Friday, 6 May 2011

Brazilian Clubs Implode in Libertadores; Flamengo Crowned Carioca Champions

Never, reader, count your chickens before they hatch. The media in Brazil had been waxing lyrical about the dominance of the country's clubs in the Copa Libertadores; a golden year, with no fewer than five clubs in the quarter finals... the thrilling prospect of e Gre-Nal clássico (that's Grêmio vs Internacional, for any stragglers) in the last eight... the near certainty of a Brazilian champion. The teams just needed to see off modest oppositi... sorry, what? Four of them? Eliminated? Yes, indeed; during one mad evening, the ground opened up and swallowed four fifths of the Brazilian Libertadores challenge in one large gulp. Elsewhere, Flamengo tied up the Rio state championship with victory over Vasco, and Coritiba annihilated Palmeiras in the Copa do Brasil.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
The week actually got off to a positive start; Santos battled to a goalless draw against América, a result which ensured their progress to the quarter finals. The Peixe had young goalkeeper Rafael to thank; an impressive display between the sticks frustrated the Mexican side, and meant that Paulo Henrique Ganso's first leg strike turned out to be the decisive goal.

Now for the bad news. The remaining four sides - Grêmio, Internacional, Fluminense, and Cruzeiro - all suffered defeat on Wednesday night, and were consequently knocked out of the competition. Grêmio, for whom progress was only an outside bet after a woeful first leg performance, lost 1-0 away at Universidad Católica; Milovan Mirosevic (has a Chilean EVER had a more Serbian name?!) bagged the only goal with a late header.

Fred remonstrates with the referee during Fluminense's loss to Libertad.

Fluminense contrived to throw away a comfortable lead against Libertad (the match at the Engenhão finished 3-1 in the Tricolor's favour), going down 3-0 in Paraguay. Some of the blame must be placed on goalkeeper Ricardo Berna, who let Rodrigo Rojas' speculative shot slip through his hands for the opener, but Flu were still in a winning position going into the final five minutes. Smart late strikes from Miguel Samudio and José Ariel Nuñez, however, condemned the visitors to defeat. It emerged after the match that former Chelsea man Deco had refused to come on as a late substitute, and could leave Laranjeiras as a consequence.

Reigning Libertadores champions Internacional, having claimed a useful 1-1 draw in the away leg, welcomed Peñarol to the Beira-Rio. A goal within the first two minutes from young midfielder Oscar settled the nerves of the home fans, but the Uruguayan side responded in style, taking control with a two-goal salvo just after the break. The Colorado huffed and puffed, but were unable to find a way back into the tie. Coach Paulo Roberto Falcão, who was only appointed two weeks ago, may find his popularity dipping from its imperious peak.

Finally, and for me, most surprisingly, Cruzeiro were knocked out by Once Caldas. The Raposa had managed a 2-1 win in Colombia, having been almost unplayable in the group stage, were confident ahead of the return leg at the Arena do Jacaré (the impeccably-named Alligator Arena). Things, however, didn't exactly go to plan. With their usual passing game seemingly rocked by nerves, Cruzeiro invited pressure from the visitors, and only managed to get to the interval on level terms thanks to a stellar display from goalkeeper Fábio. A red card for Roger, however, was followed by two Once Caldas goals; a powerful header from Amaya and Dayro Moreno's simple finish. The Belo Horizonte side pushed forward in search of a goal, but none was forthcoming. There was, though, still time for one last blot on their copybook; coach Cuca sneakily elbowed an opposing striker on the touchline.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Flamengo secured their 32nd state championship title on Sunday, overcoming Vasco da Gama on penalty kicks. After ninety somewhat tedious minutes without a goal, it was the Rubro-Negro who came out on top, largely due to Vasco's profligacy from the spot; Bernardo, Felipe Bastos, and Élton all contrived to miss from twelve yards. It was former Fluminense player Thiago Neves who dispatched the winning kick, sending Fla fans into delirium. The players, led by Ronaldinho (who has been rather more instrumental in instigating goal celebrations than attacks recently), proceeded to act out their popular Bonde do Mengão routine, to the delight of half of those at the Engenhão. Parabéns Flamengo, Campeão Carioca de 2011!

Patrícia Amorim and Ronaldinho lead the Flamengo celebrations.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
An impressive performance from Paulo Henrique Ganso helped Santos to a 2-0 win over São Paulo in their state championship semi-final. Ganso set up Elano's opener with a delicate cross, before adding one of his own; a cool finish following Neymar's swift break. São Paulo are now left to concentrate on the Copa do Brasil, and prepare for the Brasileirão.

Santos will meet Corinthians in the final, after the Timão overcame Palmeiras on penalties. Leandro Amaro and Willian traded goals during the ninety minutes, which were followed by an impeccable series of spot kicks in the shootout. After eleven successful efforts, the unlucky party was Verdão midfielder João Vitor, who was thwarted by Júlio César. The match was also notable for an injury to Palmeiras' Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who pulled up with an injury as a result of one of his now infamous 'air-shot' dribbles. He, as you might expect, has been the object of substantial mockery in the days since.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
As if to prove that their recent run (23 straight wins heading into Thursday's game) wasn't merely attributable to the standard of opponents in the Campeonato Paranaense, Coritiba put six goals past Palmeiras in the first leg of their cup quarter final. The pick of the bunch came from Anderson Aquino; the forward danced his way past some tired looking defenders to prod home in injury time. On this form, the Coxa will be no pushovers in Série A this year. The three remaining ties, meanwhile, are all in the balance; Flamengo suffered a narrow defeat to Ceará, São Paulo beat Avaí 1-0, and Vasco held Atlético-PR at the Baixada.

Coritiba striker Bill (!) celebrates his goal against Palmeiras.

Best of the Rest
Internacional won the second stage of the Campeonato Gaúcho, seeing off bitter rivals Grêmio on penalties. The two will meet again in the final playoff, however, because Grêmio were victorious in the primeiro turno. Cruzeiro and Atlético-MG sealed places in the final of the Minas Gerais state competition, racking up comfortable aggregate wins over América-TO and América-MG respectively.

Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 0-0 Vasco (3-1 on pens). Paulista; Santos 2-0 São Paulo, Corinthians 1-1 Palmeiras (6-5 on pens). Libertadores; Cruzeiro 0-2 Once Caldas (2-3 on aggregate), América 0-0 Santos (0-1 on aggregate), Universidad Católica 1-0 Grêmio (3-1 on aggregate), Internacional 1-2 Peñarol (2-3 on aggregate), Libertad 3-0 Fluminense (4-3 on aggregate). Copa do Brasil; Flamengo 1-2 Ceará, Coritiba 6-0 Palmeiras, Atlético-PR 2-2 Vasco, São Paulo 1-0 Avaí.

(Photo credits; (1) Diego Benítez, (2) Gilvan de Souza, (3) Felipe Gabriel.)

No comments:

Post a Comment