Monday, 28 June 2010

Seleção Though to Quarter-Finals After Brushing Chile Aside

The car horns (and the odd vuvuzela) are honking outside my window in North West London, which can only mean one thing; Brazil's safe passage into the World Cup quarter-finals. The seleção maintained their imperious recent record against Chile with a comfortable 3-0 victory at Ellis Park, earning a date with Holland on Friday.

Marcelo Bielsa's Chile have been a joy to behold at times in South Africa, but from the moment they secured second spot in their group, one had the impression that this was a favourable draw for Brazil. After guiding Brazil to resounding home and away victories against la roja during qualifying, Dunga surely felt he had the measure of tonight's opponents, and so it proved.

Kaká and Luís Fabiano celebrate Brazil's second.

With Elano and Felipe Melo failing to recover from injury, Dani Alves and Ramires were given the nod in midfield. It was the latter who took up Melo's defensive remit, and turned in an impressively dynamic performance. Otherwise, Brazil lined up at full strength, welcoming back Kaká after his one match ban.

From the first whistle, there was a conviction about Brazil that had been lacking in the draw against Portugal. Chile have carved themselves a reputation as quick, daring starters, but were unable to assert much attacking influence in the early stages, managing only a weak attempted lob from Humberto Suazo. At the other end, Gilberto Silva tested Bravo from range, but as so often, Brazil required a dead-ball to break the deadlock.

On 34 minutes, Maicon found Juan with a trademark corner to the far post, and the Roma defender made no mistake; powerfully heading into the roof of the net. Within five minutes, it was two. Robinho led a classic counter-attack, flying into acres of space on the left before squaring to Kaká. The No.10 slid a first time ball to the onside Luís Fabiano, who rounded the 'keeper for the simplist of finishes. It was a rapid and ruthless move, the kind Brazil have made their speciality in recent years.

The CBF is clearly still selling shirts in Ronaldo's size.

The seleção played the second period in cruise control, thanks largely to an assured defensive display. Lúcio, Juan and Maicon were imperious as ever, and praise too goes to Michel Bastos, who coped admirably with Chile's livewire winger Alexis Sanchez. The left-back's job was made easier thanks to some fine protection from Gilberto Silva and Ramires, who comfortably marshalled all midfield traffic. The latter, indeed, was the architect of Brazil's third, which arrived just before the hour mark. Surging from the halfway line, Ramires encountered precious little Chilean resistance before reaching the edge of the area. The Benfica man poked the ball to the onrushing Robinho, who effortlessly curled his shot into the corner.

The game appeared over, and so it turned out; Chile mustered a couple of half-chances but Júlio César was never called into serious action. Dunga threw on Nilmar, and allowed Kléberson and Gilberto their first appearances of the tournament. That Brazil had this luxury speaks volumes about the ease of this win; one which (in my view, at least) confirms Brazil's status as favourites.

The joy of the ex-pats in the neighbourhood is something to behold this evening, but from Thursday I'll be able to get a real taste of Brazilian World Cup fever; I'm heading out to Rio for the rest of the tournament. Forget England's non-performance; from here on sou Brasileeeeeeeiro, com muito orguuuuuuuulho, com muito amoooooor!!!

(Photo credits; (1) Clive Rose/Getty Images, (2)

Friday, 25 June 2010

Brazil and Portugal Play Out Bore Draw

I'll never get those two hours of my life back. I spent the game clutching at the most abstruse of straws (..."maybe Pepe and Felipe Melo will have a fight"..."who has the worst hair, Duda, Pepe, or Raul Meireles?"...), but even this wasn't sufficient to prevent the crushing boredom that Brazil and Portugal inflicted upon me today. It had all the ingredients for a spectacle (former colony versus its coloniser, some of the world's most exciting players, Portugal looking to snatch top spot in group G, and to avenge their 6-2 defeat in 2008) but such allusions were soon put to bed; this was a goalless draw of precious little intrigue.

Both teams were noticably below strength; Brazil bringing in Nilmar, Júlio Baptista, and Dani Alves for Robinho, Kaká, and the injured Elano, while Portugal handed starts to Duda, Ricardo Costa, and Pepe. Of the three Brazilians making their first starts in South Africa, none truly impressed. Nilmar started well and saw a shot tipped onto the post by Eduardo, but disappeared completely in the second period. Júlio Baptista struggled to exert any influence at all, and Dani Alves just seemed content to repeatedly (and hopelessly) shoot from distance.

Raul Meireles wastes the best chance of the game.

