Friday, 4 February 2011

Tite Tite Bang Bang - Wheels Come Off Corinthians' Season; Ronaldinho and Rivaldo Make Débuts

High, low, everywhere we go, on Tite Tite we depend! Bang bang, Tite Tite bang bang, our fine four fendered... failure. (If this makes no sense at all to you, watch this.) Yes, reader, Wednesday night was a disastrous one for Corinthians (and coach Tite), as Colombian side Tolima unceremoniously dumped them out of the Copa Libertadores, a competition that the Timão have never managed to conquer in their 100-year history.

Tolima 2-0 Corinthians
After a disappointing 0-0 draw at the Pacaembu last week, the task facing Corinthians in Colombia was always going to be a difficult one. It wasn't just the mammoth journey that likely left the side somewhat drained, nor was it the tense atmosphere inside the expansively-named Estádio Manuel Murillo Toro. No, the problem was largely a psychological one; Corinthians' utter desperation to get their hands on the Libertadores trophy usually leads to the kind of nervousness that proves counterproductive to their task. Theirs, we may safely say, is a doomed romance with the competition.

This is not to say, of course, that there weren't errors of a more pragmatic nature on Wednesday evening. Much of the blame must be laid on the shoulders of Tite, whose grasp of tactics is only slightly more convincing than Dick Van Dyke's English accent. Bruno César, the talisman of Corinthians' title challenge last term, was relegated to the bench, with Jorge Henrique given the task of linking midfield and attack. A fabulous player the latter may be, but a central playmaker he is not; his inability to stamp his mark on the game, coupled with the absence of a midfielder to break forward, meant that Ronaldo and Dentinho were marooned up front.

Ronaldo and Jucilei cannot hide their disappointment after the final whistle.

Tolima dominated the opening exchanges, and Júlio César did well to deny Medina, Chará, and Castillo. The Timão managed to survive the siege, but produced precious little of their own before the half time break. The second period finally brought a couple of chances for the visitors; Leandro Castán headed over, and Paulinho was thwarted by Antony Silva in the Tolima goal. This was to be the high point of the evening for Corinthians, however, as the home side took control. The deadlock was broken in the 65th minute; Elkin Murillo's smart ball picked out Danny Santoya, who darted behind the static Corinthians defence and lifted the ball over Júlio César.

With his side needing a goal, Tite threw on two substitutes. Dentinho, a striker, jogged off to be replaced by... Danilo, a trundling midfielder. New signing Luiz Ramírez also entered the fray, but jogged off again just four minutes later, having been dismissed for flailing his arms in an opponent's face. Just as it appeared that things couldn't get any worse, they did; Murillo's cross gave Wilder Medina the simplest of finishes. The last act of Tite's masterful evening (and possibly of his reign at Corinthians) was to bring on Edno (an erratic striker-cum-midfielder-cum-leftback), thereby completely snubbing Bruno César, the one man who would've injected some creativity into the unit. As the final whistle blew, the cameras zoomed in on Ronaldo, who trudged dejectedly off the pitch. He for one, in the final year of a distinguished career, deserved better.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Flamengo won the first clássico carioca of the season, beating Vasco 2-1 at the Engenhão. The pick of the goals came from Thiago Neves, who juggled the ball over Fernando Prass before kneeing home on his first start for Fla. It was a fine start for Neves, but it was overshadowed by the furore over another débutant this week; Ronaldinho made his much anticipated return to action in the Rubro-Negro's 1-0 win over Nova Iguaçu. Welcomed onto the pitch by a huge mosaico, and handed the captain's armband by Léo Moura, the former Barcelona man enjoyed a moderately productive evening, and celebrated wildly when Wanderley nicked a late winner. More significant than the performance, perhaps, is the fact that Ronaldinho completed the whole 90 minutes; this augers well for the coming months. Vasco, meanwhile, could only follow their derby loss with a goalless draw with Volta Redonda. New boss Ricardo Gomes has plenty of work to do.

Flamengo fans at the Engenhão welcome Ronaldinho.

Fluminense continued their flying start to the Rio state championship, dispatching Cabofriense and Duque de Caxias this week. Fred, who is enjoying a rare injury-free spell, had a superb week, bagging a brace in the former match and a hattrick in the latter. The former Lyon striker is virtually unplayable in this kind of form. Two points behind Flu in Group B are Botafogo, who could only follow a comfortable win over Olaria with a 1-1 draw against Bangu. Fan favourite Loco Abreu maintained his fine goalscoring run with three goals in those games.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras side are sitting pretty atop the Paulistão, after away wins over Portuguesa and Mirassol this week. Despite not being the most fluid of sides, the Verdão are strong in defence, and have displayed impressive determination; both matches were won with goals in the final fifteen minutes. Palmeiras are, however, lent a little panache by the presence of youngster Adriano Michael Jackson in attack; he wanna be startin' a long and prosperous career.

