In Brazil, big games come in twos. Such was the case last night; a couple of the year's most important cup matches took place (at ridiculous o'clock). Santos secured their place in the final of the Copa Libertadores with an exciting draw against Cerro Porteño, whilst Vasco took a narrow advantage in the Brazilian cup final.
Cerro Porteño 3-3 Santos
Santos are a divided beast. Their historic heart pulls one way, craving attacking nirvana at the expense of defensive solidity. Ludicrous seven-goal thrillers are its calling card. Their head, meanwhile, embodied by master pragmatist Muricy Ramalho, tugs the other; demanding cool, calm, cold results. The latter had been getting its way; the Peixe's previous five Libertadores results had read like binary code - 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, 1-0. Last night, however, belonged to Mr Hyde.
Two minutes on the clock. BANG. Zé Eduardo (finally) scores, nodding home Elano's free-kick from fully 60 centimetres out. One swiftly became two, in quite hilarious fashion. Ganso (the Cerro Porteño defender, not the crocked Santos man) headed a harmless-looking ball back to his goalkeeper, who somehow sliced his punch (no, I wouldn't have said that was possible either) into his own net. Santos, in imminent danger of being comfortable in the tie, promptly conceded; César Benítez headed home Juan Manuel Iturbe's fine corner.
There was still time, however, for one more goal before the break. Santos midfielder Arouca ran the length of the pitch (which, incidentally, was cut in a manner reminiscent of the Japanese imperial flag... I kid you not) before teeing up Neymar to slot home. After the interval, things slowed down somewhat, but there was still ample excitement. Cerro scored two lovely goals (Juan Manuel Lucero with a swiftly-taken volley, and Jonathan Fabbro with a stunning individual effort), Edu Dracena managed to get sent off for dissent, and Muricy Ramalho got hit on the head with a projectile thrown from the stands. Santos, though, managed to see the game out, and progress to the final. Muricy will be hoping for a rather more serene climax to that one.
Vasco da Gama 1-0 Coritiba
With both sides chasing their first Copa do Brasil title, this first leg was always going to be an attritional affair. In front of a packed crowd at the São Januário, the opening period produced only a couple of real chances; Bill had a decent shot from range, before Édson Bastos got down low to deny Diego Souza. Thankfully, the deadlock was broken just after the interval; Allan crossed to the near post, where Alecsandro powered a header into the back of the net. The bulky striker proceeded to pull a funny face, in tribute to his father Lela (who celebrated in that manner during his days as a player).
Coritiba rallied after that point, throwing men forward at every opportunity. Unfortunately for Marcelo Oliveira's men, Vasco goalkeeper Fernando Prass was having one of those evenings; blocking shots with all parts of his body, and being a general nuisance. The home fans, of course, were loving every minute. 1-0 may not be the most comfortable lead to take to the Couto Pereira, but, on current form, the Gigante da Colina will be confident of finishing the job next week.
Results. Libertadores; Cerro Porteño 3-3 Santos (3-4 on aggregate). Copa do Brasil; Vasco 1-0 Coritiba.
(Photo credits; (1) Norberto Duarte, (2) Gilvan de Souza.)