At the risk of making things sound more interesting than they actually were, here's a (necessarily) short list of the other things that actually occured during the 90 minutes; Felipe Melo and Pepe traded some dirty tackles until the former was substituted in the first half, Juan was lucky not to get sent-off for handling to prevent Cristiano Ronaldo going through on goal, Raul Meireles shot wide from close range, and a deflected Ramires shot needed saving by Eduardo in injury time.

That's it. If you saw the game, join me in casting it from memory. If you didn't...well, I envy you.

More significant for the seleção were actually Friday's group H matches. Spain defeated Chile 2-1 and advance as group winners, but Marcelo Bielsa's men also progress thanks to Honduras' heroic draw with Switzerland. This means that Brazil will face Chile in the round of 16 on Monday night. Despite twice beating Chile comfortably in qualifying, this will be no easy task for Brazil; la Roja have really impressed in South Africa with their daring attacking football and tactical fluidity. Whatever happens, however, it can only be an improvement on today's game.

(Photo credit; Reuters.)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Impressive Win Over Côte d'Ivoire Marred by Kaká Sending Off

sSome of the shine was taken off an entertaining game at Soccer City when both sets of players embroiled themselves in a series of confrontations late in the game. Sparked by Cheick Tioté's horror challenge on Elano, which forced the seleção midfielder to retire injured, the bad blood culminated in the expulsion of Kaká, who will now miss Brazil's final group game against Portugal. Despite these antics, Brazil ran out comfortable 3-1 winners.

O Fabuloso rifles home his first.

After a slow start, Brazil began to find the kind of fluency that was conspicuously absent in their opener against North Korea. A break-away attack within the first minute ended with Robinho's shot zipping just over, and suggested that the Côte d'Ivoire's more attack-minded approach would give Brazil ample opportunity to counter-punch. Sven Goran Eriksson's men, however, quickly adopted a deeper defensive stance, with everyone bar Didier Drogba chipping in. As against North Korea, the seleção needed a early goal to draw their opposition out of their shells, and on this occasion they got it. Kaká, who had been sloppy in possession up to that point, received a back-heel from Luís Fabiano, somehow kept the ball from a would-be tackler, and slipped a delicate pass back to the Sevilla forward. O Fabuloso finished emphatically, blasting the ball into the roof of the net.

The lead was doubled soon after the interval. Receiving a looping ball, Luís Fabiano brilliantly juggled the ball over three defenders, brought it down, and volleyed home left-footed. The replay showed that Fabiano had handled twice during the build-up, but the goal stood. A sublime goal, hand-ball or not. Brazil were suddenly in the mood, and grabbed a third goal on the hour mark. Kaká looked to be running down a blind alley on the left, but his (slightly deflected) cross found its way through to Elano, who slotted home with ease.

Elano celebrates his second goal in as many matches.

It was to be the No.7's last contribution to the game; he was stretchered off after Tioté decided that Elano's shin would be a sensible place to imprint his studs. Elano was seen limping down the tunnel, so hopefully it's not as serious as it appeared at first look. Amazingly, Tioté escaped punishment, something the Brazilian players were evidently keen to correct in the final 20 minutes. Robinho and Luís Fabiano both tumbled theatrically after minor contact with the midfielder, who eventually did pick up a booking for his troubles.

The Côte d'Ivoire improved in attack after the introduction of Gervinho, whose pace and trickery bear the hallmark of Brazil as much as his name does. It was Didier Drogba, however, who netted the Africans' only goal. Having earlier seen a header drift just wide, the Chelsea striker made no mistake from Yaya Touré's pinpoint pass, glancing past a static Júlio César. It was a rare piece of poor defending from the seleção; Juan had looked quietly assured alongside the ferocious Lúcio, and Felipe Melo provided superb protection all evening from his defensive midfield role. The real talking point, however, was yet to come.

In classic Sesame Street style, the last five minutes were all about one letter (K); but the plot was more melodrama than educational puppetry. So, in abridged form, here goes...(deep breath)... Kader Keita had annoyed Kaká by fouling Michel Bastos. Kaká started going down easily and nagging the referee. Kaká got booked for some handbags with Yaya Touré. Kaká pushed over Kader Keita, which went unpunished. Kader Keita ran into Kaká, who went to fend him off with his arm. Kader Keita dropped to the floor and pretended he'd been hit in the face. Kaká received a second yellow and was sent off. Kader Keita miraculously recovered.

Kader Keita's reputation will never recover.

Kaká trudges off following his red card.

