Monday 29 November 2010

Title Race Goes Down to Wire as Top Three All Win; Guarani Relegated

The penultimate round of the 2010 Brasileirão saw all twenty clubs play simultaneously on Sunday evening. Leaders Fluminense and third placed Cruzeiro both came from behind to record wins, meaning that the title will be decided in the final rodada. Corinthians (who also picked up a victory) sit just one point behind Flu, with Cruzeiro a further point back. The battle for the final Libertadores spot (which will only be in play if Goiás fail to win the Copa Sul-americana final...I hope you're paying attention at the back) will also be resolved next week, as both Grêmio and Botafogo claimed maximum points. Things are a bit clearer at the bottom, where Guarani have now joined Grêmio Prudente and Goiás in being relegated to Série B. Atlético Mineiro are now safe, as are Flamengo and Avaí barring some cricket scores next week. That leaves only Vitória and Atlético-GO fighting it out for the sanctuary of 16th place; conveniently, those two will play each other next Sunday.

Palmeiras 1-2 Fluminense
Just like last week, Fluminense travelled to São Paulo to face a bitter rival of title challengers Corinthians. Just like last week, the fans of that team had spent most of the build-up to the game pleading their side to roll over and gift Flu the points. Just like last week, the home side's goal was greeted with a communal "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" rather than genuine celebration. And just like last week, Fluminense eventually ran out comfortable winners, one step closer to a historic title.

If anything, the sense of inevitability surrounding this match was even more palpable than that which preceded the São Paulo game. Palmeiras players and staff were bitterly disappointed to lose their Copa Sul-americana semi-final with Goiás, and spent most of the week moaning about how demotivated they were for this clash. Luiz Felipe Scolari, though, contrary to expectations, fielded a strong side, including key players Kléber and Marcos Assunção. Fluminense, for the first time in months, boasted a full-strength attack; the quartet of Fred, Emerson, Deco, and Conca were able to start a match together for the first time.

Carlinhos (right) salutes the crowd after his equaliser.

Within minutes of kick-off, Palmeiras (decked out in a kit that made them look like the Ireland rugby team) went ahead. Some careless Tricolor defending allowed Dinei to steal the ball, before unleashing an impeccable half-volley into the top corner of Ricardo Berna's goal from 30 yards. A true golaço, and one which briefly suggested that this could be a closely-fought battle. What followed however, was total dominance by Fluminense. The visitors spurned a flurry of chances over the following minutes; Emerson saw his header come back off the bar, and Deco and Fred both wasted presentable chances. An equaliser soon arrived, though, and it was Carlinhos who made the breakthrough. The left-back made space for himself on the edge of the box before curling the ball neatly into the far corner.

Muricy Ramalho's side continued to boss things until the half-time whistle, but, as so often recently, lacked the ruthlessness that would have seen them rack up a hatful of goals; chances came and went for Fred, Conca, Emerson and Gum. The start of the second half followed much the same pattern, and eventually Fluminense bagged their second. Tartá, on as a sub for the injured Deco, collected a rebound and coolly beat Deola in the Palmeiras goal. That was the end of the contest; players from both sides spent the remaining thirty minutes jogging round, occasionally trying half-hearted passes to their teammates. Palmeiras forward Kléber, for instance, usually such a hard-worker, could barely even be bothered to disguise his lack of interest. It was a disappointingly predictable end to the match, but Fluminense will have no complaints; they remain in the box seat ahead of their final game against Guarani.

Gameweek 37 Round-up
Corinthians kept the pressure on Fluminense with a routine 2-0 win over Vasco in front of a rapturous crowd at the Pacaembu. The Timão went ahead when Bruno César's speculative cannoned off Dedé and slid under the body of Fernando Prass. It was the midfielder's 14th goal of the campaign. The victory was sealed in the second period, when Roberto Carlos' tempting cross was converted by Danilo at the far post. Corinthians will travel to play Goiás next week, hoping their rivals slip up.

Vasco's Zé Roberto is watched by Dentinho and Roberto Carlos.

Despite going behind to Diego Maurício's early strike (a simple finish after a lovely Diogo pass), Cruzeiro proved too much for Flamengo, claiming a 2-1 victory. Roger's deflected free-kick brought the Raposa level, before Thiago Ribeiro nodded home Walter Montillo's inch-perfect cross. Cruzeiro's local rivals Atlético Mineiro finally secured their Série A survival with a 3-1 win over Goiás at the Arena do Jacaré. Diego Souza slotted the Galo into an early lead, before Éverton Santos flicked home a clever equaliser. Dorival Júnior's men were not to be denied however; Renan Oliveira and Diego Tardelli both added emphatic finishes to seal the win. Much credit must be given to Dorival for turning round the club's fortunes since his arrival in September.

Botafogo earnt their first win in five games, overcoming Grêmio Prudente at the Engenhão. Prolific centre-back Antônio Carlos headed home his seventh of the season from a Lúcio Flávio corner to give O Glorioso the lead, before Edno rifled home a spectacular second. Willian José reduced the arrears with a fine lone-range strike, but Marcelo Cordeiro's spot kick put the game to bed. Joel Santana's men, though, must beat Grêmio in their final match in order to claim the final Libertadores spot, after the Porto Alegre side brushed aside Guarani. André Lima's simple header put the Tricolor ahead, before Jonas converted a penalty and young striker Diego added a breakaway third in the final minutes.

A hattrick from diminutive midfielder Caio inspired Florianópolis side Avaí to a stunning comeback victory over Santos. Some magical skill from Neymar allowed Keirrison to bundle home the opener, and Neymar himself put the Peixe two goals to the good with a typically cool finish. From there on in, however, Santos were forced to take a front row seat for the Caio show. The 30-year-old skipped past five challenges to knock home a glorious first, before smashing home two unstoppable drives from the edge of the area, one with either foot. It was a lovely way to ensure the club's continued Série A status.

Elias (left) celebrates his vital goal for Atlético-GO.

