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Monday, 23 May 2011

Ronaldinho Inspires Fla to Opening Day Win; São Paulo Overcome Reigning Champions Fluminense

The 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro got underway at the weekend, just over five months since the conclusion of the previous edition. With many of the supposed favourites for the title fluffing their opening lines, it was Flamengo who made the biggest splash; the Rubro-Negro thrashed Avaí in this week's featured game.

Flamengo 4-0 Avaí
Patience, they say, is a virtue. Not that Flamengo would know; the power-brokers at the Rio club have become infamous in recent times for their rash decisions and short-term thinking. (The sacking of Andrade just weeks after he guided them to the 2009 Série A title provides a telling case in point.) There are signs, however, that the Rubro-Negro may finally be learning the value of playing the long game.

Despite the marquee signing of Ronaldinho, Flamengo's Campeonato Carioca victory was achieved largely thanks to the pragmatism of coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo; the former Real Madrid man formed a robust unit which ground down opponents, rather than blowing them away. Previously, such (occasionally insipid) displays may have drawn the ire of Fla's hierarchy and fans, desperate for a stylish, all-conquering team. Any talk of a "bedding-in" period would have been given short shrift at Gávea; this is usually a club that wants it all, and wanted it yesterday.

Ronaldinho celebrates his goal with Egídio.

Thankfully, Luxa has been granted more time than some of his predecessors; a strategy that started to pay off on Saturday. Hosting Avaí in Macaé (a seaside town located nearly 200km from Rio itself), Flamengo turned in an attacking display full of movement, skill, and nuance, one which proved more than sufficient to see off the Leão da Ilha. Particularly impressive was Ronaldinho, who looked twice the player that had slumbered through the state championships. The buck-toothed forward played an instrumental role, scoring Fla's second with a curling effort, and setting up Diego Maurício for the fourth.

Also effective were Darío Bottinelli and Thiago Neves, both of whom also got their names on the scoresheet; the former finished with ease from close range, and the latter rounded off a fine break involving young striker Wanderley. The scoreline may have flattered Fla slightly - Avaí certainly provided a threat in the first half, and were unlucky not to score through Rafael Coelho - but the home fans will be buoyant; it appears that the wait for their side to produce exciting attacking football may be over.

Brasileirão Gameweek 1 Round-up
Saturday evening also saw good wins of Atlético Mineiro and Vasco da Gama, who overcame Atlético-PR and Ceará respectively. Those games were graced by braces from players at either end of the age spectrum; veteran Magno Alves struck twice for the Galo, and 21-year-old Bernardo matched that feat for Vasco. In Saturday's late kick-off, a Santos side shorn of its star players battled to a 1-1 draw with Internacional.

Palmeiras got their season off to a good start with victory over Botafogo; a lone Kléber strike proved sufficient at the Benedito Teixeira. Two of the country's form teams, meanwhile, both slipped to surprising defeats; Coritiba were beaten by Atlético Goianiense and Cruzeiro went home empty-handed from their trip to play newly-promoted Figueirense. América Mineiro also picked up a win on their return to the division; a late Alessandro goal gave them a win over Bahia. In Porto Alegre, Liédson's acrobatic finish handed Corinthians maximum points from their game with Grêmio.

Levitate me; Liédson volleys home for Corinthians.

Reigning champions Fluminense hosted São Paulo at the São Januário, hoping to start the campaign on the front foot. The visitors had other ideas, however, and took the lead through Dagoberto; the diminutive striker blasted a shot into the roof of the net following Casemiro's excellent pass. Short on inspiration, Flu conceded another just after the interval; Lucas skipped free on the left, before cutting inside and firing past Ricardo Berna. The result will provoke some concern at Laranjeiras, but will serve as a huge boost for São Paulo boss Paulo César Carpegiani; he was sacked last week, but reinstated when club directors realised that they couldn't identify a viable alternative. It seems odd to say this, given the long-standing reputations of the two clubs, but maybe São Paulo should take a leaf out of Flamengo's book.

Série A Results; Flamengo 4-0 Avaí, Ceará 1-3 Vasco, Atlético-MG 3-0 Atlético-PR, Santos 1-1 Internacional, Palmeiras 1-0 Botafogo, Grêmio 1-2 Corinthians, Coritiba 0-1 Atlético-GO, Figueirense 1-0 Cruzeiro, Fluminense 0-2 São Paulo, América-MG 2-1 Bahia.

(Photo credits; (1) Alexandre Vidal, (2) Ricardo Rimoli.)

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