worse, as the reigning Brazilian champions found out on Sunday...
Flamengo 0-0 Fluminense
As parting shots go, this one was up there with the best. "There were even," claimed Muricy Ramalho, finishing off his rant at former employers Fluminense, "rats in the changing rooms." Thus ended a turbulent few days at Laranjeiras; a healthy dose of humiliation was mixed into an already-potent cocktail of confusion, disappointment, and despair. Sunday's game against Flamengo, normally one of the highlights of the Campeonato Carioca, turned out to be neither interesting nor particularly relevant to the major developments of the week.
Alarm bells were firstly raised on Saturday, when Flu's vice president Alcides Antunes was sacked. Antunes, for whom, despite rumours of a recent rift, Ramalho held a long-standing admiration, found out about his dismissal on the radio. One day later, after one of the dullest clássicos in recent memory, Muricy announced that he too would be leaving the club that he guided to the Brasileirão title just three months ago.
The decision to leave, claimed Ramalho, had actually been made before the weekend's events. The 55-year-old declared that he felt let-down by the Tricolor hierarchy, who reneged on promises to improve facilities at the club. Of particular concern was the club's training centre, which - rodents aside - is apparently vastly inferior to those of similarly prestigious clubs in the country. The abject state of the turf on the practice pitch, for example, is thought to have contributed to Fluminense's frequently lengthy injury list in recent months.
The situation at Laranjeiras, of course, must be unfavourably compared to that at São Paulo, a club that reaped the benefits of the widespread structural change instigated by Muricy during his time at the Morumbi. It seems likely that Ramalho's decision was one motivated by frustration at the intransigence of the Fluminense directors, who, despite the club's obvious improvement on the pitch, remained reluctant to surrender power to the coach. Only hindsight will reveal whether their strategy was a wise one.
Campeonato Carioca Round-up
With Flamengo and Fluminense mustering precious little excitement, it was left to Vasco and Botafogo to provide some attacking intrigue this week. Thankfully, both stepped up to the plate, netting four goals apiece. Argentine striker Herrera has rediscovered his form of late, and netted a brace in Botafogo's victory over Americano. Emblematic forward Loco Abreu and defender João Felipe were also on target for O Glorioso.
Madureira certainly put up a fight against Vasco, twice equalising in the second period, but finally succumbed to two late strikes; Bernardo rounded off his hattrick with a brave header, before Felipe Bastos drilled home to secure the points. Significant for Vasco was the performance of veteran playmaker Felipe (not-Bastos), who set up the first two goals, and impressed with his passing. The Gigante da Colina arguably enjoyed an even better week off the pitch; wrapping up the signing of Internacional striker Alecsandro, and receiving the news that Juninho Pernambucano is keen on a return to the São Januário.
Campeonato Paulista Round-up
All of the big guns in the São Paulo state championship recorded victories at the weekend, leaving them all tied on 28 points. São Paulo (FC) remain top thanks to a convincing 3-0 win over Santo André. Dagoberto nodded home the opener after some delightful wing play from Juan, before youngsters Lucas (with a stunning Paul Scholes-style volley) and Casemiro put the game to bed. With Luís Fabiano returning to the Morumbi, São Paulo look a good bet to challenge for honours this year.
Corinthians were without Liédson for their match against Mirassol, and needed a late Bruno César goal to ensure maximum points. Liédson's replacement, the young striker Willian, gave a good account of himself, finding the net with two predatory efforts. The Timão also had an administrative reshuffle this week, with former Arsenal midfielder Edu being appointed as the club's new director of football.
Paulo Henrique Ganso, making his first appearance since August, came off the bench to inspire Santos to a 2-1 win over Botafogo-SP. A visionary pass from youngster allowed Zé Éduardo to set up Elano for the opener, before Ganso himself got on the scoresheet with a tap-in. Palmeiras, meanwhile, kept up their challenge with a win over São Bernardo; Danilo and Patrik bagged the goals.
Copa Libertadores Round-up
Santos, despite the excitement generated by Ganso's return earlier in the week, fell to a 3-2 loss against Colo Colo; a result which leaves them with just two points at the halfway point of the group stage. Elano's long range free-kick and a glorious Neymar finish gave the seasiders hope in Chile, but goals from Paredes, Miralles, and Scotti ensured that the hosts emerged victorious. Santos, who are apparently keen on appointing the aforementioned Muricy Ramalho as permanent coach, have plenty of work to do to progress.
Grêmio picked up a useful draw away to Léon de Huánuco, thanks to a strike from Carlos Alberto. The former Porto man proceeded to celebrate in amusing style; imitating the "bum-bouncing" of TP Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba, who in December helped the African club defeat Grêmio's local rivals Internacional at the Club World Cup. I take my hat off to such ludicrously convoluted baiting.
Internacional and Cruzeiro, the two Brazilian clubs who have really impressed in the competition so far, maintained their fabulous records. The former beat Jorge Wilstermann 4-1, with young forward Leandro Damião impressive yet again. Cruzeiro, meanwhile, racked up no fewer than six goals against Tolima, taking their tournament total to 15 in just four matches. Mano Menezes was in attendance at the Arena do Jacaré, and will have been impressed with a number of players, including Wallyson, Roger, and recent seleção call-up Henrique.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
Four teams secured their place in the last sixteen of the Brazilian cup thanks to comfortable away wins. Flamengo, who remain unbeaten in 2011, brushed Fortaleza aside, while a Kléber-inspired Palmeiras routed minnows Uberaba 4-0. Náutico and Atlético Paranaense also advanced, beating Bangu and Paulista respectively.
Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 0-0 Fluminense, Botafogo 4-0 Americano, Madureira 2-4 Vasco. Paulista; Santos 2-1 Botafogo-SP, São Paulo 3-0 Santo André, Mirassol 2-3 Corinthians, Palmeiras 2-0 São Bernardo. Libertadores; Léon de Huánuco 1-1 Grêmio, Colo Colo 3-2 Santos, Cruzeiro 6-1 Tolima, Jorge Wilstermann 1-4 Internacional. Copa do Brasil; Fortaleza 0-3 Flamengo, Uberaba 0-4 Palmeiras.
(Photo credits; (1) Ivo Gonzalez, (2) Gilvan de Souza, (3) Miguel Schincariol.)