The remaining three games all finished as 1-1 draws. Rafael Santos gave Atlético Paranaense the lead over Ceará, but the Fortaleza club equalised thanks to Magno Alves' heavily deflected effort. At the Beira-Rio, it was Adaílton who smashed Vitória into the lead against Inter, only for Rafael Sobis to spare the Colorado's blushes with a well-taken solo goal. São Paulo took the lead in their clash with Atlético Goianiense when Rogério tucked home a penalty, but were pegged back by Elias' scuffed finish. Those results mean that Vitória's game against Atlético-GO is a straight shootout for survival. Vitória need to win that match; a draw would see Atlético survive due to having scored more goals, even though the teams have the same goal difference.

Results; Atlético-GO 1-1 São Paulo, Corinthians 2-0 Vasco, Internacional 1-1 Vitória, Flamengo 1-2 Cruzeiro, Atlético-MG 3-1 Goiás, Avaí 3-2 Santos, Palmeiras 1-2 Fluminense, Guarani 0-3 Grêmio, Ceará 1-1 Atlético-PR, Botafogo 3-1 Grêmio Prudente.

(Photo credits; (1) Ivan Storti, (2) Eduardo Viana, (3) Carlos Costa.)

Thursday 25 November 2010

Goiás Stun Palmeiras to Reach Copa Sul-Americana Final

Having won the away leg 1-0 last week, Palmeiras were considered favourites to advance from their all-Brazilian Copa Sul-americana semi-final with Goiás. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was clearly prioritising the competition; frequently resting his side's star players in recent Série A matches so as to keep them fresh for this game. Goiás, however, tore up the scipt last night, coming from behind to dump the Verdão out of the tournament.

In front of a packed Pacaembu, the hosts took control early on; Tinga rattled the post with a powerful drive, and Luan tested Goiás 'keeper Harlei. With half an hour gone, Palmeiras broke the deadlock; Edinho lofted a lovely diagonal pass for Luan, who held off his marker before volleying into the far corner. The goal have the São Paulo side a 2-0 aggegate advantage, leaving Goiás with plenty to do. Their task was made easier with a slightly fortuitous goal on the stroke of halftime; Carlos Alberto's close range header took a heavy deflection off Tinga, and beat Deola in the Palmeiras goal.

Despair for Palmeiras forward Luan (left), as the Goiás players celebrate.

Palmeiras had their share of chances in the second period, with Kléber in particular guilty of some wasteful finishing. Their profligacy would be punished by Goiás, who scored their crucial second goal with ten minutes remaining. Marcão's cross from the left was headed back across goal by Rafael Moura, giving Ernando the easiest of finishes. The entire Pacaembu fell silent, stunned at the away side's comeback. Palmeiras tried to recover in the final minutes, but the dye was cast; Goiás progress to the final on away goals. They will meet either LDU Quito or Independiente, who will settle their semi-final this evening.

Result; Palmeiras 1-2 Goiás (2-2 on aggregate; Goiás win on away goals).

(Photo credit; Ari Ferreira.)

Monday 22 November 2010

Fluminense Back on Top After Beating São Paulo; Neymar Nets Three for Santos

The Série A season took another twist this weekend, only the latest of hundreds over the past 36 rounds. Corinthians were held by Vitória, allowing Muricy Ramalho's Fluminense to regain top spot with a win over São Paulo. Cruzeiro sealed their Libertadores place with a comfortable victory over Vasco, while Grêmio snuck into fourth. At the other end, there were vital wins for Avaí, Atlético-MG, and Flamengo.

São Paulo 1-4 Fluminense
The lead-up to Sunday's game at the Arena Bareuri had seen a group of ardent São Paulo fans call for their team to lose this match, allowing Fluminense to overtake their bitter rivals Corinthians at the head of the Brasileirão. In truth, the campaign way made with tongue firmly in cheek, but one may have wondered, at full time, whether a few of the home players hadn't missed a midweek memo; the Tricolor Paulista rolled over like a playful kitten in the second half, allowing their sub-par opponents to take the spoils.

Flu were boosted by the fitness of Fred and Deco, who added some much-needed attacking weight to the side alongside Darío Conca and Washington. For São Paulo, young forward Lucas Gaúcho earnt a start after scoring against Vasco, replacing Dagoberto. The visitors dominated possession in the opening period, but once again lacked a cutting edge; Washington was guilty of a handful of misses, and Fred struggled to get into the game. When Fluminense did finally break the deadlock, they had a defender to thank; Gum rose highest to nod home Conca's corner.

Right said Fred; the former Lyon striker netted in Fluminense's win.

Hero, though, turned villain early in the second half; Gum diverted Jean's cross past Ricardo Berna for the equaliser. What followed was a period of real frustration for Flu; they continued to boss play in midfield, yet looked utterly toothless in attack. Luckily for them, a couple of São Paulo players were in a generous mood; both Xandão and Richarlyson were dismissed within a ten-minute period (the first for hauling down Fred, the latter for being a whining, swearing child). With a two-man advantage, Fluminense suddenly had the space they needed, and Darío Conca (who else?!) took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Argentine neatly volleyed home his side's second, before later adding a powerful fourth. Those strikes sandwiched a goal by Fred, who finally benefitted from the kind of inexplicable fumble that Rogério Ceni had been making all game. An odd match, and hardly a Fluminense performance that warranted a 4-1 scoreline. Muricy Ramalho's men, nonetheless, are now in pole position for the title.

Gameweek 36 Round-up
Whilst Fluminense were huffing and puffing to blow down São Paulo's straw house, Corinthians were having more significant troubles. The Timão went ahead against Vitória thanks to Danilo, who ran onto Ronaldo's clever pass before bundling past the 'keeper, but things quickly fell apart for Tite's side. Ronaldo limped off with what looked like a hamstring pull, and a penalty from Leão goalkeeper Viáfara ensured that the points were shared. Corinthians now need Fluminense to slip up in the final games.