It was a moment reminiscent of the Rivaldo travesty of 2002, a shameful and indefensible instance of simulation. In the interest of fairness however, we should note that it was only the referee's incorrect response (issuing a yellow card), which distinguished this situation from one earlier in the game (and the countless others that occur in most matches these days). Lúcio went down screaming and clutching his ankle, insinuating that he'd suffered a grave foul, after a Côte d'Ivoire player had done nothing more than run behind him (oh, the temerity!).

It was an undignified end to the game, but one which is unlikely to dampen Brazilian spirits. Confidence will be high in the camp after sealing a convincing win, a result which leaves them needing only a draw with Portugal to qualify as group winners. Kaká's absence for that game, too, may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Another week of fitness work may help Kaká produce more consistently the moments of quality we saw once or twice this evening. And besides, there's a precedent for talismanic No.10s missing games through suspension and then inspiring their team to World Cup glory; Brazil will be hoping that Kaká in 2010 can replicate the example of Zinedine Zidane in 1998.

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Reuters, (3) Tom Jenkins.)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Kaká and Co. Avoid N.K. K.O.

Well that was harder than many people (myself included) expected! It was assumed that Brazil's tournament bow would bring a much needed dose of goals and quality attacking football to a World Cup that has thusfar failed to produce either in great measure, but a resiliant North Korea side had other ideas. The seleção finally ran out 2-1 winners, a result which reflected an intriguing contest; one which, in my opinion, was far more interesting than any Brazil walkover would have been.

The first half saw Dunga's men frustrated by their well-drilled opponents, who lined up with five across the back and Jong Tae-Se ploughing a lone furrow up front. The North Koreans, far from looking overawed by the occassion (with the exception of Tae-Se, who was overcome with emotion during the anthems), looked right at home; starving Luís Fabiano of space and setting up some zippy counter-attacks of their own. Brazil only threatened through a Robinho snapshot, and were decidely befeft of cutting edge. Kaká in particular was not at the races, often drifting into detached positions out wide, and misplacing passes. The seleção went into the dressing room with the weight of a nation's pressure on their shoulders.

Brazil started the second half with considerably more impetus, but required a stunning moment of individual skill from Maicon to break the deadlock. The Inter man made a typical overlapping run on the right, and was found by Elano's precise ball. Looking up to see Luís Fabiano marked, he hit a swerving volley from the acutest of angles that beat Ri Myong-Guk in the North Korea goal. The goal settled Brazil's nerves, and the team finally began to exert some control on the game. After 72 minutes, the lively Robinho threaded a wonderful pass through to Elano, who cooly finished low into the corner. It was a combination reminscent of the duo's time together at Santos, and a rare moment of ruthless incision in the side's play.

The Brazilian fans displayed their usual blend of colour and energy at Ellis Park.

Dunga introduced Nilmar, who looked sharp; promptly firing in two volleys that the North Korea 'keeper was thankful to clutch. Dani Alves and Ramires also entered the fray but had little time to impress. The game looked over, but the real story was still to come. In the final minute, Ji Yun-Nam collected a Jong Tae-Se knock-down, burst into the box, and lifted a shot just over the diving Júlio César. It would turn out to be no more than a consolation, but the players joyously celebrated. It was a pleasing moment for the neutral too; a fantastic reward for a plucky performance which had Dunga and his men sweating for most of the night.

(Photo credits; (1), (2) Tom Jenkins/The Guardian.)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

SKP World Cup Preview

Well folks, that glorious time for every football fan has finally arrived. It is the eve of the World Cup, which promises, as ever, to be an explosion of football, culture, humanity, and colour. Much has been written over the past few months about the tournament's first momentous step onto African soil, and this aspect will undoubtedly provide a further element of excitement (as if one were needed). Without further ado, then, let me start on the (drum roll please) official SKP World Cup preview of Brazil's campaign. (For an in-depth look at each of the countries involved, I suggest heading over to the excellent cahiers du sport blog.)

Pelé is held aloft following the 1970 final.

Qualifying/Confederations Cup
A first place finish in the CONMEBOL qualification region betrays the fact that Brazil endured a somewhat shaky route to South Africa. At home, the seleção's form was solid, if rather...well, un-Brazilian. With four goalless draws (from nine fixtures), Dunga's tactics (of which more later) at times drew substantial derision from fans and critics accustomed to a bit more flair. Despite losing at altitude in Bolivia, the side impressed more in away fixtures, romping to exciting wins in Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, and most tellingly, Argentina, where Luisão's opener and a typically deadly Luís Fabiano double downed Maradona's men. Qualification was secured with a couple of games to go, and the side duly took its foot off the pedal with the loss to Bolivia and a home draw to Venezuela.

