Tuesday, 7 December 2010

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.

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