There were goals galore in the midweek Brasileirão fixtures; 30, to be exact, in just 9 matches. With leaders Corinthians not in action, São Paulo and Palmeiras both closed the gap at the top with narrow wins. The match of the round, however, undoubtedly took place at the Vila Belmiro.
Santos 4-5 Flamengo
The media build-up to Santos vs. Flamengo bordered on the rabid. Santos' stars returning to club duty after Brazil's disastrous Copa América campaign! Ibson, Deivid, and Vanderlei Luxemburgo facing their former clubs! Neymar and Ronaldinho playing opposite one another for the very first time! Such hyperbole meant that, come kick-off on Wednesday night, expectations were sky high. So often, this kind of hype turns out to be unjustified. But not on this occasion.
Santos started the game in whirlwind fashion; Borges slid home the opener after Elano's perceptive pass, before tapping home another from close range. Neymar, who had set up the second with a sitting-down overhead kick (try working that one out without looking at the highlights reel), then scored a goal of almost indescribable quality. After skipping past two half-hearted challenges on the left wing, the mercurial Mohican swapped passes with Borges, and surged towards the area. Ronaldo Angelim, in the unenviable role of golaço fall-guy, stepped forward to attempt a tackle, but was left humiliated as Neymar slalomed into the box. One cool finish later, and the Vila was in raptures.
The game looked as good as over for Fla. Vanderlei Luxemburgo's charges, however, produced a stirring comeback, managing to draw level even before the half time whistle. Ronaldinho capitalised on a rare fumble from Rafael to give the Rubro-Negro hope, and Thiago Neves nodded home a second from close range. Deivid, who had earlier contrived to miss an open goal from fully 20cm out, then flicked home a Ronaldinho corner to restore parity. The Peixe were reeling, not least because they had wasted another golden opportunity with the score at 3-2; a penalty earnt by Neymar was chipped tamely into the hands of Fla goalkeeper Felipe by Elano. It's been a bad couple of weeks for the former Manchester City player.
Things slowed down slightly after the interval, but there was still plenty of drama to come. Neymar restored the hosts' lead in the 50th minute, wriggling past his marker and firing high into the roof of the net. This was an important game for the youngster, who reminded the Brazilian public of his undoubted talent after a disappointing set of performances in Argentina. Neymar would, however, be upstaged by another craque, one 12 years his senior. Yes, this was to be Ronaldinho's evening. The buck-toothed wonder bagged his second of the match with a clever free-kick, before finally settling the match with a deflected finish late on. His joyous grin was plastered all over the Brazilian sports pages the following day, accompanied by headlines as varied as "Chupa, Neymar!" ("Suck it, Neymar"), and "Ode ao futebol" ("Ode to football"). This match, one senses, will live long in the memory of most fans of the beautiful game.
Brasileirão Gameweek 12 Round-up
São Paulo, not to be outdone by Fla, scraped victory in a goal-fest of their own, overcoming Coritiba 4-3 at the Couto Pereira. The Tricolor appeared to be hosting their own private goal of the week competition as they raced into a commanding lead; a blast from Carlinhos Paraíba and delightful lobs from Juan and Lucas were bettered only by a ruthless move instigated and finished by Dagoberto. The home side mounted a brave comeback, but just came up short. There was rather less excitement in Ipatinga, where a lone goal from débutant André handed Atlético-MG a much-needed win over Fluminense.
Cruzeiro continue to blow hot and cold; they followed victory over Corinthians last week with defeat at the hands of Atlético Goianiense. A well-taken brace from Felipe did the job for the Dragão, who appear to be finding their feet in Série A. Ceará and Botafogo, two more wonderfully inconsistent sides, both managed 2-1 wins, at home to Atlético-PR and Avaí respectively. Botafogo fans finally witnessed an impressive performance (and a goal) from their idol Maicosuel, who has struggled for form since returning from injury.
Whilst other teams draw the headlines, Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras side continue to go about their business with quiet efficacy. The Verdão managed their seventh win of the campaign this week, beating Figueirense thanks to a scrappy goal from defender Maurício Ramos. That result saw them overtake Vasco, who only managed a point against Bahia. The Gigante da Colina, despite dominating affairs at the São Januário, needed a 95th minute effort from Élton to rescue a draw in that one. Grêmio also had to come from behind against América-MG, in a game that also finished 1-1.
Série A results; Botafogo 2-1 Avaí, Grêmio 1-1 América-MG, Atlético-MG 1-0 Fluminense, Atlético-GO 2-0 Cruzeiro, Santos 4-5 Flamengo, Figueirense 0-1 Palmeiras, Coritiba 3-4 São Paulo, Vasco 1-1 Bahia, Ceará 2-1 Atlético-PR.
(Photo credits; (1) Ivan Storti, (2) Miguel Schincariol, (3) Paulo Sergio.)