Friday, 31 December 2010

The Guardian's Top 100 Football Blogs

The lovely folks at The Guardian have put together a real post-Christmas treat for the football fan; a selection of the 100 top football blogs to follow in 2011. I'm honoured to have been included in the list, alongside a whole host of excellent writers. I thoroughly recommend that you have a look at the list, and discover some of the excellent sites out there. I should warn you, however; only click on the link if you have no important commitments within the next two or three hours!

The list can be found here.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

SKP: Now With Added Organisation!

Now that the season is over, I've finally got round to adding some tags to the posts on this site. Think of it as my Christmas gift to you, if you like. The categories, which you'll find down on the right hand side below the blog archive, should help everyone navigate with more ease around these parts.

Categories are organised according to competition (Brasileirão, Copa do Brasil, Copa Libertadores, etc), article type (player profiles, IBWM articles, history, etc) and club. Rather than tag every single team that I mention in Série A round-ups (which would take ages, and kind of defeat the aim of this exercise), I've tagged only those who featured in the detailed match reports, as well as those who form the subject of more specific articles.

So, boring administrative post over. A very merry Christmas/happy holiday to you all, and I hope to see you when SKP returns to cover the state championships in the new year!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Inter Set to Rebuild After Club World Cup Disappointment

Firstly, a word of apology to my readers. I was caught up in a whirlwind of university work this week, and so was unable to offer my thoughts on Internacional's shock Club World Cup loss to TP Mazembe. Sometimes, unfortunately, the real world crashes into my glorious Brazilian football utopia. Inter recovered some of their pride yesterday, with a convincing victory over Asian champions Seongnam, but will likely now face up to a transitional period ahead of the 2011 season.

Before this year's competition, there had never been a final of the Mundial without a South American representative. The Colorado travelled to the Middle East with the expectation of maintaining that record, and were hopeful of overcoming near-namesakes Internazionale to become the fourth Brazilian side to win the Cup in its current format. Having used the last few rounds of the Brasileirão to experiment with personnel and formation, there can be little doubt that coach Celso Roth was prioritising the competition, and players such as Alecsandro and Oscar declaring their excitement ahead of the trip. All of Inter's preparation, however, was to prove insufficient in their semi-final clash with the wonderfully-named Tout Puissant ('all-powerful') Mazembe, the African champions.

A frustrated Celso Roth offers advice to Rafael Sobis.

Roth set his side up to attack; Tinga and D'Alessandro were to provide support for strikers Alecsandro and Rafael Sobis, whilst full-backs Kléber and Nei also had a largely attacking remit. Inter duly dominated the first half, and were only denied by a stunning performance from Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba. The veteran stopper pulled off a string of fine saves, the best of which thwarted Rafael Sobis, who looked destined to score from close range. The second period brought more frustration for Inter; they went behind to Mulota Kabangu's stunning volley, and struggled to create clear-cut chances.. The Porto Alegre side were then dealt a knockout blow in the 85th minute, when dynamic winger Dioko Kaluyituka cut inside his marker and fired past Renan. The final whistle confirmed a landmark success for African football, and a bitter disappointment for Inter.

The Colorado players were understandably distraught; Rafael Sobis, for instance, admitted on his Twitter account that he didn't sleep the following night, and broke down into tears on a couple of occassions. The Brazilian media, meanwhile was busy pressing the panic button; speculating that Roth and a host of first-team players (Alecsandro, Guiñazú, D'Alessandro) could leave the Beira-Rio.

Roth and Alecsandro will hope to have secured their short-term futures in the victory over Seongnam. The burly striker, who has at times looked out of place among Inter's technically-gifted squad, netted two goals and set up the opener for Tinga. He will want to remain ahead of young forward Leandro Damião in the striking pecking order, and must hope that the club's reported interest in forwards Luís Fabiano (Sevilla), Zé Roberto (Vasco), and Everton (Tigres) fails to materialise. Roth, meanwhile, despite rumours that he could be replaced by Atlético-MG boss Dorival Júnior, will be encouraged by the (relative) patience that the Porto Alegre club tend to have with their coaches.

There may be, however, some truth surrounding the rumours about Guiñazú and D'Alessandro, two Argentines who have become firm favourites at the Beira-Rio. Guiñazú has been linked with São Paulo, who have long been admirers of the defensive midfielder. A renewed effort on their part to prize the defensive midfielder away from the Colorado looks likely. D'Alessandro, meanwhile, has suggested that he may be open to a return to his home country should River Plate come in for him. The departure of this pair would undoubtedly leave a significant hole in Inter's midfield engine room.