Grêmio look the best bet to seal fourth spot (and the Libertadores spot it brings), after a convincing win over Atlético Paranaense. Neuton put the Porto Alegre side ahead with a nice individual effort, but then cost his side a penalty, which Paulo Baier duly smashed home for the Furacão. Grêmio, though, were not to be denied, and earnt a penalty of their own when Edílson was felled by Rhodolfo. Douglas coolly stroked it home, before Diego added a third late on. Botafogo, meanwhile, slipped down to sixth with a 2-1 loss to Internacional. Andrezinho volleyed home to give Inter the lead, and Rafael Sobis flicked home a second. Antônio Carlos' emphatic finish would prove to be little more than a consolation for Joel Santana's men.

Neuton's laws; the Grêmio defender (right) clearly enjoyed his goal.

In front of a measly 842 fans at the Prudentão, Grêmio Prudente and Ceará battled to a 1-1 draw. Rhayner powered home the opener for the Abelha, before Geraldo levelled with a late penalty. Flamengo scraped a much-needed win over Guarani, a win that should ensure their safety. Renato Abreu's marvellous free-kick set the Rubro-Negro on their way, only for Baiano equalise directly from a corner (that's the third gol olímpico in as many weeks, incidentally; a fact that probably says more about Brazilian goalkeepers than it does about corner takers). Flamengo's Drogbinha da Gávea, Diego Maurício, came up trumps, though; drilling home after Diogo's pass. Breathing space for Vanderlei Luxemburgo's men.

Luxemburgo's previous employers, too, look increasingly likely to avoid the drop; Atlético Mineiro saw off Palmeiras 2-0 at the nicely-named Fonte Luminosa ('Luminous Source') stadium. A deflected Diego Souza free-kick opened the scoring, and Neto Berola smashed home late on to seal the victory. Avaí also did their survival hopes the world of good, seeing off Atlético Goianiense by three goals to nil. Eltinho's free-kick snuck in to put the Leão da Ilha ahead, before a late brace from Jéferson put the result beyond doubt.

Neymar celebrates his impressive hattrick.

Cruzeiro got back to winning ways at the Arena do Jacaré, overcoming Vasco on Sunday night. The Raposa netted three remarkably similar goals in a twenty minute spell; Roger, Henrique, and Edcarlos on each occassion struck following Walter Montillo corners from the right. Renato Augusto reduced the arrears with a final-minute rocket. Santos, meanwhile, confimed Goiás' relegation with a 4-1 win over the Esmeraldino. Goiás actually went ahead via Ernando's towering header, but Danilo swiftly equalised with a low strike. The rest of the game was lit up by a Neymar hattrick; the first of which arrived from the spot after the young striker had himself been tripped. Neymar then expertly tucked home his second despite significant pressure, before adding a third with a delightful chip.

Results; Grêmio 3-1 Atlético-PR, Grêmio Prudente 1-1 Ceará, Flamengo 2-1 Guarani, São Paulo 1-4 Fluminense, Vitória 1-1 Corinthians, Palmeiras 0-2 Atlético-MG, Botafogo 1-2 Internacional, Cruzeiro 3-1 Vasco, Avaí 3-0 Atlético-GO, Goiás 1-4 Santos.

(Photo credits; (1) Gustavo Tilio, (2) Ricardo Rimoli, (3) Carlos Costa.)

Friday 19 November 2010

Advantage Palmeiras in Copa Sul-Americana Semi

Brazilian interest in the 2010 Copa Sul-americana has boiled down to two teams; Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras, and Série A strugglers Goiás. The two met at the Serra Dourada on Wednesday in the first leg of their semi-final, with both sides gunning for a final berth against LDU or Independiente.

Marcos Assunção smashes home the winner in Goiânia.

Palmeiras were again without Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who has struggled to overcome a series of niggling injuries since his arrival. The trio of Tinga, Luan, and former Galatasaray man Lincoln were charged with providing support to the team's attacking focal point, Kléber. Goiás have been carried in recent weeks by Rafael Moura, and the big forward once again provided the main threat to the opposition defence. In a tight game of few clear chances, it was (as so often this term) Marcos Assunção who made the difference for the Verdão. The midfielder received the ball midway into the Goiás half, and advanced swiftly before rifling a glorious drive into the top corner of Harlei's goal. Assunção's 2010 highlight reel will make compulsive viewing.

Despite their best efforts, Goiás could not find a foothold in the match, and were restricted to only a handful of opportunities. Their best chance fell to Otacílio Neto, who saw his effort well saved by Palmeiras 'keeper Deola. The Esmeraldino now have it all to do in next week's return leg.

Result; Goiás 0-1 Palmeiras.

(Photo credit; Evaristo Sa/AFP.)

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Seleção Rethink Needed After Argentina Loss

A late Lionel Messi goal put an end to Mano Menezes' 100% record with the seleção this evening, as Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in Doha. With just minutes remaining, the diminutive No.10 swapped passes with Ezequiel Lavezzi in the centre circle, skipped past a couple of half-hearted challenges, and planted a shot past Victor. It was a goal worthy of winning any match, and was the single moment of brilliance in a largely disappointing clash.

Messi's strikes through Thiago Silva's legs to condemn Brazil to defeat.

Menezes handed Ronaldinho a start in a central playmaking role, with Neymar on the left and Robinho...actually I have no idea where Robinho was meant to be playing. The former Santos ace turned in one of the most uninspiring performances I've ever seen, leaving Brazil effectively a man light in attack. Elias earnt a start in midfield, but also failed to impress, while Ramires, a man visibly lacking confidence following his recent downturn in form with Chelsea, looked a shadow of the player who starred against the USA. Defensively, Thiago Silva had a decent game, whilst David Luiz showed intelligence; frequently tracking Argentina's attackers into midfield, knowing that his colleagues could cope with lone frontman Gonzalo Higuaín.

Brazil, in fairness, started brightly; André Santos and Daniel Alves were typically effervescent down the wings, and Ronaldinho showed that his abilities to protect and pass the football have not deserted him yet. Neymar looked lively cutting in from his wing, but often chose to tumble in the box rather than pick out a cross. It would be two relative veterans who had the seleção's best chances; Alves hit the bar with a snapshot, and Ronaldinho's cheeky backheel brought a save from Sergio Romero. As the half wore on, though, Argentina began to boss possession, and some last-ditch defending was needed to thwart the likes of Angel di María and Messi.

