The state championships, after four months of mild predictability, are over. Local rivalries have been settled (or stoked), big clubs have asserted their dominance, and titles have been added to the tally charts of regional achievement. In the São Paulo championship, Santos sealed their second consecutive title, overcoming Corinthians. Elsewhere, Internacional, Cruzeiro, Santa Cruz, Atlético Goianiense, and Ceará all won their local competitions. In the Libertadores, Santos progressed to the final four thanks to a draw with Once Caldas, whilst the Copa do Brasil semi-finals got underway. Without further ado, then...
Santos 2-1 Corinthians
After last week's tense first leg, Santos and Corinthians reconvened at the former's Vila Belmiro stadium in order to decide the winner of the 2011 Campeonato Paulista. Santos, chasing their second state title in as many years, had been marginally the better side at the Pacaembu, and were confident of victory despite the absences of Paulo Henrique Ganso (injured) and Danilo (suspended). Corinthians manager Tite, who has struggled to coax much attacking flair from his side lately, kept faith with Dentinho up front, despite fans' clamour for the inclusion of Willian.
To the delight of the home fans, it was Santos who got off to the better start; Léo blasted just over the crossbar in the opening minutes, before Zé Eduardo had a goal chalked off for offside. The Peixe's dominance, however, would not go unrewarded. Some smart build-up from Léo and Zé Eduardo allowed midfield dynamo Arouca (who is reportedly attracting interest from a number of Italian clubs) to pounce from close range in the sixteenth minute. The Santos No.5 came close to doubling his haul later in the half, but saw his volley clatter back off the post.
Tite altered his side at half time, withdrawing the woeful Dentinho. The striker was reported to be in tears on the bench; with a bid from Shakhtar Donetsk on the table, this was probably his last game for Corinthians. Willian, his replacement, almost made an immediate impact, testing Rafael with a powerful effort. Santos, though, continued to threaten, and extended their lead through Neymar. The youngster created some space for himself on the left, before poking an effort towards the far corner. Timão 'keeper Júlio César looked to have it covered, but inexplicably allowed the ball to dribble through his hands.
Corinthians rallied late on with a goal from Morais, but couldn't find an equaliser. As the final whistle blew, the Vila erupted into vivid celebration. Neymar, the side's main protagonist this term, was held aloft by fans, before club captain Edu Dracena lifted the trophy. This year's Paulistão victory may not have been quite as exhilarating as their last, but most santistas won't care one bit; the Peixe have cemented their status as the dominant force in the São Paulo state. Parabéns Santos; bicampeão paulista!
Copa Libertadores Round-up
The good news didn't stop there for Santos; they progressed to the semi-finals of the Libertadores with a 1-1 draw against Once Caldas on Wednesday night. Starting the game with a narrow advantage from the away leg, the Peixe quickly took command of the tie; Neymar broke the deadlock with an impeccable strike from range. The Colombian side fought back, however, and grabbed a crucial away goal through Rentería.
Santos had various opportunities to kill off the tie, but were afflicted by unusual profligacy. Neymar was the most guilty party, seeing his penalty saved after being tripped in the Once Caldas area. The home fans may have expected a nervy finish, but the seasiders held on with some comfort in the second half. Coach Muricy Ramalho, although occasionally maligned for his negative tactics, must be credited for making Santos more robust in such situations. Next up for the Brazilian side; Cerro Porteño.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
With four (relative) underdogs through to the semi-finals, the Copa do Brasil has a romantic look to it this year. Ceará, who conquered Flamengo in the previous round, were held to a goalless draw by Coritiba in the first leg of their tie. Defences came out on top in a packed Presidente Vargas stadium; Fernando Henrique in particular turned in a stellar display in the Ceará goal. There's all to play for at the Couto Pereira next week.
In Rio, Vasco hosted Avaí, who claimed the scalp of São Paulo in the quarter-final. A hard-fought game sprung into life in the 80th minute, when Julinho's low shot put Avaí in the driving seat. The Gigante da Colina looked beaten, but somehow managed an equaliser in injury time; Diego Souza tucked home from the spot after Élton took a tumble in the box. Wednesday's return leg should be a cracker.
Best of the Rest
Internacional won their 40th Campeonato Gaúcho on Sunday, beating Grêmio on penalties after a pulsating clash. 3-2 down after the first leg, Inter were given a mountain to climb when Lúcio stroked their opponents into an early lead. The Colorado, however, reacted in style; goals from Leandro Damião, Andrezinho, and Andrés D'Alessandro put them on the verge of victory. A howler from goalkeeper Renan, though, allowed Leandro to force a penalty shootout. Grêmio midfielder Adílson was the unlucky party; his miss from twelve yards handed Inter the title.
In the final of the Campeonato Mineiro, late goals from Wallyson and Gilberto gave Cruzeiro a 3-2 aggregate win over bitter rivals Atlético-MG. It was the Raposa's 36th state title. Santa Cruz won the Campeonato Pernambucano despite being beaten by Sport in the second leg, whilst Ceará sealed the Cearense with a comfortable victory over Guarani de Juazeiro. Atlético Goianiense and Bahia de Feira won the Campeonato Goiano and the Campeonato Baiano respectively.
Selected results. Paulista; Santos 2-1 Corinthians (aggregate 2-1). Libertadores; Santos 1-1 Once Caldas (aggregate 2-1). Copa do Brasil; Ceará 0-0 Coritiba, Vasco 1-1 Avaí.
Photo credits; (1) Moacyr Lopes Junior, (2) Danilo Verpa, (3) Cleber Mendes, (4) Alexandre Lops.)