Thursday, 29 July 2010

Advantage Santos in Cup Final; Inter Gain Narrow Libertadores Lead

Wednesday night was a huge one in Brazilian football, with the first legs of both the Copa do Brasil final and the all-Brazilian Copa Libertadores semi-final. A pity, then, that the games were on at exactly the same time; you can't beat some sound South American logic.

Santos 2-0 Vitória (Copa do Brasil)
Santos continued their superb home record in the cup by claiming a deserved 2-0 win over Vitória at the Vila Belmiro. The Peixe's post World-Cup form has been ropey, but the potential reward of a Libertadores spot for next season seemed to spark a number of their players into life; they could easily have won this game by five or six. Dorival Júnior lined up with all four of the attackers who received recent call-ups to the seleção; Paulo Henrique Ganso prompting from deep behind a flexible front three of Neymar, Robinho, and André. Vitória, on the other hand, were set up to counter attack, with the pacy Elkeson supporting Schwenk in attack.

The home side nearly took the lead within the first ten minutes, but Ganso's precise free-kick came back off the post with the 'keeper beaten. The opener, though, was not long in coming. Robinho found Pará down the right, and the full-back's low cross was chested (yes, chested) home by Neymar at the far post. It was the young forward's eleventh goal of the competition. Further chances were scarce before the break; the best fell to André, who ballooned over with the net beckoning.

Neymar; chested finishes and chipped penalty catastrophes all in a day's work.

The second period saw Santos dominate yet further, and create a flood of chances to extend their lead. Paulo Henrique and Robinho were both guilty of some wasteful finishing, but the biggest culprit was Neymar. Having won a spot-kick with a fabulous bit of trickery, the youngster attempted a 'Loco' Abreu-style cavadinha - a delicate chip over the diving goalkeeper. Unfortunately, however, Vitória stopper Lee stood rooted on the line and gratefully plucked the ball out of the air. Neymar looked understandably crestfallen.

Dorival Júnior threw on Marquinhos and Zé Eduardo (who look like a father and son combo) in search of a second goal, a move which paid off almost instantly. Zé Eduardo was felled outside the box, and Marquinhos bent a stunning free-kick in off the post. It was no more than Santos deserved, and puts the Peixe in the driving seat ahead of the second leg next week. Vitória, though, will be a different prospect at the Barradão.

Internacional 1-0 São Paulo (Copa Libertadores)

São Paulo travelled to Porto Alegre off the back of some truly horrible league form, and will surely be happy to tackle the home leg with only a one goal deficit. They were outplayed by Inter for long periods at the Beira-Rio, and frequently needed Rogério Ceni to rescue them.

Inter's Giuliano wheels away after his winning goal.

In a goalless first half, Inter who showed the greater attacking intent, but were largely stifled by the Tricolor's defensive tactics. Ricardo Gomes evidently set his side up to frustrate the home side; the attacking instincts of players like Marlos and Hernanes were reigned in, leaving Fernandão lacking in support up front. The approach, despite its negativity, seemed to be working. The Colorado were reduced to just a handful of half-chances; Andrés D'Alessandro went close with a free-kick, and Taison's header brought a flying save from Rogério.

It appeared that the second period would provide more frustration for Inter; Rogério Ceni denied both Andrezinho and Kléber within the first five minutes of the half. Inter's pressure finally paid off, however, with twenty minutes to play. Substitute Giuliano drifted in from the right and (fortuitously) found D'Alessandro, who lifted a delicate chip towards Taison. The ball ricocheted back into the path of Giuliano, who spun brilliantly to arrow a shot into the bottom corner. Inter, spurred on by the superb D'Alessandro, sought a second, but could not find one. The tie remains evenly balanced ahead of next week's return leg at the Morumbi.

(Photo credits; (1) Eduardo Viana, (2) EFE.)

Monday, 26 July 2010

New Faces Galore as Menezes Names Squad

Mano Menezes performed his first duties as coach of the seleção today, picking a squad of 24 players (to be trimmed to 23) for the friendly with the USA on August 10th. As expected, the majority of the World Cup squad has been left out, meaning that the group includes an intriguing set of new faces.

There was a first senior call-up for former U-17 star Rafael.

The full list is as follows;

Victor (Grêmio)
Renan (Avaí)
Jefferson (Botafogo)

Rafael (Manchester United)
Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
André Santos (Fenerbahce)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
Réver (Atlético-MG)
Davis Luiz (Benfica)
Henrique (Racing Santander)

Lucas (Liverpool)
Jucilei (Corinthians)
Sandro (Internacional)
Hernanes (São Paulo)
Ramires (Benfica)
Carlos Eduardo (Hoffenheim)
Éderson (Lyon)
Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos)

Robinho (Santos)
Neymar (Santos)
André (Santos)
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Diego Tardelli (Atlético-MG)

Most notable, perhaps, is the selection of four Santos attackers; strikers André, Neymar, and Robinho, and midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso. Surprisingly (to me at least), Menezes has picked only one of his former Corinthians charges - energetic utility man Jucilei. Elias, Jorge Henrique, and Dentinho will be disappointed not to make the list. Either Sandro or Hernanes will be left out of the group to travel, depending on whether it's Inter or São Paulo who progress to the final of the Copa Libertadores.