The second half was even more disappointing from Brazil, who failed to create a clearcut chance. Douglas took the place of Ronaldinho, but the problem was one of formation, not of personnel; with no central striker to speak of (maybe Robinho was meant to fulfill that role, who knows), Brazil's forays down the wings and Ronaldinho's patient probing were somewhat aimless. Menezes eventually threw on young André, but inexplicably sacrificed Neymar, who had been causing Gabriel Heinze problems after switching to the right. The move made little difference to Brazil's play, and the game appeared to be limping towards a goalless draw until Messi's sensational strike.

So what lessons can we draw from this game? The first thing to note is that the performance highlighted the importance of Alexandre Pato to Menezes' system; while hardly a targetman in the traditional sense, Pato at least provided a focal point in attack for the likes of Neymar and Robinho to provide for. When Pato withdrew from the squad, Menezes probably should have turned to Nilmar or Hulk (both of which deserved call-ups in the first place) to fulfill this role. With only Neymar and Robinho in the starting XI, Menezes had to abandon the 4-2-1-3 which has served him so well in favour of a system with a diamond midfield and two forwards. The experiment, in my view, didn't really work.

Secondly, and perhaps more crucially, Menezes must think carefully about the set-up of his midfield. The partnership of Lucas and Ramires may have worked well against more modest opposition, but it failed to function this evening. Both are broadly 'box-to-box' midfielders; players valued primarily for their physical capabilities, rather than obviously attacking or defensive functions. Better, surely, would be to play one of the pair (Lucas, on current form) alongside a deep-lying regista - a player whose passing can start moves from deep, and who can control the tempo of a game. The obvious candidate, for me as for many in Brazil, is Hernanes. Menezes snubbed the Lazio midfielder, claiming that his advanced role at club level made him unsuitable to act as a withdrawn midfielder for the seleção. Mano do well to cast aside such politicking; Hernanes played for years in such a position with São Paulo, and cannot have lost the knack overnight.

Maybe such analysis is out of place after what is, after all, just a friendly. Maybe the return of Alexandre Pato and Paulo Henrique Ganso next year will put our minds at rest over Menezes' seleção legacy. But in the meantime, this result, and more importantly, this performance, will surely have given the former Corinthians boss plenty to think about. The honeymoon period is well and truly over; the hard work starts now for Menezes.

Monday 15 November 2010

Brazilian Football Caricatures at the Museu Afro Brasil

Back in August, I visited the Museu Afro Brasil in São Paulo, which (conviently for me) had an exhibition looking at the impact of black players in the country's football history. As well as the usual displays and films about Garrincha, Pelé, et al, there was an enjoyable collection of caricatures, published (mainly) in the newspaper A Gazeta Esportiva during the 1950s and 60s. The images below provide a nice snapshot, I think, of a football culture steeped in glorious ephemeral detail; one in which players are (or at least were) immediately recognisable by their nicknames, the club they represented, and their personality on the pitch. I'm posting them up here just on the off chance that you find them as charming as I did.

(The images may be a little blurry...partly due to my poor photography skills, and partly because Blogspot seems to pixellate everything I upload. Try clicking to get them in full size/better quality.)

(Photo credits; all writer's own.)

Corinthians Overcome Cruzeiro Thanks to Controversial Penalty; Galo Thrash Flamengo

Round 35 could well prove to be the decisive one in the outcome of the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro. Corinthians took a huge step towards the title on Saturday night, beating fellow challengers Cruzeiro by one goal to nil. That victory sent the Timão back to the top of Série A, as Fluminense could only manage a draw at home to Goiás. In the race for the final Libertadores spot, Atlético Paranaense leapfrogged Botafogo and Grêmio into fourth place. Down at the bottom, things are tighter than ever; just three points separates six teams above the doomed duo of Grêmio Prudente and Goiás.

Corinthians 1-0 Cruzeiro
A packed Pacaembu awaited, but anyone expecting a rip-roaring game of football between Corinthians and Cruzeiro, two of Série A's most consistent performers this term, was to be disappointed. As so often in football, this most important of games failed to produce a lively spectacle. In fact, all of the drama was condensed into the final five minutes, which at least provided the excitement which had been lacking for the previous 85 minutes.

Corinthians were at full strength, with Dentinho continuing in support of Ronaldo in attack. Midfielders Jucilei and Elias were able to play this game, despite being due in the Middle East for Wednesday's clash between the seleção and Argentina. The Corinthians attack, however, was well contained by the Raposa; Fabrício and Henrique largely nullified the creative threat of the hosts' No.10, Bruno César. Corinthians were reduced to just a handful of efforts in the opening period; Elias twice went close, and Ronaldo smashed an effort just over the bar. At the other end, Cruzeiro offered little, but could have had a penalty when Thiago Ribeiro went down under the challenge of Júlio César.

Jucilei and Ronaldo salute the home crowd after their vital win.

The second half brought some improvement; Ronaldo and Thiago Ribeiro both missed presentable chances, and the entrance of Jorge Henrique momentarily sparked the Timão's fans into life. Cruzeiro really ought to have taken the lead with ten minutes to go, but Wellington Paulista could only shoot at Júlio César with the goal gaping. The visitors would live to regret their profligacy; Corinthians were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes of the game, after Gil barged Ronaldo in the area. The Cruzeiro players protested furiously; Fabrício and Gilberto were booked for their troubles, and coach Cuca was sent to the stands. The decision was certainly a debatable one, but the challenge from the Raposa centre-back was a clumsy one. Ronaldo stepped up and coolly tucked the spot-kick away to put Corinthians in pole position in the title race.