Perhaps a more suitable yardstick for judging Brazil's form is last summer's Confederations Cup, a competition which Dunga's men deservedly won. Winning every one of their five games, and scoring fourteen goals (including three against reigning world champions Italy), the seleção demonstrated the kind of ruthless tournament form that places them among the favourites in South Africa.

The Manager
The career of Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri seems inextricably tied to fairytales. It was his likeness with one of the Seven Dwarfs that earnt him the nickname Dunga (Dopey in the Portuguese version), and in South Africa, the coach of the seleção will be hoping that the World Cup completes the second mythical happy ending of his involvement with the national side. The first came in 1994, when Dunga, a defensive midfielder oft-criticised for his technical limitations lifted aloft the World Cup trophy at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, having captained Brazil to their fourth title.

Dunga gives out some orders.

It was this victory of dedication over ability, of nurture over nature, that Dunga will hope to emulate in South Africa. Dunga the manager, too, has endured objections; both to his tactical set-up (of which more presently) and to his downright stubbornness in the face of public opinion. In Brazil, a country of 190 million 'managers,' some of his decisions (e.g. his dropping of Ronaldinho, his refusal to call up Paulo Henrique Ganso) have been met with howls of consternation and calls for his head to roll. Dunga, however, has barely batted an eyelid. Loyal to his chosen players and to his system, he has thusfar been more than equal to the task at hand; securing qualification, and winning the Copa América and Confederations Cup. If he can lead Brazil to glory in South Africa, he will be saluted (even if reluctantly be his chief detractors) as an idol of the national game.

Although some of the criticisms aimed at Dunga regarding his functional tactics are fair, the seleção will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting sides to watch in South Africa. A modest defence of Dunga's tactics is therefore in order. He has settled on a variation on a 4-2-3-1 formation (see below), with Elano, nominally on the right-hand side of the three, often tucking in when Maicon rampages forward from right-back. One of the most noteworthy elements of the formation is the employment of two deep midfielders with a mainly defensive remit; Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo (although the latter has some licence to occasionally roam forward, as he did with great effect against Peru last year). This move strikes some as too defensive, and is exacerbated by the fact that neither player is a particularly fluent passer; critics may accept two deep-lying midfielders if one was in the mould of, say, Andrea Pirlo.

Brazil's likely formation and starting XI.

However, the solidity that this provides in the centre of the park serves as a foundation for other more exciting possibilities to emerge going forward. Robinho and Kaká will roam to their hearts' content behind Luís Fabiano, who himself will switch between channel-running and target-man functions. In addition, both Maicon and Michel Bastos are likely to do more attacking than most teams' wide midfielders; the former in particular will be one of the team's primary attacking threats down the right. This is where Elano comes in. Although posted as the right-sided attacking midfielder, the Galatasaray man will shift between that role and a more defensive one, depending on whether Maicon is next to Lúcio in defence or completing another lung-bursting break on the wing.

In the Confederations Cup, it was Ramires who started on the right, a role he performed admirably. Why, then, the recall of Elano? There are, I think, two main reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, Elano's experience makes him more disciplined than Ramires. The Benfica player is a fabulous athlete, part of whose oeuvre is to mount pacy attacks and stretch play down the wing. This role on the team's right, however, is already carried out by Maicon, and Ramires' youthful abandon may leave the team exposed. Elano, not blessed with great pace, is more happy to construct from deeper, thus leaving him in a better position to muck in with Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo when Brazil lose possession.

The second reason is that Elano provides an excellent option at dead-ball situations; his corners provided a number of goals in qualification. Elano probably won't be the only contender for the seleção's set-piece duties; the side is blessed with an abundance of excellent options. Each one of Maicon, Dani Alves, Michel Bastos, Kaká, and Gilberto (the Cruzeiro left-back) has plenty of experience at club level, and will be vying for an opportunity to stake their claim. Considering also the aerial ability of Lúcio, Juan, and Felipe Melo, Brazil will cause substantial problems from dead-balls.

Elano looks to have got the nod on the right.

The Brazil substitutes bench stands as a monument to the fixity of Dunga's convictions. For each player in the starting XI, there is a ready made substitute for the exact role in the formation. Nippy striker who can drift wide or threaten centrally, like Robinho? Nilmar. Powerful but deadly striker, like Luís Fabiano? Grafite. Attacking midfielder who surges forward, like Kaká? Júlio Baptista(!).