Avaí goalkeeper Renan, excellent in recent weeks, has earnt his first call-up, as have a host of others. Éderson, an attacking midfielder with Lyon, and ex-Wolfsburg defender Réver count as the main surprises of the selection, along with Henrique, currently with Racing Santander in Spain. Call-ups for Rafael da Silva, Manchester United's young right-back, and Benfica defender David Luiz could provide indications of the future shape of Brazil's defence.

Timão Send Mano Off With a Win; Galo Hold Avaí

Mano Menezes was given an emotional send-off at the Pacaembu, watching his team beat Guarani to reclaim the leadership of the Brasileirão. Elsewhere, Atlético-MG scrapped to a point against in-form Avaí, and Fluminense were held by Botafogo in the clássico Carioca.

Corinthians 3-1 Guarani
A comfortable win for Corinthians was a fitting end to Mano Menezes' impressive spell with the São Paulo giants. After dragging the club from the depths of Série B, he leaves with the Timão sitting pretty at the top of the Brazilian league system, with plenty to be hopeful about; not least the future of Bruno César, who was the architect of this win, and who has rapidly developed into one of the league's best players.

The Corinthians players evidently got hold of their scripts early; within the first min, the home side went ahead. Bruno César's corner was flicked on at the near post by captain William, and Jorge Henrique, one of the most consistent performers during Menezes' reign, gleefully headed home. If the crowd were hoping for a goalfest, however, they were to be disappointed; the Timão drifted through the rest of the opening period, and looked set to drop two points when Guarani levelled in the second. Mazola held off a half-hearted Roberto Carlos challenge before slotting sweetly past Júlio César in the Corinthians goal.

Menezes takes up his place on the Pacaembu bench for the final time.

The last word(s), however, would go to Bruno César. With ten minutes remaining, the playmaker restored the jovial atmosphere in the stadium, hitting a fabulous free-kick that gave Bugre 'keeper Douglas no chance. Two quickly became three; Roberto Carlos drifted down the left, before supplying a dangerous cross that Bruno César headed home at the far post. At the final whistle, Menezes was lifted aloft by his squad, and widely cheered by the home crowd; it was a touching farewell to a man who has won over all of his doubters in recent months.

Avaí 0-0 Atlético-MG
A brief scan of Atlético Mineiro's squad makes you wonder how on earth they could be in the relegation zone after eleven games. A side that boasts Diego Tardelli, Diego Souza, Daniel Carvalho, and Ricardinho really ought to be in the upper reaches of the Campeonato Brasileiro, rather than engaged in a relegation scrap. For one reason or another, though, Vanderlei Luxemburgo's men went into Saturday's game at the Ressacada having won just 3 points in the previous 8 games. A 0-0 draw, then, may turn out to be a good result for the Galo, especially given the nature of the game.

I can summarise the game in one question; "how did Avaí not win this?!" The home side were dominant in the first half, and created countless opportunities. With the skilful duo of Caio and Robinho behind striker Roberto, the Leão da Ilha attacked with great menace were only let down by some shoddy finishing. Robinho and Caio both went close, but the chief culprit was left-back Eltinho, who contrived to drill wide from 4 yards with the goal at his mercy. Atlético almost made them pay when Diego Souza brought a fine save from Renan.

The second period was more balanced, but Avaí will feel they should have profitted from some indiscipline which left the Galo with only nine players at the final whistle. Daniel Carvalho was dismissed for a lunging challenge on Caio; a correct decisions despite the protests from the former CSKA Moscow man. Substitute Neto Berola also saw red in the dying minutes, but this time the decision was a harsh one; the striker's challenge on Marcos was more clumsy than aggressive. Atlético, though, held on for a point, and their first clean sheet of the season.

Gameweek 11 Round-up
Vasco stormed out of the bottom four on Saturday evening with a 2-0 win over Atlético-GO. Nilton opened the scoring for the São Januário team with a thumping effort from distance, before Fumagalli smashed in a second after the break. Fernando Prass saved Robston's penalty late on to secure all three points for the Gigante. Saturday's other game saw Grêmio Prudente draw 0-0 with Vitória.

Fumagalli (right) soaks up the applause after his goal.

With Muricy Ramalho still at the helm, and with Juliano Belletti and Emerson making their debuts, Fluminense looked a good bet to beat Botafogo in Sunday's Clássico Vovô. The Alvinegro, though, had other ideas, and claimed a point in a heated game at the Engenhão. Emerson gave Flu the lead, running onto Fred's pass after Jefferson failed to clear his lines with a goal-kick. Botafogo equalised thanks to Edno's header, and the game finished with 19 men after Somália, Danny Morais, and Thiaguinho saw red. A rocket from striker Taison condemned Flamengo to a 1-0 loss to Internacional at the Beria-Rio. Despite resting players in anticipation of Wednesday's Libertadores semi-final against São Paulo, the Colorado were too strong for Fla, and maintain their place in the top four.