Gameweek 35 Round-up
Back on Wednesday evening, Botafogo travelled to Fortaleza with the hope of resuscitating their Libertadores dreams, but could only draw 2-2 with Ceará. 'Loco' Abreu flicked home a cross to put O Glorioso ahead, but in-form Magno Alves levelled matters following Leandro Guerreiro's error. Veteran midfielder Geraldo then smashed home a glorious second for the home side, before Abreu equalised; the Uruguayan turned expertly before slotting into the far corner. Joel Santana's men slip to fifth, but remain ahead of Santos and Grêmio, who battled to a goalless draw at the Vila Belmiro.

Atlético Goianiense appear to be edging closer to safety, and recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Palmeiras at the Serra Dourada. Gilson headed the Dragão into the lead, and a brace of instinctive finishes from Robston sealed the victory. Meanwhile, two of the more realistic relegation candidates, Guarani and Vitória, earnt a point apiece in their clash. Adaílton tucked home from close range to put Vitória ahead, but Geovane responded immediately for the hosts; his corner snuck in off the far post for a gol olímpico. Atlético Paranaense snuck into the top four on Sunday, with a win over Grêmio Prudente. SKP favourite Paulo Baier was the star of the show, netting a first half penalty and adding a second with a placed header. Willian José netted for the Abelha, but they couldn't find a way back into the game.

Atlético-MG goalscorers Obina and Renan Oliveira celebrate the latter's second strike.

When Vanderlei Luxemburgo's torrid spell with Atlético Mineiro came to an end in October, he would have been forgiven for thinking that the Flamengo job represented the perfect coaching tonic. The Rubro-Negro, while a shadow of the team that won last year's title, looked safe in mid-table. How ironic, then, that the club that Luxemburgo left in the relegation zone should drag his current club into the very same battle for survival; Atlético thrashed Fla 4-1 at the Arena do Jacaré, and now sit just a point behind the Rio side. The Galo took the lead when Obina (a former Flamengo player) pounced on Marcelo Lomba's fumble, and added a second through Renan Oliveira. Diego Tardelli added a third with a classy individual effort, before Renan Oliveira scrambled home his second of the game. Marquinhos' late goal was all that Fla could manage.

Fluminense fluffed their lines in the title race, slumping to a 1-1 draw with struggling Goiás at the Engenhão. Rafael Moura opened the scoring for the Esmeraldino with a trademark header, and Flu again had Darío Conca to thank for their point; the Argentine drilled home a late penalty after Rodriguinho had dived in the area. At the São Januário, Vasco took the lead against São Paulo with a stunning Éder Luís strike, but had to settle for a draw when Lucas Gaúcho stylishly flicked home with ten minutes remaining.

Fluminense midfielder Deco stretches for a loose ball.

Avaí boosted their survival hopes with an impressive 3-2 win away to Internacional. The Florianópolis side took the lead with just 15 seconds on the clock, with one of the best goals you're ever likely to see. Inter actually kicked off, but Alecsandro's slack pass gave the ball straight to Rudnei. Avaí then launched an unstoppable passing move down the right, culminating in a stunning finish from right-back Patric. Que golaço! Batista added a second for the visitors with a deflected strike, but Inter showed their mettle to fight back to 2-2; Leandro Damião tucked away a neat finish, before Rafael Sobis dug out a glorious lofted equaliser. This was to be Avaí's day, however, and they snatched the win with another tidy move; Caio's through ball found Patric, whose chipped cross was nodded home by Robinho. A great result for Avaí, who are finally returning to the attacking football that served them so well early in the campaign.

Results; Ceará 2-2 Botafogo, Atlético-MG 4-1 Flamengo, Santos 0-0 Grêmio, Corinthians 1-0 Cruzeiro, Fluminense 1-1 Goiás, Internacional 2-3 Avaí, Guarani 1-1 Vitória, Atlético-GO 3-0 Palmeiras, Vasco 1-1 São Paulo, Atlético-PR 2-1 Grêmio Prudente.

(Photo credits; (1) Ari Ferreira, (2) Gil Leonardi, (3) Paulo Sergio.)

Friday 12 November 2010

Palmeiras and Goiás Through to Copa Sul-Americana Semi-Finals

And then there were two. Palmeiras and Goiás knocked out fellow Brazilian sides Atlético-MG and Avaí to secure a semi-final showdown later this month. The winner of the clash between the Verdão and the Esmeraldino (a veritable green derby) will then face either Independiente or LDU in the final.

Palmeiras goalscorers Marcos Assunção and Luan celebrate the latter's strike.

In front of 35,000 fans at the Pacaembu, Palmeiras comfortably overcame Atlético Mineiro. Despite seeing playmaker Jorge Valdivia limp off after just 15 minutes (the latest in a series of setbacks for the Chilean), Luiz Felipe Scolari's men took control of the tie, and went ahead through Marcos Assunção. The dead-ball expert has been in fine goalscoring form of late, but even he must have been delighted with this one; a gol olímpico, directly from a corner kick. Luan sealed the victory late in the second half, tucking away neatly after a swift Verdão break.

At Avaí's Ressacada ground, meanwhile, a single goal from Rafael Moura was enough to send Série A strugglers Goiás through. The big target man tapped home from close range on the stroke of half time, after the home defence failed to clear a corner. Avaí, despite their home advantage, looked sluggish throughout, and must now concentrate their efforts on beating the drop in the league.

Results; Palmeiras 2-0 Atlético-MG (3-1 on aggregate), Avaí 0-1 Goiás (2-3 on aggregate).

Photo credit; Tom Dib.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

SKP at the Pacaembu and the Brazilian Football Museum!

Loyal readers (if I'm privileged enough to have any) will be aware that SKP occasionally drifts away from the cut and thrust of the Campeonato Brasileiro, and into more anecdotal territory. Previous examples have concerned my trips to see games to the Engenhão and the Morumbi; you can have a look at those articles here and here. On this rainy day, I've decided to delve a bit further back into the past; to 2009, when I visited the Pacaembu, home of the mighty Corinthians...


"Is there any chance we could go at the weekend, rather than from Wednesday to Friday?" Many a football fan will recognise this plea; a subtle but fundamental building block of any plan to sneak a football match into one's travel plans. It may be addressed to a friend, a loved one, even one's boss; but for me, it's always made to my fantastically understanding girlfriend. So it was that we arrived in São Paulo on a Friday morning, giving us plenty of time to take in some culture ahead of Sunday's main event; Corinthians vs Atlético Mineiro.