Luckily for Inter's fans, though, the club remains in a strong position to cope with such uncertainty. Youngsters like Giuliano, Damião, and Oscar are beginning to stamp their mark on the first team, and will be aided by the experience of Sobis, Tinga, and captain Bolívar. Some rebuilding of the first team may well be necessary ahead of the 2011 campaign, then, but we shouldn't read too much into the upset at the hands of Mazembe. Inter will remain a force in next season's Libertadores, and will also be confident of mounting a (recently all-too-infrequent) Série A challenge.

(Photo credit; VIPCOMM.)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Santos and Palmeiras Set to Benefit from Unification of National Titles

The CBF, Brazilian football's governing body, made an announcement this week regarding the history of the country's national championship. A decision has been made to unify the Campeonato Brasileiro (which came into existence in 1971) and the national competitions which existed before it; namely the Taça Brasil and the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa. The Taça was contested between 1959 and 1968, whilst there were four editions of the 'Robertão' between 1967 and 1970.

The Palmeiras side that claimed the 1969 Robertão.

What this means, in real terms, is that sides who were victorious in thse competitions will now be able to count such successes alongside (and as of equal value to) their Brasileirão titles. Cruzeiro, for instance, who won the Taça Brasil in 1966 and the Campeonato Brasileiro in 2003, can now declare themselves bicampeão do Brasil. It should be noted however, that most clubs already considered such achievements as commensurate with their post-1970 triumphs. Fluminense's fans, for instance, unveiled an enormous 'JUNTOS PELO TRI' banner during their title-winning victory over Guarani, a plea that only makes sense if you count the club's 1970 Robertão title. To some extent, then, the CBF's decision merely brings official records into line with public feeling.

The flipside of the coin is that the organisation of these competitions bore little or no resemblence to the modern league format. The better sides often entered the tournaments at the semi-final stage, after the smaller regional clubs had contested the earlier rounds. This week's announcement, then, has created a backlash from the supporters of clubs whose titles were won over more than a handful of matches.

The main beneficiaries of the announcement are Santos and Palmeiras; the former gain six official titles (a move which will only enhance the legend of Pelé, incidentally), whilst the latter see their tally increased by four. The full list of winners from the competitions in question is as follows;

Taça Brasil

1959 - Bahia
1960 - Palmeiras
1961 - Santos
1962 - Santos
1963 - Santos
1964 - Santos
1965 - Santos
1966 - Cruzeiro
1967 - Palmeiras
1968 - Botafogo

Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa

1967 - Palmeiras
1968 - Santos
1969 - Palmeiras
1970 - Fluminense

In light of these records, Palmeiras and Santos are now the clubs with the most national titles overall, with eight. São Paulo and Flamengo are next with six apiece, whilst Corinthians and Vasco have four. The full classification is as follows;

8 titles
Palmeiras (1960, 1967, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1973, 1993, 1994)
Santos (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968, 2002, 2004)

6 titles
Flamengo (1980, 1982, 1983, 1987*, 1992, 2009)
São Paulo (1977, 1986, 1991, 2006, 2007, 2008)

4 titles
Corinthians (1990, 1998, 1999, 2005)
Vasco da Gama (1974, 1989, 1997, 2000)

3 titles
Fluminense (1970, 1984, 2010)
Internacional (1975, 1976, 1979)

2 titles
Bahia (1959, 1988)
Botafogo (1968, 1995)
Cruzeiro (1966, 2003)
Grêmio (1981, 1996)

1 title
Atlético Mineiro (1971)
Atlético Paranaense (2001)
Coritiba (1985)
Guarani (1978)
Sport (1987*)

*The 1987 championship was split into to two 'modules.' One was won by Sport, the other by Flamengo. There is some debate in Brazil as to which of these should be counted in official records, so I've hedged my bets and taken account of both.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Resurgent Fluminense Evoke Spirit of '84

My latest effort for world football site In Bed With Maradona looks at Fluminense's recent title success, and draws parallels with their 1984 championship victory. You can read it here.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Goiás Defeated in Sul-Americana Final; Grêmio Qualify for Libertadores

Goiás' continental fairytale came to an abrupt end last night, as they lost the Copa Sul-americana final to Independiente. The Esmeraldino had built up a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, but came unstuck in Argentina; losing on penalties after their opponents had drawn level on aggregate. Disappointment, then, for Arthur Neto's men, but the result was celebrated in the blue and black half of Porto Alegre; Grêmio now qualify for the 2011 Libertadores.