São Paulo warmed up for that semi-final in less than ideal fashion, falling to a third straight loss against Santos. With players from both sides rested (Santos play the first leg of the Copa do Brasil final on Wednesday), it took an own-goal by Tricolor defender Renato Silva to separate the sides. Fellow São Paulo heavyweights Palmeiras travelled to the North of Brazil to face Ceará, and came home with a point following a goalless draw.

Despite being second best for much of the game, Cruzeiro twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with Grêmio at the Arena do Jacaré. The team from Porto Alegre took the lead through Borges' header, and later grabbed a second thanks to Jonas' wicked free-kick. The Raposa, though, levelled on each occasion thanks to a brace of headers from big centre-back Henrique. Atlético Paranaense move up to midtable after picking up their second consecutive win, against Goiás at the Serra Dourada. Manoel headed the Furacão ahead on the half-hour mark, before Maikon Leite sealed the victory with a low drive in the second half.

(Photo credits; (1) Joel Silva/Folhapress, (2) Bruno de Lima.)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

CBF Turn to Mano Menezes

It appeared yesterday afternoon that Muricy Ramalho would be taking control of the seleção, but a sensational series of events late in the day have meant that Corinthians boss Mano Menezes is the new man in the hotseat.

Ramalho met with the CBF in the morning, and was offered the job, pending permission from his club Fluminense to take up the role. It was widely thought that this would be no more than a formality, so there was some shock when Ramalho announced that he would not, in fact, take up the position of Brazil coach. The decision is thought to be motivated in part by the CBF's refusal to guarantee that Ramalho's reign would last until the 2014 World Cup, even if results were favourable.

It initially appeared that the Fluminense had decided to play hard-ball; declining to allow Ramalho to break his contract with the club. This theory, however, was undermined when the Rio club announced that Ramalho had actually penned a two-year extention to his deal; hardly the logical response if the Tricolor had snatched away his dream.

The CBF reacted to the news by offering the role to Mano Menezes, the coach of São Paulo giants Corinthians. At a press conference this afternoon, the 48 year-old confirmed that he had accepted the proposition. Menezes guided the Timão to promotion to Série A in 2008, before winning the 2009 Copa do Brasil. Despite the disappointment of a sluggish Libertadores campaign this term, Corinthians currently sit second in the league. Menezes will take charge of the club for the last time against Guarani on Sunday, in what will likely be an emotional farewell at the Pacaembu.

Menezes' reputation was forged during his time with Grêmio, whom he led from the second tier all the way to the final of the Libertadores within two years. Despite a fondness for playing 4-3-3, Menezes' approach is only slightly more attacking than Ramalho's; defensive solidity is still the name of the game here. Menezes is, however, known for his no-nonsense attitude, even towards the most illustrious of his players. This meritocratic streak could be advantageous, given the need for an overhaul of the seleção in the wake of their poor World Cup campaign.

Friday, 23 July 2010

CBF Set to Appoint Muricy Ramalho as Brazil Coach

The CBF has announced in the last thirty minutes that they have invited Muricy Ramalho to take control of the seleção, following the departure of Dunga. It is as yet unclear whether Ramalho, under contract with Fluminense until the end of the year, will forfeit his role with the Laranjeiras club, or seek to juggle both jobs.

Ramalho has established himself as one of Brazil's most respected coaches during the past decade, thanks largely to three consecutive Série A titles with São Paulo, between 2006 and 2008. Following a brief but torrid spell with Palmeiras, Ramalho has vindicated his reputation in recent months with Flu, who he has guided to first place in the Campeonato Brasileiro.

The announcement, whilst likely to placate those who were reluctant to see the return of Luiz Felipe Scolari or Carlos Alberto Parreira, is unlikely to please those eager to see the seleção return to the stylish football of the 70s and 80s. Ramalho is reknowned primarily for his ability to build stable sides, built on a resolute defence, as well as for his motivational skills. At São Paulo, success on the pitch was the result of extensive structural and commercial reform; at Flu too, Ramalho has already starting planning for new training facilities. Whether he can achieve success within the seleção's occasionally intransigent power structure remains to be seen.

Furacão Blow Santos Away; Flu Go Top

The Brasileirão continues to be as unpredictable as ever; this midweek, each of the bottom two clubs claimed convincing wins over rivals hoping for a title tilt. Atlético Goianiense knocked Corinthians off their perch at the top of the table, a result which allowed Fluminense to assume the leadership 24 hours later. Santos also slumped to defeat (their third on the bouce) in Curitiba...