Luckily for me, our tour of sights and museums was to include a visit to a veritable sporting Mecca; the recently opened Museu do Futebol, which is conveniently located at one end of Corinthians' Pacaembu stadium. After a quick journey from the city centre on the city's impeccable metro, we met a couple of friends outside the Clínicas stop, named after the preponderance of medical facilities in the area. A steep descent brought into view the Pacaembu district, an ardently green valley in sharp contrast with the surrounding Megalopolis (see photo below). At its centre stands the Estádio Paulo Machado de Carvalho, which, like many Brazilian stadiums, more commonly goes by the name of the bairro in which it is found.

Located at the head of the glorified roundabout that is the Praça Charles Miller (named after the man credited with introducing football to Brazil), the main entrance to the Pacaembu has a glorious retro charm. With pillars, flagpoles, and portholes rendered in a creamy off-white, the recently renovated facade (see photo below) certainly bears the hallmarks of antiquity. Constructed in 1940, the stadium hosted six games in the 1950 World Cup, as well as some events in the 1963 Pan-American games. Although considered the home of Corinthians, the stadium is municipally-owned, and has also been frequented over the years by Palmeiras, Juventude, and even Santos.

Before entering the museum, we nipped to the club shop to buy our tickets for the following day. A student ticket in the main stand set me back 30 Reais, which although more expensive than the games I'd attended in Rio, was still absurdly cheap by UK standards (around £10). The Museum represented even better value; entry cost just 12 Reais (£4) each. Annoyingly, photography was banned within the museum, so your wide-eyed reporter was restricted to a handful of sneaky snapshots.

The entrance hall of the Museu was an utter treasure trove; an enormous concourse devoted entirely to footballing paraphernalia of every sort. The collection ranged from the sublime (a huge wall covered with club banners and crests) to the brilliantly ridiculous (a selection of some of the ugliest replica kits I had ever seen), encompassing everything in between. A particular highlight was the assortment of antique futebol de botão (the Brazilian equivalent of Subbuteo) sets, all lovingly decorated with the names and numbers of past footballing greats.

We filtered through to the next exhibit, a dark room with ever-changing projections of seleção idols. Dangling headphones blasted out commentary of some of the defining moments of Brazil's football history; Carlos Alberto's goal in 1970, Roberto Baggio's penalty miss in 1994. Round the corner, interactive displays allowed visitors to relive important goals in the history of the Campeonato Brasileiro. All simple stuff, but mesmeric to a fan of the game.

After a brief lull in my interest level (a room about common football chants should have been intriguing but was poorly executed, and an area filled with 3D videos and interactive games was predictably tawdry), we arrived at the holy grail of football fandom. A group of what can only be described as televisual pillars (see photo above) played highlights from every single World Cup, alongside videos putting the tournaments in context. Further displays provided an enthralling look at the careers of Pelé and Garrincha, the country's most cherished sons. I could have spent all day in that room. A small door at the back of the hall led to a platform overlooking the Pacaembu pitch, dwarfed by the skyscrapers which tower over the valley. I left the museum on a high, full of anticipation for Sunday's match.

On the day of the game, we met our friends in the same place. On this occasion, though, we could barely move for Corinthians fans, and were positively swept down the road to the stadium. As we entered the East stand, my friend Leandro was stopped by an overly judicious security guard for attempting to smuggle in...a piece of paper. The sheet bore the message "faltou você, Fabi," in reference to a mutual friend who supports São Paulo, and as such wouldn't be seen dead (or perhaps more accurately, would have a death wish if he came) within a mile of the Pacaembu. After taking a picture of ourselves holding the sign outside the stadium, then, we entered the ground and settled into our seats. By 'our seats,' I of course mean 'the seats that we had to scramble to secure'; stadium seating in Brazil is a bit of a free-for-all.

Before kick-off, we bore witness to the raucous Corinthians crowd. To our right, the club's brilliantly-named supporters group Gaviões da Fiel ('hawks of loyalty') were in fine voice, ringing out choruses of "Ooooh, o Coringão voltou!" ('big Corinthians is back!') and "Uuuuu-oooooo-oh; todo poderoso Timão!" ('all-powerful big team'...slightly lost in translation, that one). At the opposite end of the stadium, the fans in the famous 'ski jump' stand (see photo above) showed their support in more austere fashion, unfurling an enormous replica of the Corinthians jersey. The Atlético Mineiro fans, although small in number, added to the atmosphere; dancing back and forth above their vivid 'Galoucura' (a nice portmonteau mixing the club's nickname, Galo (rooster), and the word Loucura (madness)) banner.

Despite only having regained their Série A status nine months earlier, the hosts boasted an impressive starting XI, with many of the players who have since impressed in the 2010 Campeonato. Jorge Henrique and Dentinho started up front, while Elias, Jucilei, Willam, and Chicão were also on the pitch. The match itself, in truth, was unspectacular; Atlético boasted a good strike force in Diego Tardelli and Éder Luís, but little else, and Corinthians were sluggish in the main. The hosts would pick up the points, however, thanks to two moments of inspiration. Dentinho's pace allowed him to slot the hosts ahead in the first half, and Boquita added a late second with an emphatic rising drive.

The crowd responded wildly on each occasion, and your reporter twice found himself topless and twirling his Corinthians shirt above his head with the best of them. Despite having a reputation for violence and criminality, the Timão's fans were brilliant; vocal and fully supportive of their side. After the final whistle, the punters sat behind us were only too happy to take our photo and chat about the game. Of all the matches I have attended in Brazil, this is the one I look back on most fondly; that this be the case despite the rather drab on-pitch spectacle speaks volumes about a wonderful stadium and those who populate it.