Penalty agony for the Goiás players.

Independiente 3-1 Goiás (5-3 on penalties)
The hosts, needing a two-goal victory, predictably flew out of the blocks in the opening minutes. They were boosted by a goal within 20 minutes; Julian Velazquez tucked home neatly after Goiás 'keeper Harlei had parried a shot. Within seconds, however, the Esmeraldino silenced the Estádio Libertadores. Wellington Saçi broke down the left, and crossed for Rafael Moura (who else?) to power in a header.

The first half continued to be played at breakneck pace, with chances falling for both sides. Independiente regained the lead in fortuitous fashion; Ernando's attempted clearance ricocheted off Facundo Parra, and looped into the far corner of the net. The home side had the wind in their sales, and swiftly bagged a third. The Goiás backline failed to cut out Patricio Rodríguez's cross from the left, allowing Parra, who was lying on the floor after challenging for a header, to poke out a leg and flick the ball past Harlei. It was another bizarre goal, but Independiente didn't care a jot; they needed just one more to guarantee the title.

Unfortunately for the hosts, the attacking verve of the opening period was replaced by conservatism and nerves after the interval; they looked more concerned about not conceding than they were about scoring. Consequently, the best chances fell to Goiás; Otacílio Neto had a goal chalked off for offside, and Rafael Moura could only blast into the side netting in the final minutes. The teams, level on aggregate (the Sul-americana has no away goals rule) went to extra time, and the visitors continued to push forward; Rafael Tolói struck the woodwork with their best opportunity.

Independiente, who had offered precious little since their third goal, must have been pleased to see the game go to penalties. Journeyman striker Felipe was the unlucky player whose miss would prove crucial for Goiás, as El Diablo Rojo expertly converted all five of their spot-kicks. As the Independiente faithful celebrated victory, the Goiás players shuffled despondently into the dressing room. The disappointing final chapter, though, shouldn't take too much away from what was a thoroughly impressive cup run, especially from a team who will play in Série B next term.

Result; Independiente 3-1 Goiás (5-3 on penalties).

(Photo credit; Reuters.)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Elias Set for European Adventure With Atlético Madrid

Elias, who has undoubtedly been one of the Brasileirão's best players over the last couple of years, this week sealed a move to Spanish side Atlético Madrid. I've contributed a profile of the player to an article at the blog You can read it here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Fluminense Dominate Globo's 2010 Brasileirão Awards

The Campeonato Brasileiro's best players were out in force at the Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro last night, as Globo hosted their annual Craque do Brasileirão awards ceremony. The awards have taken place since 2005, when the CBF teamed up with the broadcasting network. Some categories are decided by public vote, including the that of Craque da Galera (people's player). The big winners, predictably, were Fluminense, with talisman Darío Conca and coach Muricy Ramalho both picking up gongs. The evening ended with the Tricolor finally getting their hands on the Brasileirão trophy.

Darío Conca and Ricardo Berna proudly hold the Série A trophy.

The full list of 2010 winners is as follows;

Best player; Darío Conca (Fluminense).
Top scorer; Jonas (Grêmio).
Craque da Galera; Darío Conca (Fluminense).
Revelation; Bruno César (Corinthians).
Best fans; Bahia (Série B).
Best coach; Muricy Ramalho (Fluminense).
Best referee; Sandro Meira Ricci.
Team of the year; Fábio (Cruzeiro); Mariano (Fluminense), Dédé (Vasco), Miranda (São Paulo), Roberto Carlos (Corinthians); Elias (Corinthians), Jucilei (Corinthians); Montillo (Cruzeiro), Conca (Fluminense); Neymar (Santos), Jonas (Grêmio).

(Photo credit; Rafael Andrade.)

Fluminense Crowned 2010 Brasileirão Champions

Fluminense were crowned champions of the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro on Sunday evening, after seeing off Guarani 1-0 at the Engenhão. The title is the Tricolor's first league win since 1984, and only their third since coming into existence in 1902. The success is also another feather in the cap of coach Muricy Ramalho, who now has four national titles to his name. In truth, Flu have limped over the finish line in recent weeks, aided by a schedule which has seen them play three demotivated sides in the final rounds. This, though, shouldn't take too much away from the club's achievement. Fluminense were on the verge of relegation just twelve months ago, saved by Marquinhos' goal on the final day. One year, a few signings, and a wise managerial appointment later, they are at the summit of the Brazilian game.