Atlético-PR 2-0 Santos

At the ever-lively Arena da Baixada, Atlético Paranaense brushed Santos aside to claw their way out of the relegation zone. Inspired by the sensational Paulo Baier, this was a thoroughly convincing performance from the Furacão, who would have netted four or five if not for some stellar goalkeeping from Santos' Rafael.

So let's get this out of the way; Santos were hopeless. Overrun in midfield and disorganised in attack, the away side at no stage looked like getting anything from the match. Between the bulky Marcel up front, and Arouca at the base of the midfield, Dorival Júnior selected no less than four lightweight attacking players, none of whom appeared to have any set positional instructions. Neymar at least had the intelligence to drift to the left, and was by far Santos' best player. Robinho had the look of a man whose mind was elsewhere (Europe, perhaps?), and along with Wesley and Zezinho, turned in a performance so anonymous that I at times thought the teamsheet was playing a practical joke on me.

No smoke without Baier; the playmaker was at the centre of everything.

This shouldn't detract too much from the performance of Atlético, and particularly of the aforementioned Paulo Baier. Remember Zinedine Zidane's performance against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup? Sometimes a player doesn't have to sprint everywhere, doesn't have to try the killer pass every time, doesn't have to dribble past his man; sometimes a player just understands. That was Baier on Wednesday night. The 35 year-old playmaker was impeccable; drifting into space between midfield and attack, controlling the tempo of the game, creating countless chances, and threatening with a series of thumping drives. The first of these, midway through the first half, brought a wonder save from Rafael, who tipped the ball over at full stretch.

By that point, Atlético were already ahead. A typically dangerous corner from (you guessed it) Paulo Baier found its way to defender Bruno Costa, who joyfully volleyed in at the far post. Despite their dominance, the Furacão would have to wait until after the break to double their advantage. Paulo Baier's free-kick deceived Rafael, who could only paw the ball out and watch in horror as Atlético's Bruno Mineiro calmly finished into the unguarded net. Only the post denied the home side a stunning third. Paulo Baier (are you seeing the pattern here?!) found fellow veteran Alex Mineiro with a clever through ball, but the striker's snapshot rattled back off the woodwork.

An honourable mention, too, should go to Atlético's three centre-backs, Leandro, Bruno Costa, and Rhodolfo (who looks alarmingly like Kaká's evil older brother), who jointly stifled Santos' usual attacking threat. If the home side can produce performances like this on a more frequent basis, it will go a long was to securing their safety in Série A.

Gameweek 10 Round-up
Form teams Flamengo and Avaí met at the Maracanã, and the result was, predictably, a draw. It was the newly monickered 'Drogba da Gávea,' Diego Maurício, who sent the Rubro-Negro ahead, applying a precise finish after a slick build-up involving Vinícius Pacheco and Léo Moura. Avaí earnt a point, however, through Gabriel's long-range free-kick. The draw sees Flamengo replaced in the top four by Internacional, who came from behind to claim a 2-1 win over Atlético-MG. Diego Souza, making his first start for the Galo, opened the scoring, slotting home from a tight angle from Diego Tardelli's pass. Alecsandro proved the difference for Inter, however, twice rounding the keeper to finish after gorgeous through-balls (the first from Taison, the second from Guiñazu).

Inter's Sandro (left) competes with Diego Souza of Atlético-MG.

São Paulo continued their indifferent form, managing only a 1-1 home draw with Grêmio Prudente. Fernandinho and Washington, earning rare starts, combined in the first minute to put the Tricolor ahead; the latter finishing after the former had drawn the 'keeper out of position. The Abelha got on back level terms thanks to Anderson Luis' powerful header, and held on for a point. 1-1 was also the score at a sodden Olímpico, where Vasco held Grêmio. Nunes bagged his second goal in two games for the Gigante da Colina; his header sneaking in off the slippery turf. Jonas equalised for the home side just two minutes later, turning sharply before rifling into the top corner.

First met last at the Serra Dourada, with surprising consequences. Corinthians slipped to their first defeat of the season, beaten 3-1 by Atlético Goianiense. Captain Robston put the Dragão ahead from the spot after Júlio César had flattened Rodrigo Tiuí, but Corinthians drew level thanks to Iarley's instinctive finish. In the second period, however, the home side turned on the style; regaining the lead through Pedro Paulo's rocket, before adding a third thanks to Marcão's tap-in.

It was an eventful evening both on and off the pitch as Vitória and Goiás drew in Salvador. The Esmeraldino got off to a flyer thanks to goals from Rafael Moura and Everton Santos, but were pegged back by Ricardo Conceição's bullet header. Vitória finally managed an equaliser in the dying seconds of the game, but Soares' fierce drive was only the start of the drama. A post-game dispute between a radio correspondent and volatile Goiás boss Emerson Leão exploded into a full scale brawl, culminating in Leão and three of his players being arrested and taken to the local police station. All four could face criminal charges, and Rafael Moura, caught on camera landing a full-blooded right hook on an unsuspecting victim, might well be in big trouble. These were ugly scenes, reminiscent of the riot following Coritiba's relegation last season, and represent a shameful side of Brazilian football which must be eradicated.

