Monday, 4 March 2013

The week(end) that was - #4

It has been a fine few days for Diego Forlán, whose goalscoring exploits have played a major part in Internacional's strong start to the year. Neymar and Abel Braga had rather less enjoyable weeks, however...

Forlán's class begins to show

Diego Forlán did not enjoy the most fruitful start to his career in Brazil, struggling to make his mark in an Internacional side that had a year to forget in 2012. But the early signs are that the current campaign will be rather kinder to the Uruguayan. His fine double against Esportivo at the weekend took him to six goals for the season and earnt Inter a place in the final of the Taça Piratini – the opening stage of the Rio Grande do Sul state championship. Forlán also netted in the quarter-final against bitter rivals Grêmio.

The 33-year-old has benefitted greatly from the seriousness with which Inter have treated the Gauchão. While Grêmio have been content to play reserve sides and preserve their stars for the Copa Libertadores, the Colorado have put pedal to the metal in an attempt to kickstart a year that they hope will be crowned with a major title. As a result, Forlán has enjoyed plenty of game time alongside Leandro Damião, with whom he is beginning to form a tidy partnership: the pair have bagged nine of the 12 goals scored by Dunga's first-choice XI in 2013. If they can take that form into the Brasileirão, Inter could finally mount a serious title challenge.

Lighten up, Abel

Vasco da Gama beat Fluminense on Saturday to reach the final of the first half of the Campeonato Carioca (keep up at the back!). This was less a game of two halves than one of four quarters, which played out like a Mogwai song: quiet-quiet-quiet-LOUDER-THAN-BOMBS. The game was goalless going into the closing stages, only for five goals – spread over two comebacks – to hit fans at the Engenhão like a flurry of punches. (A poor cameraman, incidentally, was probably the only one nursing actual bruises, after getting knocked to the ground by an over-jubilant Bernardo.)

In the post-match press conference Fluminense boss Abel Braga could have sounded off about his side's defending, but chose instead to hit out at Vasco substitute Dakson (yes, really) for having the impudence to back-heel the ball to a team-mate in the dying minutes. This wasn't a case of the youngster just playing to the gallery – the pass set up a promising attack – but even that would hardly be a crime. Braga, as Estadão columnist Artero Greco noted, would do well to lighten up: "There are worse things in football than a bit of showboating. Football is being infested by a wave of grumpiness."

Disciplinary worries for Neymar

It wasn't long ago that Neymar was earning praise for his philosophical attitude to being fouled, oh, seventy thousand times per match. This week, however, the striker is in the dock for his own disciplinary record. His booking against São Paulo in the clássico paulista was the 66th of his nascent career, a figure which is beginning to provide cause for concern. That the caution was (correctly) meted out for diving only confirms that, for all his abundant skill, Neymar still lacks a little of the maturity present in the very best players.

(On an unrelated note, here's a fine statistic on the commercial importance of Neymar to Santos. The average attendance at Santos' Vila Belmiro stadium when Neymar plays, since January 2012: 10,563. When he doesn't: 5,852. The Peixe have 18 months to find another way (or another starlet) to lure those fair-weather fans on a more frequent basis – or at least ensure that they cash in on them while Neymar is still around.)

Cruising on the continent

Palmeiras aside, it was a fine week for Brazilian sides in the Libertadores. São Paulo snuck past The Strongest (ahem), Corinthians beat Millonarios in an empty Pacaembu, while Fluminense went top off Group 8 with a win against Huachipato in Chile. The best performance of the lot, though, came in Argentina, where Atlético Mineiro dispatched Arsenal de Sarandí 5-2. Ronaldinho was again influential for the Galo but was barged out of the spotlight by Bernard, scorer of three goals in his first club game outside his homeland. With Brazilian sides performing so strongly, the grip of the country's recent continental hegemony could yet tighten further.

... and finally

This guy turned 60 yesterday. Parabéns, mestre!

(Photo credits: Alexandre Lops, Ari Ferreira.)

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