This could be either a masterstroke or a colossal error. On the positive side, it should ensure that team cohesion is maintained even when the personnel changes through injuries or fatigue. But the danger is that there are no players who could offer the chance to alter the tactics drastically if necessary; no Ronaldinho to play as creator from the left, no classic playmaking No.10 like Diego (Kaká can dominate games, but more often through his goals and powerful running than with intricate passing).

The two players in the squad who could offer something substantially different from within the role that Dunga seems to have assigned them are the aforementioned Ramires, and Kléberson, who would be a more creative presence in one of the deep midfield roles. The Flamengo man, however, has not seen a minute of friendly action and will probably need a cushion to make bearable the amount of time he'll be sat on the bench in South Africa. Dunga will have to hope that the tactics he has honed since taking charge stand up to scrutiny, because there doesn't look to be a tried and tested plan B on the table.

Form and Injuries
In terms of injuries, Brazil have two minor concerns. The first is over Júlio César, who went off in the game against Zimbabwe nursing a back injury. By all accounts this was a precautionary measure, and reports suggest that the Internazionale goalkeeper should start against North Korea on Tuesday. Secondly, some lingering doubts remain over the fitness of Kaká. The No.10 came through the warm-up games unscathed and will certainly start against North Korea, but may struggle with so many games in a short period, having not had the game time that he might have expected in recent months. Expect him to be withdrawn if Brazil are cruising in a group game.

I belong to Jesus Dunga.

Surveying the form of the group, the outlook is generally rosy despite one or two worries. Lúcio, Júlio César, and Maicon were superb in Inter's treble-winning season; Robinho and Luís Fabiano have been among the goals, even if not quite at the pinnacle of their abilities; and Juan, Elano, and Gilberto Silva have had moderate seasons. Michel Bastos has shone on-and-off for Lyon, but will have to work on his defensive play in South Africa after some slack positioning in the friendlies. Kaká has admitted to not being at his peak since returning to fitness, but showed signs in the win against Tanzania that his best form may be just around the corner. The principle concern, however, is over Felipe Melo. The midfielder endured a torrid season with Juventus, a shadow of the player who was so dominant in the Confederations Cup.

With such a wealth of talent, the job of Brazilian coach can sometimes look an easy one. You just tell Kaká, Luís Fabiano, Maicon, Lúcio, and Robinho to go out and play, right? Dunga thinks not, and is to be commended for constructing a tactical system that allows expressive football within the bounds of a disciplined and balanced formation. If Kaká can rediscover the verve of previous seasons (and as the team's fulcrum, the pressure is on him to do so), it's hard to see Brazil failing to reach the final. Despite the likelihood of a strong challenge from Spain, I predict that Dunga's men will indeed win Brazil's fifth title.

Brazil Stroll to Easy Win Over Tanzania

In the final preparatory game for their World Cup campaign, the seleção ran out comfortable 5-1 winners over Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. Juan returned to the starting XI after injury, replacing Thiago Silva, while Heurelho Gomes stood in for Júlio César in goal. The rest of the line-up remained unchanged from the victory against Zimbabwe last week.

Robinho strikes to give Brazil the lead.

Brazil took the lead through the in-form Robinho, who reacted quickest to slot home after a defender's clearance had cannoned off Kaká. The Santos man doubled his tally later in the first half, powerfully heading home a delightful cross from Michel Bastos. The left-back provided a real threat going forward, but questions continue to be asked in the Brazilian media about his defensive efficacy; both Zimbabwe and Tanzania have had considerable joy attacking down Brazil's left in the last two friendlies.

Substitute Ramires added a third for Brazil on 53 minutes, receiving a perceptive pass from Josué, motoring past his marker and smashing home left-footed. It was a timely reminder of the youngster's rare combination of pace and power. Twenty minutes later came the moment that Brazil had been waiting for; a goal for Kaká. Having suffered an injury-hit and indifferent season (by his high standards at least), some concerns have been voiced over the pressure put on the playmaker to propel an otherwise functional Brazil side to glory in South Africa. His goal against Tanzania (bundled in off his chest after Maicon's cross) was celebrated in an uncharacteristically sombre manner, and the player himself admitted after the game that he was "looking forward to enjoying [his] football again" after returning to full fitness.

Brazil's National Union of Right-Backs provides some emotional support for Kaká.

Some shoddy defending from a corner allowed Aziz to pull a goal back to the delight of the home fans, but it was Brazil who had the last say; Ramires headed home Daniel Alves' cross for his second of the evening. A good afternoon's work for Dunga's men, and thankfully no injury worries to sweat over.