Back to more civil matters, and Fluminense celebrated their 108 year birthday in style by leaping to first place in the Brasileirão, thanks to a tight win over Cruzeiro. Managed by ex-Flu boss Cuca, the Raposa have been in fine fettle since the World Cup break, and turned in another good display at the Maracanã. Fluminense, though, the picture of efficiency under Muricy Ramalho, withstood the pressure, and snatched all three points with Leandro Euzébio's towering header.

"Howe are you?" "Verrry gude, fank-you." Scolari and Santana embrace pre-match.

Botafogo produced a stirring comeback to rescue a 2-2 draw against Palmeiras at the Pacaembu. Sporting a brand new home kit (just in time for the start of...August?) in the first half, Palmeiras had to change to a brand new away kit in the second. Not a marketing ploy, apparently; it just took 45 minutes to decide that the dark green shirt was too similar to Fogo's black strip. Hmmm. Anyway, the Verdão took the lead through Marcos Assunção's wonderful free-kick, before Kléber added a second after a penetrative attack. Jobson, returning after his ban for drug use, pulled one back with a magnificent header from a Marcelo Cordeiro cross, before centre-back Antônio Carlos ensured a point for the Glorioso. In Campinas, newly promoted duo Guarani and Ceará also shared the points, battling to a 1-1 draw. Ernandes' fabulous drive from 30 yards gave the Vovô the lead, but Ricardo Xavier had the last word, heading home a Baiano free-kick for Guarani.

(Photo credits; (1), (2) Gil Leonardi, (3) Tim Dib.)

Thursday, 22 July 2010


I'm pleased to announce that an addition to writing on this blog, I shall be contributing articles as the newly appointed (drum roll please) Brazil correspondent for world football site In Bed With Maradona. With other writers such as Sam Kelly of Hasta El Gol Siempre set to provide country-specific coverage, the site is one to keep an eye on over the coming months.

While SKP will remain the focus of my output, this opportunity should allow for a broader selection of articles on the game in Brazil. This page will continue to bring you regular reports of events in the Brasileirão, and of games involving the seleção, whereas I hope to take in more general trends with my pieces at IBWM. The idea is that this slight difference of approach will make it worth the reader's while to follow my writing on both sites.

Right, before this turns into any more of a dull mission statement, let me draw your attention to my inaugural IBWM article, on the decline of wingers in Brazilian football. Stay tuned here for my Campeonato Brasileiro round-up tomorrow.

Monday, 19 July 2010

São Paulo Slip to Second Consecutive Defeat; Pet Lifts Flamengo into Top 4

The games continue to flow thick and fast in the Brasileirão, as the league plays catch-up in the wake of the World Cup. It was a bad weekend for São Paulo, who not only lost, but saw bitter city rivals Corinthians pull away at the head of the table. Flamengo continued their good form after the break, with a 1-0 away win against Atlético-GO, which sees them sneak into the top 4.

Vitória 3-2 São Paulo
Ricardo Gomes's São Paulo, fresh from a home loss to Avaí, were looking to get their league campaign back on track against Vitória in Salvador. The Tricolor are soon to play semi-final of the Copa Libertadores, but a full-strength starting XI at the Barradão suggested that the team's focus is, for now, wholly on the league. Vitória, however, have been quietly effective at home, and proved more than a match for the visitors.

Ramon (right) celebrates his goal.

The Leão enjoyed the majority of possession in the first period, and took the lead when Elkeson rose magnificently to head home Egídio's pinpoint cross. São Paulo's attacking output was limited to the occasional ineffective counter-attack, leaving Fernandão marooned up front for long periods. Against the run of play, however, the away side equalised. Right wing-back Jean finally ventured forward, and after swapping passes with Hernanes (easily São Paulo's standout player on the night), slid his shot into the corner of the net.

The leveller was evidently an affront to Ricardo Silva's men, who came bursting out of the traps in the second period to regain control of the game. Another beautiful Egídio cross was nodded home by Schwenk to make it 2-1, and Ramon added a third soon after. Elkeson's clever ball beat the offside trap, and the veteran striker kept his cool to stroke past Rogério Ceni. By this stage, the three points looked safe, but the ball-boys clearly didn't want to take any chances; amusingly, referee Marcelo de Lima Henrique was forced to dismiss two of them for being too slow in returning the ball to São Paulo players. The Tricolor did drag themselves back into contention via a Fernandão header, but couldn't muster another equaliser. The win for Vitória sees them move above São Paulo in the standings.

Atlético-GO 0-1 Flamengo
The Rubro-Negro picked up an undeserved win at the Serra Dourada thanks to performances by men at both ends of the standard footballing lifespan. It was Dejan Petkovic who again proved the difference in attack, and who netter Flamengo's only goal from the penalty spot. But the real star was young (OK, he's actually 23, but cut me some slack) goalkeeper Marcelo Lomba, who pulled off some fine saves to keep the Dragão at bay.