Command and Conca; Flu's inspirational captain soaks up the applause.

Fluminense 1-0 Guarani
As fans queued around the clock during the week for Flu's final game, the expectant atmosphere was tainted with mild disappointment. The club's biggest match (and more importantly, biggest party) in recent history took place at Botafogo's Engenhão stadium, rather than at the Maracanã, Fluminense's spiritual home. By matchday, however, such reservations had been firmly buried, as the fans of the Tricolor joyfully colonised their temporary home. An enormous mosaico (a picture created by thousands of individual banners) filled the stadium with white, green, and maroon, and was adorned with the message "JUNTOS PELO TRI" (together for our third national title). This was an impressive display of support for a club which has been starved of domestic success in recent years.

Tricolor fans celebrate a third national title.

Muricy Ramalho's side were without the injured Deco, but forwards Emerson (lovingly known as 'Sheik' following a spell in the middle east) and Fred, and talisman Darío Conca (who has started every Série A game for the club in 2010) were all present and correct. Guarani...well nobody really cared about Guarani; already relegated, the Bugre were merely the straw man forced to stand in the path of history. The game, in truth, was a disappointment; Fluminense predictably dominated possession, but created precious few chances. Those that came in the first period were promptly squandered by Fred. The performance, though, was understandably of secondary importance; the crowd were merely waiting for the inevitable to occur.

Sheik, rattle, and roll; Emerson celebrates with Washington, Fred, and Conca.

The moment arrived just after half time. Carlinhos' cross from the left ricocheted off Washington and a Guarani defender, and fell at the feet of Emerson. The striker poked out his left leg, doing just enough to divert the ball below his namesake in the Guarani goal. Cue a wild outpouring of emotion in the stadium, and an enormous pile-up of Flu players on the pitch. At that point, a bet on the final score being 1-0 would have been the safest wager in history (if only I was a betting man...); Muricy duly shut up shop, replacing Fred with defensive midfielder Fernando Bob, and howling cautionary instructions at his players from the touchline. The game, hardly a classic to begin with, became almost unbearably dull; the clock in the corner of the screen became the sole point of interest.

Flu coach Muricy Ramalho salutes his side's fans in the Engenhão.

When Carlos Simon blew the final whistle (the last act of his distinguished refereeing career, incidentally), the stadium erupted. A throng of journalists, who had already been interviewing Emerson before the final whistle, swarmed around the jubilant Muricy Ramalho. His reaction, though, was drowned out by the songs and cheers of the crowd; this was a historic day, 26 years in the making. As captain Conca (who was elected the Série A player of the year on Monday) lifted the Brasileirão trophy, everyone involved with the Tricolor must have looked back at the past twelve months with a vague sense of disbelief. Whatever the next couple of years brings, Fluzão's recent turnaround in fortunes will live long in the memory. Parabéns, Fluminense; campeão Brasileiro de 2010!

Gameweek 38 Round-up
Cruzeiro finished their campaign on a high, overcoming Palmeiras to leapfrog Corinthians into second place. This means that the Raposa will not have to go through a qualifying round to qualify for next season's Libertadores. A sensational run and cross from Patrik allowed Rivaldo (not that one) to put Palmeiras ahead, but strikes from Henrique and the gloriously-named Wallyson gave Cuca's men the points. Corinthians, meanwhile, fluffed their final lines of the season, drawing against a Goiás missing many regular starters. Felipe Amorim coolly gave Goiás the lead following a poor clearance from Corinthians 'keeper Júlio César, before Dentinho rounded off a slick move to equalise. The Timão, however, could not find a winner, and finish in third. The immanent departures of Elias and Jucilei could signal the start of a transitional period for the Pacaembu club.

At the Olímpico, Grêmio brushed Botafogo aside to claim fourth spot. André Lima bagged the opener against his former employers, reacting quickly after Jéfferson parried Jonas' shot. Jonas then got in on the act himself, drilling home a low shot from outside the area. It was the striker's 23rd of the campaign, a figure which made him the competition's artilheiro by some distance. The victory was sealed in the second period, when Douglas finished following a slick one-two with André Lima. The Tricolor will now hope for a favour from Independiente; if Goiás win the Copa Sul-americana, Grêmio will be denied their place in next season's Libertadores.

