Thursday, 5 August 2010

Santos Win Copa do Brasil

Despite losing on the evening to a brave Vitória side, Santos were last night crowned Copa do Brasil champions for the first time in their history. Celebrations in Salvador were tinged with melancholy, however; this was probably the curtain call for the current crop of Meninos da Vila.

Vitória 2-1 Santos (2-3 on aggregate)
Santos travelled to Salvador with a two goal advantage from the first leg, but any complacency on their part would have evapourated with a quick glance at the pitch at the Barradão. Resembling a bog in a couple of areas, the turf was always likely to favour Vitória's more direct approach; the Leão, with both Schwenk and Júnior (remember him, Walsall/Derby fans?!) in attack, were set up to bombard Santos with long-balls and crosses into the area. The Peixe, on the other hand, normally so devastating on the break, had some problems finding their rhythm.

The first chance of the game fell to Vitória; Schwenk crossed from the right for Júnior, who really should have done better with a free header. Soon after, Schwenk had a chance of his own, but couldn't find a way past Santos goalkeeper Rafael. The home side would be made to regret their profligacy, as Santos gained control of the game towards the end of the half. Spurred on by the ever-excellent Arouca, the seasiders began to have some joy with attacks down the flanks; Alex Sandro and Neymar doubled up down the left, and Pará and Robinho did likewise on the right. It was from a dead ball, however, that Santos would open the scoring. Neymar's free-kick was initially blocked, but the youngster took advantage of a kind rebound to curl a delightful cross into the area. Centre-back Edu Dracena, in a yard of space, glanced the ball in off the near post.

Edu Dracena celebrates his crucial goal.

Returning from their half-time break, Vitória needed no fewer than four goals to turn the tie around. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, but to their credit they made a game of it in the second period. The equaliser came from defender Wallace, who volleyed home with some aplomb after a knock-down by veteran Rámon. Further chances came and went for the Leão; Júnior again missed his header when it looked easier to score, and substitute Renato saw his effort come back off the bar. At the other end, the introduction of Marquinhos gave Santos more cutting edge, but the seasiders couldn't find a way past Julián Viáfara. Just when it looked like the game was petering out, Vitória snatched a second. Júnior, fed by the impressive Elkeson, finally found the net; lifting a sumptuous chip over Rafael to give the home side the lead. The goal would prove to be too little, too late; Santos held on for a 3-2 aggregate win.

As the celebrations ensued, all questions about disharmony in the Santos camp (in wake of an amusing story about a Twitter webcast that went rather awry) were dispelled; Dorival Júnior and his men looked the picture of unity as they lifted their second title in six months. There was, however, a undercurrent of mourning to the proceedings; the days of this group of Meninos da Vila look numbered. This week, André will jet off to the Ukraine to join up with Dynamo Kiev, and with interest in Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso ever-growing, the fans of the Peixe could see their team decimated before the midway point of the Brasileirão. The prize of a place in next year's Libertadores, while substantial, will surely arrive far too late for many of the current side.

Robinho and Neymar are raised aloft by club staff.

A message of hope, though, was offered by Robinho. The forward, who has now won the Brasileirão, the Campeonato Paulista, and the Copa do Brasil with Santos, promised to do all in his power to return to the club on a permanent basis. While acknowledging his contractual obligation with Manchester City, the seleção star affirmed that his heart remains at the Vila Belmiro.

(Photo credits; (1)& (3) Marcos Ribolli/, (2) Tom Dib.)

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