The first half was a timid affair, with both teams seemingly content to remain at arm's length. There was, however, one exception. Diego Maurício spent the opening period tearing around the pitch, displaying the work ethic of a man desperate to earn a more permanent role in the team. It was he who, after half an hour, burst into the box, and was felled by Gilson. The referee correctly awarded a spot-kick, which Petkovic dispatched into the corner.

'Pet' salutes the Fla fans.

The home side came to life in the second period, particularly after the introduction of Juninho and Anaílson. The pair combined to good effect down the left, and it took some dogged Flamengo defending to prevent an equaliser. Ronaldo Angleim and Welinton received protection not only from the ever energetic Willians, but from débutant Correa, who put in an assured shift in midfield. It was a fortuitous but priceless win for Flamengo, who, despite their troubles both on and off the pitch, find themselves in fourth place.

Gameweek 9 Round-up
Vasco picked up only their second win of the season, beating fellow relegation scrappers Atlético Paranaense 3-1 at the São Januário. Strikers Jonathan and Nunes both netted their first goals for the club; the former with a shot that slipped through the hands of Neto in the Furacão goal, and the latter with a penalty after Jonathan was brought down in the box. Bruno Mineiro pulled one back before half time for nine-man Atlético, but Léo Gago wrapped things up around the hour mark with a low drive from distance.

Corinthians pulled away at the top of the table with a 1-0 win against Atlético-MG, as Ceará lost to Inter. Bruno César netted the Timão's only goal with a deflected effort. Inter turned in a good performance at the Beira-Rio, and took the lead through an Alecsandro penalty after Giuliano tumbled (dived) in the area. Kléber added a second after good work by Andrés d'Alessandro, before a Pato Abbondanzieri howler gifter Michel a consolation.

Young forward Alan was again decisive for Fluminense.

Fluminense move up to second following a tight 1-0 win against stuttering Santos at the Vila Belmiro. After withstanding long periods of pressure, the Tricolor netted on the break when supersub Alan drilled home after receiving Mariano's visionary pass. Cruzeiro too picked up a 1-0 victory, at home to lowly Goiás. Playmaker Gilberto bagged the goal, finishing with aplomb after a one-two with Wellington Paulista.

Botafogo endured their sixth consecutive game without a win, this time drawing 1-1 with Guarani. A superb break-away attack from the Bugre saw Mazola leave Botafogo defender Danny Morais for dead before squaring for Ricardo Xavier to open the scoring. The Glorioso defender made amends just before half time, however, rising to powerfully head Lúcio Flávio's corner past Douglas. The Rio side now sit 15th in the table, just one point above a group that includes Grêmio, who lost away to partial namesakes Grêmio Prudente. Paulo César grabbed the first with a free kick (aided by a defensive wall which parted like the Red Sea), before Wanderley added another on the break in the final seconds.

At the Ressacada, in-form Avaí ensured that Luiz Felipe Scolari's honeymoon period with Palmeiras was short lived, inflicting a 4-2 defeat on the Verdão. It was the visitors who took the lead through Gabriel Silva, but two lovely Avaí goals put them in the driving seat at half time. Caio got the first with a lovely left-footed drive, before Robinho (not that one) finished off an incisive passing move. In the second period, Kléber levelled things with a penalty (which he'd dived theatrically to earn), but the Leão da Ilha were not to be denied. Caio bagged his second after seeing his own penalty saved by Deola, before Roberto ran clear, calmly evaded the Palmeiras keeper and steered his shot into the empty net.

(Photo credits; (1) Romildo de Jesus/Lancepress, (2) Carlos Costa, (3) Ivan Storti.)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Felipão Returns With Victory Over Santos; Ceará and Corinthians Remain Unbeaten

The Campeonato Brasileiro restarted on Wednesday, after a four week break for the World Cup. Ceará and Corinthians stuttered to a draw that gave Fluminense a chance to draw level on points at the top of the table, but the Tricolor could only manage a point against Grêmio Prudente. One team who did make up ground on the leaders was Palmeiras; now under new leadership...

Palmeiras 2-1 Santos
A derby between São Paulo giants is never an insignificant affair, but Thursday's meeting was lent added importance by the return of one of Brazil's most fêted managers; Luiz Felipe Scolari. Back for his second spell at the club, the appointment has been widely praised by fans eager to see Palmeiras recover from their recent wobbles. Felipão, however, is always in demand; the ink had barely dried on his two-year contract with the Verdão before there were calls for him to be named as Dunga's replacement as coach of the seleção. Scolari's comments in the media suggest this is unlikely; he hopes for a return to European management when his deal expires in 2012.

With the Palestra Itália undergoing a makeover, it was the Pacaembu which hosted the visit of Santos. The Peixe were without Robinho and Marquinhos, and Paulo Henrique Ganso was only fit enough for a place on the bench. For the (nominal) home side, Scolari was not the only returning hero; after a successful spell with Cruzeiro, o Gladiador Kléber started up front alongside Ewerton.