(Photo credits; (1), (3), (4), (6), (7), (8) & (9) Writer's own, (2) Wikipedia commons, (5)

Behind Enemy Lines; the Argentines Taking the Brasileirão by Storm

My latest piece for IBWM is about the recent success of Darío Conca and Walter Montillo, two players who are continuing the trend of Argentines impressing in the Brasileirão. You can read the article here.

Monday 8 November 2010

Fluminense Respond to Pressure with Clássico Victory; Grêmio and Furacão Chase Libertadores Place

Whereas the English Premier League can be roughly hewn into different sections right from the start of the season (races for the title and for the final Champions League spot, midtable obscurity, relegation battle), the Brasileirão tends to resist this categorisation until late in the season. Série A is so unpredictable, so evenly matched, that only now, after the 33rd gameweek, can we start to perform the task.

At the top, Corinthians have recovered their form to join a clear three-horse race with Fluminense and Cruzeiro. All three picked up wins this weekend. Then, from Botafogo in 4th, down to Palmeiras in 10th, come those chasing the final Libertadores spot. Just five points separate those seven sides. At the bottom, Grêmio Prudente have long looked doomed, but above them there are seven other sides (up to Flamengo in 13th) trying to avoid the three further relegation positions. The only two sides who occupy the 'nothing much to play for' group - Vasco da Gama and Ceará - will likely be more than satisfied with their safety.

Gameweek 34 Round-up
The round started in rip-roaring fashion on Saturday night, with 14 goals in three games. Grêmio continued to stake their claim to the final Libertadores spot, cruising to a 5-1 over Ceará. Douglas celebrated his recent seleção call-up with an impressive midfield display; setting up two goals and scoring one of his own. His early cross was converted by André Lima, before his smart cut-back was guided home beautifully by Jonas. Fábio Rochemback struck next with a low free-kick, before Douglas got his goal; his deep free-kick fortuitously drifted into the top corner of Michel Alves' net. The rout was completed when André Lima grabbed his second; flicking home after a glorious run from Jonas. Magno Alves smashed home a late consolation for the Fortaleza side.

Atlético-MG striker Diego Tardelli got back to goalscoring ways against Santos.

In the town of Sete Lagoas, Atlético Mineiro coach Dorival Júnior came face-to-face with former club Santos. Predictably enough, it was Neymar (whose conduct was the major contributor to Dorival's dismissal) who opened the scoring; the youngster's opportunistic strike snuck in at Renan Ribeiro's near post. The Galo reacted in some style, however; Diego Tardelli's subtle header brought them level, before Obina pounced on a fumble from Santos goalkeeper Rafael make it 2-1. With time running out, though, Santos would rescue a point; some defensive confusion allowed (yep, you guessed it) Neymar to turn home his second. The result leaves Atlético perilously close to the drop zone.

At the Serra Dourada, Internacional produced a fine second half recovery to earn a point against Atlético Goianiense. The Dragão went ahead in the 11th minute; some over-elaborate play from Inter 'keeper Pato Abbondanzieri allowed Juninho to poke home from close range. Elias doubled Atlético's advantage from the spot following an inexplicable decision by referee Sandro Meira Ricci. A powerful Leandro Damião header got Inter back into contention, before the Colorado were awarded a dubious penalty of their own. Youngster Giuliano made no mistake, sending Márcio the wrong way and earning a point for his side.

Tooth fairy; Dentinho marked his return to the Corinthians starting XI with a goal.

Sunday's early kick-offs saw Cruzeiro and Corinthians pile the pressure on Fluminense, who played later in the evening. Cruzeiro were not at their best against Vitória, but bagged three priceless points when defender Jonas turned Thiago Ribeiro's searching cross into his own net. Corinthians visited the Morumbi, home of bitter rivals São Paulo, knowing that a win would send them top. The Timão, boosted by the return of Dentinho (who replaced the much-maligned Iarley up front alongside Ronaldo), came flying out of the blocks; Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, and Bruno César all tested Rogério Ceni early on. As so often, though, it was Elias who stamped his mark on the game for Corinthians. The midfielder ran onto Jucilei's measured pass, and fired high into Rogério's net. São Paulo improved in the second period, but couldn't find a way past Júlio César in the visitors' goal. The Tricolor were then caught cold in 85th minute; Alessandro's cross somehow reached Dentinho, who tapped home to seal the victory for Corinthians.

Fluminense were down to third place, then, when they met Vasco at 7.30pm local time. If the Tricolor had any pre-match nerves, they were instantly settled; Tartá tapped home in the 3rd minute after Washington's effort was spilled by Fernando Prass. It was an emotional moment for the 21 year-old, who has only recently returned to the first team fold. With Washington continuing his dry patch up front, Flu endured some worrying moments, but held on until the final whistle. The return of attackers Emerson and Fred cannot come quickly enough on this evidence. Fellow Rio side Botafogo, meanwhile, saw their meagre title hopes evapourate in Florianópolis; O Glorioso could only manage a lacklustre goalless draw with Avaí.

Fluminense goalscorer Tartá (right) advances with the ball.

Atlético Paranaense and Palmeiras both did their Libertadores hopes a world of good, scraping 1-0 victories over Flamengo and Guarani respectively. SKP favourite Paulo Baier grabbed the winner for Atlético with an emphatic penalty, and Leandro Amaro's header was enough for Palmeiras. At the Prudentão, Grêmio Prudente dealt a colossal blow to Goiás' survival hopes with a 4-1 win. Rafael 'He-Man' Moura put the Esmeraldino ahead with a towering header, but it was all Prudente from there on in. João Vitor crashed home a sumptuous first-time effort, before Willian José nodded in a second. Wesley then tapped in his tenth of the campaign, and the oddly-monickered Rhayner rounded off the scoring with a nice individual goal.

Results; Atlético-MG 2-2 Santos, Grêmio 5-1 Ceará, Atlético-GO 2-2 Internacional, São Paulo 0-2 Corinthians, Grêmio Prudente 4-1 Goiás, Vitória 0-1 Cruzeiro, Avaí 0-0 Botafogo, Palmeiras 1-0 Guarani, Flamengo 0-1 Atlético-PR, Fluminense 1-0 Vasco.