(Photo credits; (1) Rebecca Blackwell/AP, (2) Ari Ferreira.)

Monday, 7 June 2010

Fluminense Chalk Up Fourth Straight Win; Santos Thrash Vasco to Get Back on Track

Every silver lining has a cloud, and in Muricy Ramalho's case, the blot on the horizon happens to be the World Cup. It seems strange to speak of the world's greatest sporting event in such terms, being, as I am, damn near incapacitated with excitement, but for Ramalho it comes at a bad time. His Fluminense side sit proudly in third place in the Campeonato Brasileiro, having stormed to a fourth consective win on Sunday. He will be dreading that the five week lay-off will disrupt what is undoubtedly Flu's best form of the past twelve months, a run which has provoked hopes of a Libertadores place, or even (whisper it) a title challenge.

Avaí 0-3 Fluminense
At the Ressacada on Saturday, the Tricolor added some style to their recent resilience. A blitz of three classy goals (one before, and two just after the interval) proved far too much for an Avaí side who waved goodbye to a 25 game unbeaten run at home. Despite his recent heroics, Alan again took his place among the substitutes, with Fred and Rodriguinho starting up front for Flu. The away side started flew out of the blocks, with Fred hitting the woodwork early on, but were made to wait for their opening goal. It came through Leandro Euzébio, who found himself with space to control and finish at the far post after Carlinhos' whipped cross.

Fred wheels away after scoring Flu's second.

Just four minutes into the second period, Carlinhos reprised his role as provider. The left back powered forward, exchanged passes with Rodriguinho and floated in a delicate cross for the onrushing Fred. The former Lyon forward gleefully buried the easiest of headers. Flu were flying, and quickly made it three. It was Alan, again making an impact off the bench, who applied the finish after a lightening-fast break involving Mariano and Fred. With the three points secure, Muricy's men took their foot off the gas, but Avaí couldn't manage a goal to reignite the contest.

Santos 4-0 Vasco
The Peixe started slowly at Sunday's tie at the Vila Belmiro, and almost went behind when the nimble Philippe Coutinho swapped passes with Nílson only to see his shot brilliantly saved by Rafael. Santos sprung into life midway through the opening period, and were awarded a penalty after a classic 'what happened next?' moment. Vasco goalkeeper Fernando Prass rolled the ball in front of himself in order to clear downfield, only to watch in horror as Santos left-back Léo appeared from behind him to pinch it. Trying desperately to recover, Prass lunged for the ball but got nowhere near it, bringing Léo down in the process. André dispatched the penalty powerfully into the corner.

Santos doubled their advantage on 51 minutes through substitute Maranhão, who rifled home at the second attempt after his first shot was blocked. The home side suddenly looked like they could score from every attack, and the prolilfic André soon grabbed his second. Receiving a clever through-ball from Madson, the striker calmly guided a first-time finish past the despairing 'keeper. Madson then got on the scoresheet himself, turning home after some determined wing-play by youngster Zezinho. It was an important result for Santos after two games without a win, and one that sees them lurking in fourth spot as Série A goes into World Cup hibernation.

André the giant; the young hitman beats Fernando Prass for Santos' third.

Gameweek 7 Round-up
In Saturday's other games, Vitória and Goiás battled to wins over Atlético-PR and Flamengo respectively. Schwenk's firm header gave Vitória a 1-0 win which lifted them out of the bottom four at their opponents' expense. Flamengo thought they'd done enough to scrape a win at the Maracanã, having led for most of the second half through Toró's goal, but were stunned by two late Goiás goals. Hugo bent in a glorious free-kick to equalise before Otacílio Neto snuck in to bury a rebound late on.

Corinthians and Ceará share the lead of the Brasileirão going into the World Cup break, after the former could only manage a draw against Botafogo. In truth, they were lucky to get that much, only finding an equaliser with the game's final kick. Man of the moment Bruno César had given the Timão a one-goal lead at the break, but Botafogo to reacted well with goals from Renato Cajá and Lúcio Flávio, the latter an emphatic exclamation mark at the end of a thrilling break. However, Alvinegro hearts were to be broken deep into injury time, when Paulo André rose to head home Matías Defederico's corner. There were no such fireworks at the Mineirão, where Ceará battled to their fourth 1-0 victory of the season over Atlético-MG. The outstanding Misael was once again heavily involved, turning his marker inside-out before crossing for Washington to score. Another poor result for the Galo, for whom the break in Série A can't come soon enough.