Despite the presence of former Brazilian president (and famously avid Timão fan) Lula da Silva in the stands, Corinthians could only manage a 2-2 draw with São Bernardo at the Pacaembu. With their minds understandably focussed on the Libertadores, it took a wonder goal from Peruvian Luis Ramírez (he who was sent off against Tolima) to rescue a point.

Elano in action for Santos against Ponte Preta.

At the Arena Barueri, Santos overcame São Paulo thanks to another fine Elano performance. The 29-year-old converted Róbson's wonderful cross to put the Peixe ahead, and also played a part in the second goal; his rasping shot was only parried by Rogério Ceni, allowing Maikon Leite to pounce on the rebound. The same pair were on the scoresheet again on Wednesday; Elano netted a deft free-kick and Maikon scored a brilliant individual goal in Santos' 2-2 draw with Ponte Preta.

São Paulo, meanwhile, recovered from Sunday's loss with a 3-2 win over Linense. 38-year-old Rivaldo, recently signed on loan from Mogi Morim, marked his début with a neat goal; controlling Ilsinho's cross and slotting into the corner of the net. The former seleção hero celebrated by tearing off his shirt, revealing a lithe torso of which men half his age would be proud; his success with the Tricolor won't be impeded by any physical frailty, that's for sure. The full '2002 World Cup flashback' effect was complete when goalkeeper Rogério bent home a free-kick later in the game.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
Grêmio showed Corinthians how it was done on Wednesday night, overcoming Uruguayan side Liverpool to progress to the group stages of the Libertadores. Having drawn 2-2 in the first leg, the Tricolor were given an early scare when Emiliano Alfaro opened the scoring; running on to a fine pass before blasting past Victor. André Lima, who earlier had contrived to miss an open goal, levelled with a header, before recent acquisition Vinícius Pacheco took centre stage. The former Flamengo forward kept his cool to tuck home Grêmio's second, and then blasted in a third from range.

South American Youth Championship
The Brazil U20 side got off to a strong start in the final group stage, overcoming Colombia 2-0 in Arequipa. Ney Franco went with a more fluid 4-2-3-1 system, dropping Henrique in favour of Oscar, who, along with Neymar and Lucas, roamed behind Willian José in attack. It was defensive midfielder Casemiro, however, who broke the deadlock, heading home from Alex Sandro's impeccable cross. With only a few minutes left, substitute Diego Maurício added a second, blasting home at the near post. Argentina are up next for Franco's side.

Brazil U20 players celebrate Diego Maurício's strike.

Best of the Rest
The Campeonato Mineiro finally got underway over the weekend, with both Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro picking up wins. Wellington Paulista was on target for the Raposa in their 3-0 win over Caldense, whilst the Galo (who, incidentally, have an absurd number of quality attackers at their disposal) beat Funorte thanks to a late Diego Tardelli penalty. Sunday's Gre-Nal derby in Porto Alegre was a surprisingly muted affair, with both sides fielding second-string sides. Grêmio won 2-1 in the end, thanks to Bruno Collaço and Lins. Inter played again on Wednesday (against Juventude), and finally recalled the players who featured at the World Club Cup in December. Andrés D'Alessandro capped a fine performance with two goals (the second an absolute cracker) in a 3-1 victory. That's about your lot this week, but spare a thought for poor Sport goalkeeper Saulo, who magnificently headed an injury time winner against Vitória-PE in the Campeonato Pernambucano, only to rupture his knee ligaments whilst celebrating. He'll be out of action for six months.

Selected results. Carioca; Vasco 1-2 Flamengo, Botafogo 3-1 Olaria, Cabofriense 2-4 Fluminense, Flamengo 1-0 Nova Iguaçu, Vasco 0-0 Volta Redonda, Bangu 1-1 Botafogo, Fluminense 3-1 Duque de Caxias. Paulista; Santos 2-0 São Paulo, Portuguesa 0-2 Palmeiras, São Bernardo 2-2 Corinthians, Ponte Preta 2-2 Santos, São Paulo 3-2 Linense, Mirassol 0-1 Palmeiras. Libertadores; Tolima 2-0 Corinthians (aggregate 2-0), Grêmio 3-1 Liverpool (aggregate 5-3). Other; Brazil U20 2-0 Colombia U20.

(Photo credits; (1) EFE, (2) Reuters, (3) Gustavo Tilio, (4) Mowa Press.)

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