Ewerton celebrates his role in the new Adidas advert his opening goal.

It was the latter who, out of nothing, gave Palmeiras the lead on 13 minutes. After shifting the ball from under his feet, the former Borussia Dortmund man cracked a powerful drive into the top corner, giving Santos 'keeper Rafael no chance. The Peixe grew into the game before the break, but despite the probing of Madson, failed to create any clear-cut chances.

Palmeiras started the second period as they had the first; Rafael had to be at his best to deny Ewerton a second after some magical build-up involving Lincoln. Santos threatened through Maranhão's long-range effort, but were soon after exposed by a swift Palmeiras break. Débutant Tinga swapped passes with Kléber, before surging forward and hitting a low cross-shot which Edu Dracena diverted into his own net.

Dorival Júnior threw on Marcel to offer greater physical presence up front, much to the disgust of the departing Neymar. The Santos coach was vindicated, however, with 7 minutes to go; Marcel brought down a high ball and smashed a ferocious shot home via the crossbar. It would prove to be little more than a consolation, however; Felipão's charges move up to seventh in the table, level on points with the Peixe.

Ceará 0-0 Corinthians
Goalless it may have been, but Wednesday's game in Fortaleza was a competitive game between two teams at the head of the Brasileirão table. Ceará's impressive record this year, particularly at home, has been built on a tight defence and midfield, and it was clear that the Timão would have to be at their best to make a breakthrough. Injuries, however, meant that Mano Menezes was deprived of not only Ronaldo, but Dentinho and Jorge Henrique too.

Corinthians schemer Bruno César looks to launch an attack.

The replacement front three of Danilo, Iarley, and Matías Defederico struggled to make any headway against the home side's superb back line, meaning Corinthians were largely reliant on Bruno César to provide an attacking threat from midfield. It was he who produced the best effort on goal during the first period; unleashing a stinging drive that Diego did will to palm over. Ceará's best moments, as ever, came on the break; the combination of Misael and Oziel on the right frequently exposed Roberto Carlos' lack of pace, but some wasteful finishing saw the teams finish the half level.

The second half provided more of the same; Corinthians enjoyed ample possession but couldn't convert it into concrete chances. The entrance of veteran midfielder Tcheco and forward Souza gave the Timão more attacking presence, but in truth it was Ceará who could have stolen the three points. Late on, the mercurial Misael launched a delicate curling shot which Júlio César superbly tipped away. In the end, though, the draw was a fair result; one that sees both teams maintain their unbeaten records in Série A.

Gameweek 8 Round-up
On a laughable Maracanã pitch, Flamengo beat Botafogo 1-0 in the Clássico Carioca. A typically penetrative Petkovic through-ball sent Vinícius Pacheco clear on the left, and his cross was scuffed home by substitute Paulo Sérgio. It was a much-needed boost for a Rubro-Negro side shorn not only of Adriano and Vágner Love (who have both returned to European football) but of Bruno, the goalkeeper involved in the murder-mystery that has gripped Brazil in recent days.

Life after Love; Vágner's gone, but Paulo Sérgio sealed three points for Fla.

São Paulo slumped to a disappointing home loss to Avaí, who are now level on points with the Tricolor. Roberto cleverly converted Patric's drilled cross past Rogério Ceni for the opener, before Vandinho added a second on the break. Hernanes pulled one back with a sumptuous left-footed finish, but the home side couldn't find an equaliser. At the Serra Dourada, Goiás and Vasco played out a goalless draw so dull that I'd be doing you a disservice to elaborate on it.

New coach Cuca declared himself delighted with the efforts of his Cruzeiro players following a 2-0 win away to Atlético Paranaense. The Raposa took the lead when Wellington Paulista headed home Thiago Ribeiro's perfect cross, and sealed the win late on through new signing Robert (incidentally a dead-ringer for Jason Roberts).

There were mixed fortunes on Wednesday for the teams from Porto Alegre. Inter romped to an impressive 3-0 win against Guarani for only their third win of the campaign. Sandro blasted them ahead after good work from Kléber, and poacher extraordinaire Alecsandro added a second after Douglas could only palm Andrezinho's effort into his path. The scoring was rounded off by Taison, whose acceleration and cool finish brought back memories of his excellent form of a year ago. Grêmio, however, could only manage a 1-1 draw with Vitória at the Olímpico. The Tricolor needed an Egídio own-goal to level Wallace's first half opener.

