It was a marvellous week for Brazilian clubs in the Copa Libertadores; Internacional, Santos, and Fluminense all secured last 16 berths alongside Grêmio and Cruzeiro (who had both already qualified). The glorious outcome, however, tells only half of the story...
Argentinos Juniors 2-4 Fluminense
The odds were well and truly stacked against Fluminense this week. After a poor start to their Libertadores campaign (just one win in their opening five games), they needed an improbable combination of results to occur in order to progress from Group 3. Statistician Tristão Garcia, so often rolled out by the Brazilian media in such circumstances, gave the Tricolor a measly 8% chance of qualification. He might have even knocked a couple of points of that figure in the wake of the build-up to the match; striker Emerson was sent home from the travelling party after (allegedly... and amazingly) singing along to Bonde do Mengão sem Freio, a song which details the various merits of Flu's bitter rivals (and Emerson's former employers) Flamengo. If you insist on alienating yourself from your teammates, at least do it in style, right?!
Interim manager Enderson Moreira went with the (not so) classic big man/big man combination up front, with Rafael 'He-Man' Moura partnering Fred. Deco was absent once more, meaning that the creative responsibilities again fell on the modest shoulders of Darío Conca. It would be two less celebrated figures, however, who would combine for the opening goal; a delightful pass from Marquinho allowed leftback Júlio César to tuck home in the 18th minute. Early hope was quickly extinguished, however, when Argentinos were awarded a soft penalty; Gum was adjudged to have obstructed his man in the box, and Santiago Salcedo made no mistake from twelve yards.
The sides continued to trade blows; Fred put Flu back in the driving seat with a long range free-kick, before Gustavo Oberman's deflected effort again restored parity. With news filtering through that América were holding Nacional, the Tricolor appeared to be blowing their chances; only a two-goal victory would be sufficient to see them leapfrog the Uruguayan side. The reigning Brazilian champions seemed to be crashing out at the first hurdle of the Libertadores.
Fluminense, though, are made of sterner stuff. A determined second half display brought two further goals (a Rafael Moura tap-in and a penalty from Fred), and allowed the visitors to scrape through to the knockout stages on goals scored. This was a night on which Flu lived up to the tag Time de Guerreiros (Team of Warriors), a nickname bestowed upon the side following a series of hard-fought victories over the last few years (in their 2008 Libertadores campaign, their 2009 Copa Sudamericana run, and their battle against relegation that same year).
As the Argentinos players instigated an ugly brawl after the final whistle, the words of Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues (a lifelong Flu fan) seemed oddly prescient; "Nobody wins like we win. The victories of other teams are simple, almost boring. Ours are cardiopathic." Fluminense's Libertadores campaign, which seemed to have slipped slowly into darkness, has just been jolted back to life.
Copa Libertadores Round-up
Santos guaranteed their place in the knockout stages with a comfortable win over Deportivo Táchira at the Pacaembu. Early goals from Neymar and Jonathan put the Peixe in the driving seat, before Danilo's strike sealed the points. Internacional also picked up a routine victory, overcoming Emelec 2-0 at home. Rafael Sobis and Leandro Damião got the goals for Paulo Roberto Falcão's side.
Those results mean that Brazil has no fewer than five representatives in the last 16 of the competition. The ties involving these clubs are as follows; Once Caldas vs Cruzeiro, Santos vs América, Fluminense vs Libertad, Peñarol vs Internacional, Grêmio vs Universidad Cátolica.
Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Ponte Preta handed Palmeiras only their second defeat of the Paulistão on Sunday, coming away with a 2-1 victory. That result meant that a point against Oeste was enough for São Paulo to secure top spot in the first phase of the competition. Santos finished the group stage on a high, beating Paulista 3-0 thanks to goals from Keirrison, Alan Patrick, and Maikon Leite, while Corinthians secured three points against Santo André. The Timão, however, will be without new signing Adriano for the forseeable future; O Imperador tore his left achilles tendon in training this week.
Predictably, then, all four of the big guns made it through to the quarter finals of the competition. The fixtures are as follows; São Paulo vs Portuguesa, Santos vs Ponte Preta, Palmeiras vs Mirassol, Corinthians vs Oeste.
Off the pitch, a special mention goes to São Paulo president Juvenal Juvêncio, who accused centreback Alex Silva of inventing transfer interest from Sporting Lisbon. If Silva did make up the whole thing, he certainly went to a lot of effort; he (supposedly) travelled to Portugal in order to discuss the potential move last week. This, of course, isn't the first time a São Paulo player has been suspected of such skulduggery; iconic goalkeeper Rogério Ceni was once suspended by the club for allegedly conjuring up a contract offer from Arsenal.
Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Late strikes from Bernardo and Rômulo rescued Vasco da Gama from unexpected defeat against Olaria at the Estádio Cláudio Moacyr. That match was little more than a dress rehearsal for this weekend's clash; the two meet again in the semi-finals of the Taça Rio. The other tie will see Flamengo play perennial rivals Fluminense; the latter beat Nova Iguaçu 1-0 on Sunday, but Ronaldinho's late penalty meant that Fla squandered the opportunity to pick up three points. Botafogo miss out on the knockout stage, despite a 3-1 win over América; rightback Lucas scored two fine goals for the Alvinegro in that one.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
Palmeiras and Atlético-PR are both through to the quarter finals of the cup after midweek wins; Palmeiras overcame Santo André despite Kléber's (third successive) penalty miss, whilst the Furacão dispatched Bahia with some ease. Also in the last eight are Avaí, who snuck past Botafogo on away goals in a match marred by a bout of fisticuffs. A bad week for Botafogo was completed when they were greeted by a group of disgruntled fans upon their arrival back in Rio.
Best of the Rest
Both Internacional and Grêmio progressed to the semi-finals of the Taça Farroupilha (the second stage of the Campeonato Gaúcho... yes, it is that complicated); the former beat Santa Cruz-RS 1-0, whilst the latter needed penalties to overcome Ypiranga-RS. Cruzeiro finished top of the Campeonato Mineiro group stage, despite Atlético Mineiro's enormous 7-1 win over América-TO.
Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 1-1 Macaé, América 1-3 Botafogo, Fluminense 1-0 Nova Iguaçu, Olaria 2-2 Vasco. Paulista; Santos 3-0 Paulista, São Paulo 1-1 Oeste, Santo André 0-2 Corinthians, Ponte Preta 2-1 Palmeiras. Libertadores; Santos 3-1 Deportivo Táchira, Argentinos Juniors 2-4 Fluminense, Internacional 2-0 Emelec.
(Photo credits; (1) Rafael Moraes, (2) Ivan Storti.)