Série A's top scorer Jonas celebrates his goal.

Atlético Paranaense ended their impressive season with a tight win Avaí at the Arena da Baixada. Paulo Baier scored the only goal of the game, nodding home Márcio Azevedo's superb left-wing cross. Vasco also finished on a high note, beating Ceará 2-0 thanks to Dédé's header and Bruno Paulo's deflected effort. Santos and Flamengo, meanwhile, completely cancelled each other out, playing out a dull goalless draw.

Due to travel arrangements for their upcoming appearance at the Club World Cup, Internacional played their final game on Wednesay. The Colorado faced Grêmio Prudente, and strolled to a convincing 3-0 victory. Alecsandro headed home a typically accurate Kléber cross to give Inter the lead, before Tinga chested (!) home to round off a devastating attack. Rising star Giuliano completed the scoring the second half, smashing home a stunning first-time volley from distance.

São Paulo also concluded their campaign in some style, storming to a 4-0 win over Dorival Júnior's Atlético Mineiro side. Former Shakhtar Donetsk player Ilsinho scored the opener; drilling home a low finish when the referee brilliantly let play continue after a foul. The impressive youngster Lucas rifled home the second, before Marlos made it three with a delightful curling effort. Renato Silva's late header would be the final meaningful action of the game. Vitória met Atlético-GO at the Ressacada, needing a win to secure survival at their opponents expense. In a predictable nervy game, Atlético just did enough, battling to a goalless draw. Try as they might, Vitória could not manage the single goal they needed, and will have to compete in Série B next term.

So there we have it. As ever. it's been an exciting Brasileirão season, with the title and relegation battles going down to the wire. 380 games, and 978 goals later (that's an average of 2.57 per game), there's one thing we know for sure; things are never predictable in Brazil. At the bottom of the table, Vitória, Guarani, Goiás, and Grêmio Prudente are relegated, and will be replaced by Coritiba, Fugueirense, Bahia, and América-MG. There are Libertadores places for Fluminense, Cruzeiro, Corinthians, Internacional (as reigning champions), Santos (as Copa do Brasil winners), and one of Grêmio and Goiás. The biggest prize of all, however, goes to Fluminense, the 2010 Brasileirão champions.

Thanks to all who have followed SKP (here and on Twitter) over the course of the season, it's been a fun ride. There's no rest for the wicked, however; the Club World Cup starts later this month, and the 2011 state championships will be kicking off before you can say "largely meaningless, ridiculously unbalanced, glorified pre-season tournament." No complaints from me, though; there's always the next big star or a returning hero (Elano, anyone?) to look out for.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Paulo Sergio, (2) Júlio César Guimarães, (3) Agência Photocâmera, (4) Folhapress, (5) Ricardo Rimoli.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Goiás Continue to Confound Critics in First Leg of Copa Sul-Americana Final

It's a funny old game, this football. This year, for the first time, the winners of the Copa Sul-americana (the South American equivalent of the Europa League) will receive the significant prize of automatic qualification for next year's Copa Libertadores. Rather than being a battle between two of the continent's big hitters, though, the final is being contested by two clubs who have struggled in domestic competition this term; Independiente are currently languishing near the bottom of the Argentine Primera División, while Goiás have already been relegated from Série A following a tepid campaign. It was the Brazilian club, however, who continued their inspirational cup form last night with a 2-0 first leg win at the Serra Dourada.

By the power of Greyskull; Rafael Moura celebrates his goal.

Once again it was Rafael 'He-Man' Moura who made the breakthrough for the Esmeraldino, tucking home calmly when Carlos Alberto fortuitously diverted the ball into his path. Moura has undergone a remarkable media-led transformation in the last couple of months; from hapless targetman to one of Brazil's most feared strikers. A move to one of the country's more reknowned clubs surely beckons in the off-season.

The home fans, jumping following Moura's opener, were sent into raptures just minutes later when Otacilío Neto added a fortunate second. Douglas' scuffed cross looked certain to be cut out by an Independiente defender, but somehow dribbled through to Neto, who made no mistake. Goiás remained in the ascendency, and gained a numerical advantage when Silvera was dismissed for the Argentine side. Despite their efforts, though, the scoreline remained 2-0; Artur Neto will hope that his charges have done enough ahead of next-week's second leg.

Result; Goiás 2-0 Independiente.

(Photo credit; EFE.)