Fellow new boys Guarani also continued their impressive form, grinding out a 1-0 win over Grêmio Prudente at the Brinco de Ouro. Striker Roger bagged his sixth of the campaign from the penalty spot with the very last kick of the game. As predicted by this very blog, the loanee from São Paulo is proving a big hit with the Bugre. Atlético Goianiense picked up their first win of the season, beating an increasingly lacklustre Cruzeiro side 2-1 at the Serra Dourada. Wellington Paulista had levelled for the Raposa after Rodrigo Tiuí's opener, but a late goal from Pedro Paulo guaranteed all three points for the home side.

Three and easy; Dagoberto gives his verdict on an enjoyable evening.

Dagoberto netted a hat-trick for São Paulo as they romped to a 3-1 win over perenially bad travellers Grêmio. Hugo put the Tricolor gaúcho ahead early on with a smart volley, but some persistence and an accurate cross from Marlos gave Dagoberto the simplest of finishes to equalise. Rogério Ceni ought to have made it two from the penalty spot after some shirt-tugging in the box, but his spot-kick rattled against the bar and rebounded to safety. The goalkeeper soon made amends at the other end, however, pulling off a magnificent reaction save to deny Douglas. Dagoberto scored his second with a controlled volley after the Grêmio defence failed to deal with Hernanes' chipped pass, and grabbed his third just minutes later. Marlos' wonderful run merited a goal, but his shot cannoned off the post into the path of the man São Paulo fans call 'Dagol,' who provided a cool finish worthy of his nickname.

Internacional continued their stuttering form with a 1-1 draw against Palmeiras at the Beira-Rio. The Verdão took the lead through Lincoln, whose met Ewerton's knock-down with a well-struck volley. Despite playing some slick football, Inter had to wait until well into the second half to equalise; Giuliano kept his cool to drill into the corner after his original shot had been blocked by his marker. Inter now find themselves down in 16th place, but at least they now have a window of opportunity in which to appoint a permanent replacement for Jorge Fossati. Every cloud has a silver lining.

(Photo credits; (1) Cristiano Andujar, (2) Ivan Storti, (3) Miguel Schincariol.)

Friday, 4 June 2010

Veterans Ensure Corinthians Stay Top; Win Takes Ceará Second

In the penultimate set of games before the Brasileirão's World Cup sabbatical, Corinthians maintained their position at the head of the table. They are closely followed by Ceará and Fluminense, both of whom enjoyed home victories.

Corinthians 2-0 Internacional
With Jorge Henrique joining Ronaldo on the Corinthians injury list, Iarley made a rare start for the home side at the Pacaembu. Mano Menezes again packed the midfield, playing both Danilo and Bruno César alongside the more defensively minded Elias and Ralf. It was Inter who enjoyed the better start, however, testing Felipe with a series of long range efforts. The Timão goalkeeper had to be at his best to claw away Andrezinho's curling shot.

With 38 minutes gone, Corinthians were awarded a controversial penalty. Danilo went down under pressure from Gonzalo Sorondo, but seemed to be returning to his feet after managing to get a pass away. Sorondo was nonplussed, and rightly so. Roberto Carlos stepped up and hit a low spot-kick which crept into the corner after Lauro appeared to have stopped it.

The old ones are the best; Roberto Carlos rolls back the years to score for Corinthians.

It was another of Corinthians' ageing tios who made it 2-0 after the break. Iarley received Elias' pinpoint ball in the area, and turned smartly to finish into the roof of the net. The scoreline rather flattered the home side, and it was Inter who had the best chances in the remainder of the match. There were to be no more goals, however, as Felipe continued to frustrate the Colorado with a string of fine saves.

Ceará 2-0 Avaí
Newly-promoted Ceará have been in brilliant form since the start of Série A, picking up impressive wins against Cruzeiro, Fluminense and Vitória. They left it late against Avaí at the Castelão, but two goals in the last 15 minutes ensured another win for Vozão. Misael, one of the side's stand-out performers, broke the deadlock in style, running onto a long ball, dribbling easily past his marker, and slotting low into the corner.

It was another breakaway goal that secured the three points for the team from Fortaleza. Avaí's perilously high defensive line was exposed when centre-back Emerson missed his header, leaving Tony with a clear run on goal. The former Botafogo man drew the 'keeper before unselfishly squaring for the onrushing Lopes, who couldn't miss. Ceará up to the dizzy heights of second place.

