Roll up, roll up! Welcome to the Brazilian midweek football variety show! With no fewer than three competitions taking place, there was something for everyone this week; the second leg of the Recopa Sul-Americana between Internacional and Independiente, the return ties of the all-Brazilian Copa Sul-Americana qualifiers, and even a little morsel of Brasileirão action. On with the show!
Internacional 3-1 Independiente (4-3 on aggregate)
New Inter coach Dorival Júnior must be counting his blessings. Having spend the last few months slogging away at Atlético Mineiro (to precious little avail), his arrival in Porto Alegre instantly coincided with the Colorado's second super cup title; a triumph that reaffirms their status as continental heavyweights. In truth (and as Dorival humbly admitted in his post-match press conference), he had his new charges to thank. Internacional's is a relatively settled squad; players such as Andrés D'Alessandro, Pablo Guiñazú, Índio, and Bolívar have all remained loyal to the Beira-Rio side, and form an enviable spine. Wednesday's victory, however, belonged to a relative newcomer to the Inter scene.
Leandro Damião has been in majestic form this year; the striker has built on the promise of last season, racking up over 30 goals for the Colorado in 2011. He added two more to his tally against Independiente, and in some style too. His first was a wonderful individual effort; Damião picked the ball up near the corner flag, sashayed between two bewildered defenders, before poking a shot into the far corner. The second - a well-struck left-footed volley - was less flashy, but provided ample evidence of the 22-year-old's superb technique. Not bad for a player who, just four years ago, was playing at semi-professional level in the São Paulo region.
To their credit, Independiente rallied in the second period; Maxi Velázquez fired past Muriel immediately after the interval to raise Argentine hopes. This, though, was to be Inter's night. With the final whistle approaching, former Manchester City striker Jô was fouled in the area, giving referee Jorge Larrionda no option but to award a penalty. Experienced left-back Kléber swept home from the spot, sending the Beira-Rio into raptures. One worry, though, will linger in the minds of the Inter faithful. The club's last Recopa victory, in 2007, preceded the sale of Alexandre Pato to Milan. The departure of Leandro Damião - which looks probable in January, if not now - would complete a bitter symmetry.
Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
It was a great week for the carioca sides in the Sul-Americana; all three of Rio's representatives secured safe passage to the last 16 of the competition. Botafogo - who did most of the hard work in the first leg - saw off Atlético Mineiro at the Engenhão, thanks largely to one of the worst penalty decisions of the year so far. Galo defender Leonardo Silva was rugby-tackled by Herrera, and looked on in utter horror as he proceeded to be penalised and booked. Herrera himself held back the giggles to convert the resultant spot kick. Vasco also reached the next round, despite being beaten 3-1 by Palmeiras on Thursday night. Former Verdão midfielder Jumar netted the all-important away goal for Vasco, blasting home from range.
São Paulo made short work of their qualifier, easing past Ceará at the Morumbi. Brazil startlet Lucas was on fine form, drilling home a fine effort before turning provider for Dagoberto. Flamengo also had a relatively comfortable evening; the Rubro-Negro struck late to seal a 2-0 aggregate victory over Atlético-PR. Ronaldinho bagged the goal for Fla with a simple header, but received considerably more attention for his celebration; a send-up of the dance from the song Parado na Esquina. Anything other than the João Sorrisão celebration is fine by me.
Santos played the second of their three games in hand on Wednesday night, hosting Fluminense at the Vila. Neymar celebrated the birth of his first son Davi Lucca with some playground magic, but it would be Série A top scorer Borges who shot the Peixe to victory; he struck twice in the first half to render Rafael Moura's goal irrelevant. Finally, here were signs that Santos are reawakening after their post-Libertadores slumber; unfortunately, they're now fully sixteen points off the pace.
Results. Recopa Sul-Americana; Internacional 3-1 Independiente (4-3 on aggregate). Copa Sul-Americana; Atlético-PR 0-1 Flamengo (0-2 on aggregate), Botafogo 1-0 Atlético-MG (3-1 on aggregate), São Paulo 3-0 Ceará (4-2 on aggregate), Palmeiras 3-1 Vasco (3-3 on aggregate; Vasco progress on away goals). Série A; Santos 2-1 Fluminense.
(Photo credits; (1) Neco Varella, (2) Felipe Gabriel.)