Thursday saw Fluminense waste their chance to go joint top, after a late Grêmio Prudente goal denied them a win at the Maracanã. The Rio team took the lead when Fred headed home a Darío Conca free-kick, but were made to pay for not adding another; Wesley levelled with a fine individual goal with just 6 minutes remaining. Diego Tardelli was again the catalyst for Atlético Mineiro, as they ran out 3-2 winners over Atlético Goianiense. He bagged his first with a low drive after a clever run and dummy by Neto Berola, a new signing from Vitória. Marcão equalised for the visitors, but the Galo restored and then extended their lead within 7 minutes. Diego Tardelli converted from the spot after Neto Berola was brought down in the area, before loanee Ricardo Bueno headed a third. Rodrigo Tiuí pulled one back in the second period after a howler from Fábio Costa, but Atlético-MG held on for a deserved win.

(Photo credits; (1) Tom Dib, (2) Jarbas Oliveira, (3) Cleber Mendes.)

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Mistakes and Melo-drama as Brazil Exit Copa

“We’d seen the trailer so many times, and today we got the film.” Globo pundit Caio Ribeiro’s take on Felipe Melo’s indiscipline was one of the more eloquent reactions to Brazil’s loss to Holland, which spelt the end of the World Cup for the seleção. Galvão Bueno, Brazil’s pre-eminent commentator, looked on the verge of tears, and Falcão lamented at length the thoroughly ‘un-Brazilian’ football displayed by the team throughout the tournament.

One emotion, however, was universal, among Brazilians on the street as well as the screen; shock. Forty-five minutes of madness had seen the seleção go from the brink of booking their place in the semi-finals to the shame of booking their plane tickets home; from heroes to zeroes.

Dani Alves lies prone after the final whistle.

In a first half of limited quality (the game took place on a pitch more suited to agriculture than football), it was Brazil who managed to refrain from fouling and diving long enough to score the opener. Felipe Melo’s glorious sweeping ball found Robinho, who dispatched a low first-time volley after drifted into space behind the sleeping John Heitinga. Further chances fell to Juan, who should have done better after good work by Daniel Alves; and Kaká, whose curling shot brought a fine save from Marten Stekelenberg in the Holland goal.

Brazil, despite not having excelled in the opening period, looked comfortable. Few could have predicted what was to occur in the second period. After 53 minutes, a rare defensive error gifted Holland an equaliser. After a (nominal) Michel Bastos foul on Arjen Robben, and a quick free-kick, Wesley Sneijder swung over a hopeful cross from the right. The whole Brazilian defence appeared to expect Júlio César to claim the high ball…except Felipe Melo, who evidently didn’t receive that particular memo. The two jumped together, and the ball flicked of Felipe Melo’s head into the net.

The seleção were visibly rattled, and quickly conceded a second. Robben’s corner was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt at the near post, and Sneijder was left free to head home from close range. Brazil suddenly had it all to do with thirty minutes to play. The task would have been difficult enough with eleven men, but then came Felipe Melo’s (second) moment of madness. After hacking Robben to the ground, the Juventus volante proceeded to stamp on the winger’s thigh, right under the nose of the referee. It was a bizarre incident; a moment of such sheer idiocy that it didn’t seem real. The commentary merely reinforced this illusion; rather than raising his voice, or sighing in frustration, Galvão calmly noted that “this was always a possibility.”

Felipe Melo sees red.

Brazil created nary a chance in the remaining minutes; indeed it was Holland who could (and really should) have bagged a third. The seleção attacked with desperation rather than inspiration; Gilberto Silva and Lúcio lumped long balls up to nobody in particular, Luís Fabiano went missing completely before being replaced by Nilmar, and Robinho barely touched the ball in the second period. It was Kaká who went closest, but after surging down the left his shot was blocked by Andre Ooijer. In truth, Brazil never looked like getting back into the game after Holland’s second.

The body was barely cold before the post-mortem had begun. The blame thus far has been spread fairly evenly between Felipe Melo and Dunga, although some have suggested that problems caused by the former are merely a manifestation of the latter’s errors; that Dunga ought to have noticed this particular disciplinary time bomb before it exploded in his and the nation’s face. Dunga also must be criticised for the lack of feasible game-changing options on his bench; how he must have wished to see Ronaldinho, Diego, Paulo Henrique Ganso, and Alexandre Pato on the bench next to him, rather than Júlio Baptista, Kléberson, Gilberto, and Grafite.

The strongest complaints, however, will be those of the type made by Falcão; that Brazil not only lost, but lost playing ugly football. The claim that Dunga’s seleção has only ever been based on physicality and functionality may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but many are in favour of shifting the team’s priorities back to the aesthetic. In a country whose (self) image is both reflected in and defined by the style of its football, there is a feeling that the uniqueness of the seleção has been lost in the past twenty years.

This process, of course, may be irreversible, given modern trends of commercialisation, professionalism, and increased physical preparation, but if one were to distil public opinion in Brazil this evening, I’m sure one would find a desire to bring back the intricate, flowing football of 1970 and 1982. Brazil’s dreams of becoming hexacampeão may be over for another four years, but today’s loss could turn out to be a positive juncture in its illustrious footballing history.

(Photo credits; (1) Laurence Griffiths/Getty, (2) Robert Ghement/GPA.)