Gameweek 6 Round-up
Fluminense continued their impressive form with a 2-1 win over Vitória at the Maracanã. Fred bagged the Tricolor's first, profitting from a kind rebound after Marquinho's shot was saved. The away team looked to have earnt a point when Jonas headed in an 85th minute equaliser, but they were denied thanks to Alan's late goal. Flamengo also recorded a tight victory, beating Palmeiras 1-0 at the Pacaembu. It was Vágner Love who came back to haunt his former employers, cutting in from the left and drilling home.

Comeback kings Atlético-PR salute their fans at the Arena da Baixada.

Botafogo threw away a two-goal advantage to lose 3-2 to Atlético Paranaense at the Baixada. Joel Santana's men dominated the first half and took the lead through Herrera, who spun past his defender to finish via the legs of 'keeper Neto. The impressive Edno brought down a high ball and played in Lúcio Flávio, who drilled in at the near post to double Botafogo's lead. The game looked to be over, but the Furacão had other ideas. Veteran Paulo Baier pulled one back before half time, before equalising with a deft free-kick in the second period. The winner came from Alex Mineiro, whose shot was deflected just beyond the reach of the despairing Jefferson. Botafogo now without a win in three games after a promising start.

Atlético-GO remained rooted to the bottom of the table after Tadeu's glorious free-kick condemned them to a 1-0 loss against Grêmio Prudente. Improving Goiás won their second game on the bounce, shocking title hopefuls São Paulo at the Serra Dourada. It was São Paulo who took the lead thanks to an unstoppable Marcelinho Paraíba free-kick, but the Esmeraldino reacted with goals from Bernado (from the penalty spot) and Jonílson. Vasco also remain in the relegation zone, after a home loss to Guarani. In a poor game, it was a goal from Roger (the current artilheiro of the Campeonato) that separated the teams.

Vanderlei Luxemburgo will be disappointed to find his Atlético Mineiro side hovering around the foot of the table after they went down to a third consecutive defeat; losing 2-1 to Grêmio at the Olímpico. The Tricolor have specialised recently in goals from dead-balls, and last night it was Hugo who twice benefitted from Fábio Rochemback's excellent delivery to head home. Ricardinho netted the Galo's only goal with a deflected shot from outside the area. In Belo Horizonte, Cruzeiro were held to a 0-0 draw by Santos, a result that sees the sides remain in 6th and 5th spots consecutively.

(Photo credits; (1) Junior Lago, (2) Felipe Gabriel.)

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Brazil Beat Zimbabwe in Pre-World Cup Friendly

The seleção endured a shaky start and some over-exuberant tackling to beat Zimbabwe 3-0 in Harare. Dunga fielded a strong line-up, with only Juan missing from the team likely to play North Korea on June 15th. It was Thiago Silva who got the nod over Luisão to partner Lúcio at the back. As had been practiced in training, Elano started as the (tucked-in) right sided midfielder; the Galatasaray man looks to have won his spot back from Ramires, who did so well in the Confederations Cup.

Kaká bursts past two Zimbabwe challengers.

Despite being clear underdogs, Zimbabwe started with some verve, and should have scored when Karuru blasted over from 8 yards. Brazil were slow in finding their stride, and matters weren't helped by some tough Zimbabwe tackling. Robinho and Kaká showed no ill effects after strong challenges, but Júlio César was less fortunate, and was substituted as a precaution. Heurelho Gomes took his place.

Brazil took the lead after 40 minutes thanks to an unstoppable free-kick from Michel Bastos. It was the (nominal) left-back's first goal for his country, and will certainly force his name into the World Cup dead-ball hat. Just three minutes later, Robinho doubled Brazil's lead, volleying home first time after a wonderful pass from Maicon.

The second half saw substitutions aplenty, with Daniel Alves, Luisão, Nilmar, Grafite, and Júlio Baptista all getting some game time. Energy and performance levels sagged a bit, but Brazil bagged a third late on after a glorious passage of play. Daniel Alves fed Júlio Baptista on the edge of the box, and received a clever flick back from the Roma man. Alves then selflessly squared for Elano who scored with the easiest of finishes.

Michel Bastos celebrates his stunning free-kick.

Overall, it was a job well done for Dunga's men, albeit one that hardly tested them. Things get even easier on Monday against Tanzania, and questions may well be raised about the worth of these games should Brazil underperform in South Africa. The Brazilian press reported that the seleção was paid handsomely to travel to play these two opponents, but at this stage, surely a stiff footballing challenge should have been prioritised over the filling of the CBF's coffers.

(Photo credits; (1) and (2) Ricardo Nogueira/Folhapress.)