(Photo credits; (1) Gil Leonardi, (2) Ari Ferreira, (3) Ricardo Ramos.)

Friday 5 November 2010

Corinthians and Botafogo Breathe Life Into Title Hopes

Does anyone actually want to win the Campeonato Brasileiro? Round 35 saw yet more slip-ups from the leaders; neither Fluminense nor Cruzeiro registered maximum points. This came as good news for Corinthians, who returned to second place with their trouncing of Avaí. Botafogo, who picked up another win against Atlético-GO, will also feel that they are still in the running. Things are equally congested at the other end of the table, where seven clubs are jostling for safety.

Corinthians 4-0 Avaí
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that Corinthians' season had collapsed into ignominy. Despite occupying top spot for a significant portion of the campaign, the Timão went on a seven game winless streak which cost Adílson Batista his job. New coach Tite, however, appears to have steadied the ship; these three points against lowly Avaí took the São Paulo club back to within a point of leaders Fluminense. Tite's job has undoubtedly been made easier by the return to fitness of some of the club's most influential players; Bruno César and Chicão started, and Ronaldo got another ninety minutes under his (slowly slackening) belt.

Avaí, who produced some fervent attacking displays earlier the year, are now visibly gripped by the cold hand of relegation. Their start at the Pacaembu was a cautious one, and they were quickly fell behind to Bruno César's sensational strike. The number ten received the ball fully 35 yards out, created some space for himself, and unleashed a curling effort into the top corner. It was his 13th goal in a thoroughly impressive campaign. Avaí were dealt a further blow before the interval with the dismissal of Robinho; the midfielder received a second yellow for handling the ball.

Elias celebrates his goal for Corinthians.

The hosts would go on to make their numerical advantage count in the second period. Their second goal came from Elias, who coolly volleyed home after some buccaneering build-up play from right-back Alessandro. With the Timão cruising, Tite gave a run-out to Dentinho, another player returning from a spell in the physio room. The young forward replaced Iarley, whose recent wastefulness in front of goal saw him booed off by the home fans. With the game drawing to a close, Corinthians' veterans demonstrated their stamina; Roberto Carlos set up Ronaldo to sweep a finish past Zé Carlos, and O Fenômeno netted his second from the penalty spot.

Corinthians look in good shape, then, going into the final five games. With both Ronaldo and Bruno César fit and firing, and their first choice back four all playing, the Timão have the title in their sights. One slight concern will be over midfield pairing Elias and Jucilei, who must travel to the middle east for Brazil's friendly with Argentina on November 17th. Tite will hope that his squad is strong enough to cope should they be forced to miss game time.

Gameweek 33 Round-up
Fluminense were far from their best against Internacional, but still scrapped to a creditable goalless draw at the Beira-Rio. That result was actually enough to take them above Cruzeiro, who slumped to a home defeat against São Paulo. After a closely-matched first half, the Tricolor took the lead through midfielder Lucas. The youngster surged from deep, exchanged passes with Dagoberto, and kept his cool to beat Fábio in the Cruzeiro goal. The points were sealed in controversial circumstances; Rogério Ceni tucked home a penalty that Ricardo Oliveira had 'earnt' with a reprehensible dive.

Rogério Ceni (in a classy pin-stripe number) lines up a trademark free-kick.

Joel Santana's Botafogo withstood a late Atlético Goianiense comeback to record a third consecutive victory. Caio Canedo headed O Glorioso ahead from Marcelo Mattos' cross, before Jóbson emphatically made it two. When 'Loco' Abreu stroked home a penalty, it looked like Botafogo were home and dry, but Atlético made a game of it with two late strikes. Juninho's effort was deflected past Jefferson, who was beaten again by Robston's rasping strike. The response came far too late for the Dragão, who nonetheless remain above Guarani and Atlético-MG, who snoozed their way to a 0-0 draw at the Brinco de Ouro.

Seasiders Santos continue to delight and frustrate in equal measure, and could only draw 1-1 with Vitória. Neymar finished off a deadly team move to put the Peixe ahead, but some amateurish defending allowed Júnior to level matters. Marcelo Martelotte's men, though, will be consoled with the knowledge that they have already sealed a place in next year's Libertadores. Both Grêmio and Atlético-PR notched victories, allowing them to join Santos (and São Paulo and Internacional for that matter) on 50 points. André Lima put Grêmio into the lead against Goiás with a close-range finish, before Diego ran on to Douglas' subtle pass to complete the 2-0 win. Substitute Nieto's fine volley was enough for Atlético Paranaense to see off Palmeiras at the Arena da Baixada.

Ceará's Geraldo (left) challenges Flamengo forward Diogo.

At the Castelão in Fortaleza, home side Ceará twice came from behind to rescue a point against Flamengo. Despite Vanderlei Luxemburgo's decision to keep faith with the much-publicised '3-D' strike force (comprised of Deivid, Diogo, and Diego Maurício), it would be two centre-backs who grabbed the goals for Fla; Welinton tapped in early on, and Ronaldo Angelim powered home a second half header. Ceará replied on both occassions, however, through Magno Alves. The striker twice pounced on Marcelo Lomba fumbles to ensure that the spoils were shared. That result saw Ceará overtaken by Vasco, who beat Grêmio Prudente 2-1. A lovely solo effort from the delightfully-named Adriano Pimenta (English translation: Adrian Pepper) gave Prudente the advantage, but a brace from Rômulo gave Vasco the win. Both of the midfielder's goals were set up by Felipe, who should now get some respite from recent criticism of his displays.

Results; Goiás 0-2 Grêmio, Santos 1-1 Vitória, Internacional 0-0 Fluminense, Botafogo 3-2 Atlético-GO, Guarani 0-0 Atlético-MG, Corinthians 4-0 Avaí, Cruzeiro 0-2 São Paulo, Ceará 2-2 Flamengo, Vasco 2-1 Grêmio Prudente, Atlético-PR 1-0 Palmeiras.

(Photo credits; (1) Ari Ferreira, (2) Vipcomm, (3) Jarbas Oliveira.)