With such an exciting title race taking shape, many (huge) clubs have been forced to content themselves with bit-part roles in the recent narrative of the Campeonato Brasileiro. This was the week that two of them reclaimed centre stage. On Saturday night, Santos (and one particular extravagantly-coiffured striker) hit the headlines thanks to an impressive win over Atlético Paranaense. Even they were eclipsed, however, by events in Porto Alegre...
Grêmio 4-2 Flamengo
"Don't throw coins at Ronaldinho: he'll only start collecting them," read one hand-made sign. Hundreds of others simply bore the words "crook" and "mercenary." Some pioneering fans even went to the effort of printing fake 100-real notes with a familiar buck-toothed face on them. For Grêmio fans, this was personal. For Ronaldinho Gaúcho, it was a weekend to forget.
Some of this anger, of course, has rested dormant since the playmaker's acrimonious departure from the club decade ago. Under the perennial influence of brother/agent/puppet master (delete as appropriate) Assis, Ronaldinho forced through a transfer to Paris St. Germain, despite having repeatedly stating his desire to stay at Grêmio. The intervening years took the edge off much of the ire directed at the player, meaning that the news that Ronaldinho was returning to Brazil was greeted with significant excitement among gremistas earlier this year. If he's coming back, they thought, he'll come back to us.
But he didn't.
Ronaldinho chose Flamengo. Ostensibly for their enormous fan base, but actually for the beaches, the night life, the glamour of Rio de Janeiro. This was a devastating snub; not just to Grêmio, but also to Rio Grande do Sul - one of the state's most famous sons had turned his back on his homeland in favour of the cidade maravilhosa. Gaúchos, renowned for their regional pride, must have wished to delete that suffix from Ronaldinho's monicker.
The 31-year-old, then, entered the Olímpico on Sunday fully aware that the crowd were baying for his blood. All the bluster in the stands would be in vain, however, unless Grêmio delivered on the pitch. Yet home side started poorly; Deivid and Thiago Silva fired the visitors into a commanding lead, whilst Ronaldinho himself rattled the crossbar with a free-kick. When André Lima snatched a goal just before the interval, Grêmio were delighted to even be in contention.
Things changed dramatically after the break. Grêmio came flying out of the blocks, and equalised in some style; André Lima nutmegged his marker before slamming home another effort from range. With Vandlerlei Luxemburgo apparently happy to settle for a draw, Fla dropped deeper and deeper, offering precious little going forward. The tactic wouldn't pay off. Grêmio playmaker Douglas curled home a delightful effort to put the hosts ahead, before Miralles wrapped things up in the final stages.
The win, of course, signifies precious little in the context of Grêmio's season - the Tricolor are mid-table mediocrity personified. It will, however, mean the world to the thousands of fans who felt betrayed by a certain globetrotting footballer. This was the day that the gaúchos got their revenge on their one-time idol.
Brasileirão Gameweek 32 Round-up
One craque at least had a rather more enjoyable weekend; Neymar bagged four goals as Santos brushed aside Atlético-PR at the Pacaembu, further boosting his already formidable reputation. The fourth - a trademark slalom run followed by a cool finish - will certainly grace a good few YouTube videos in the coming months. That win sent the Peixe into the top half of the table, just ahead of Coritiba, who picked up a routine win over doomed América Mineiro.
At the top of the standings, Vasco's goalless draw with São Paulo allowed Corinthians to return to the summit. The Timão initially fell behind against Avaí, but snatched all three points thanks to goals from Emerson Sheik and Liédson. Botafogo stayed within touching distance with a narrow win over Cruzeiro (no prizes for guessing who scored for O Glorioso in that one), whilst Fluminense battled to a 2-1 victory away to Ceará. That second game was most notable for the nascent partnership between Fred and Rafael Sóbis, which seems to be developing very nicely indeed.
In Florianópolis, Figueirense took another stride towards Libertadores qualification with victory over Bahia. Substitute Fernandes was the hero for the hosts in that one, rifling home two glorious second half efforts to secure the points. In the remaining games, Inter picked up a hard-fought win against Atlético-GO, whilst Atlético Mineiro pulled further away from the dropzone with victory over hapless Palmeiras. An honourable mention goes to Galo striker André, whose deft backheeled assist for Fillipe Soutto's goal was the weekend's best.
Série A results: Santos 4-1 Atlético-PR, Botafogo 1-0 Cruzeiro, Ceará 1-2 Fluminense, Corinthians 2-1 Avaí, Vasco 0-0 São Paulo, Grêmio 4-2 Flamengo, Figueirense 2-1 Bahia, Atlético-MG 2-1 Palmeiras, Coritiba 3-1 América-MG, Atlético-GO 0-1 Internacional.
(Photo credits: (1) & (2) Ricardo Rimoli, (3) Tom Dib.)