Monday, 27 June 2011

Corinthians Bring São Paulo Down to Earth With a Bump; Cruzeiro Pick Up First Win

All good things, as they say, come to an end. But rarely in such spectacular fashion. São Paulo, who had won all of their Brasileirão games before this gameweek, came crashing down to earth on Saturday night, getting mauled by bitter rivals Corinthians at the Pacaembu. Elsewhere, there were wins for all four Rio clubs, and Internacional finally showed signs that of emerging from their recent slump.

Brasileirão Gameweek 6 Round-up
It was just one of those nights for São Paulo. The Tricolor, who headed into Sunday's clássico with the best defensive record in the league, imploded following the dismissal of Carlinhos Paraíba, conceding five goals in a manic second half. Liédson ended his goal drought with a smartly-taken hat-trick, whilst Danilo's display in midfield suggested that his nickname - Zidanilo - might not be the cruel joke that many have taken it to be. Even the reliable Rogério Ceni buckled for the visitors, allowing Jorge Henrique's weak effort to slip under his body for the fifth. São Paulo boss Paulo César Carpegiani will be looking to put this freak loss behind him very swiftly indeed.

Danilo opens the score for Corinthians against São Paulo.

Flamengo picked up their first win in a month, putting four past Atlético Mineiro on Saturday. Ronaldinho scored the goal of the game at the Engenhão, rifling home a volley from the edge of the area. R10 proceeded to bow to the Rubro-Negro fans, as if to apologise for his poor recent form. That result signalled the start of a great weekend for the four Rio in Série A. Botafogo continued their strong home form, beating Grêmio 2-1 thanks to goals from Marcelo Mattos and the excellent Elkeson. Fluminense and Vasco, meanwhile, both scraped 1-0 wins away from home; Avaí and Atlético Goianiense their respective victims.

Joel Santana made an instant impact at Cruzeiro, guiding the Raposa to their first win of the campaign against Coritiba. The consistently brilliant Walter Montillo was the star of the show at the Arena do Jacaré, scoring both of his side's goals in a 2-1 victory. Bahia also saw off opposition from Paraná; they brushed Atlético-PR aside with some aplomb, a result which prompted Furacão boss Adílson Batista to tender his resignation. On the north coast, Ceará climbed out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over Palmeiras.

Eye of the storm; Adílson Batista resigned following another poor result for Atlético-PR.

Internacional finally look to be putting their poor early-season form behind them; they turned in an excellent display to record a 4-1 victory over high-flying Figueirense. Andrés D'Alessandro set up first half goals for Bolívar and Oscar, before Leandro Damião and Ricardo Goulart sealed the result after the break. Wellington managed a late consolation for Figueirense, but that did little to dampen spirits at the Beira-Rio. Colorado fans will be hoping for more of the same in the coming weeks.

Série A results; Flamengo 4-1 Atlético-MG, Atlético-PR 0-2 Bahia, Cruzeiro 2-1 Coritiba, Corinthians 5-0 São Paulo, Botafogo 2-1 Grêmio, Avaí 0-1 Fluminense, Ceará 2-0 Palmeiras, Internacional 4-1 Figueirense, Atlético-GO 0-1 Vasco.

(Photo credits; (1) Edson Lopes Jr, (2) Felipe Gabriel.)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Santos Overcome Peñarol to Claim Third Libertadores Title

As the roars of "TRICAMPEÃO!" gradually subsided, and Pelé completed his lap around the Pacaembu turf, it was difficult not to be overcome by the historical significance of the whole thing. Make no mistake; last night was a wonderful one for Brazilian football. Santos sealed their third Copa Libertadores title (fully 48 years after their last), comfortably beating old rivals Peñarol at the Pacaembu.

Santos captain Edu Dracena lifts the Libertadores trophy.

Santos 2-1 Peñarol
After a goalless first leg in Uruguay, expectations were understandably high among Santistas; their side had displayed nigh-on impervious home form throughout the competition, and was boosted by the return of mercurial playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso from injury. His inclusion meant that Danilo was shifted to rightback, whilst Léo got the nod over Alex Sandro on the left. Peñarol, meanwhile, were unchanged from the first leg.

The Peixe came flying out of the traps, looking to assert themselves in the opening minutes; Arouca and Durval should have done better with free headers, and Elano twice tested Sebastián Sosa from range. With the crowd urging them forward, Santos looked far more threatening than they had in the first leg; Ganso added his customary guile in midfield, whilst Arouca produced frequent surges from deep. Despite further chances for Zé Eduardo and Léo, however, Peñarol managed to reach half time without conceding.

Flying high; Neymar celebrates his goal.

The visitors, one imagines, would have been satisfied to shut up shop in the second period. Any such aspirations, though, were torn apart within minutes of the restart. Arouca, bounding forward like an attack dog let off his leash, swapped passes with Ganso, rode some feeble Peñarol challenges before poking the ball to Neymar on the left of the area. The youngster shaped to curl a shot into the far corner, but instead dragged the ball towards the near post in trademark fashion. Sosa, wrongfooted, couldn't keep it out. The Pacaembu exploded. Neymar, Santos' talisman during the competition, sunk to his knees in delirium, his name freshly inked into South American footballing folklore.

Muricy Ramalho's side were not finished there though. Midway through the half, Danilo marauded up the pitch from his fullback berth, skipped past his marker, and fired left-footed into the far corner. Any remaining nerves within the stadium were instantly settled; another golaço from one of the meninos da vila! Santos, by that stage, were dominant, although Peñarol did manage a consolation goal; Durval turning into his own net in the 80th minute. The hosts came close to extending their lead in the dying moments - Neymar hit the post, and the hapless Zé Eduardo headed wide from roughly 50cm out - but two goals proved sufficient.

O Rei in the house; Pelé urges Santos on.

The final whistle blew, prompting ecstatic cele... oh, hang on. Let me start that one again. The final whistle blew, prompting an ugly bout of fistycuffs between players and the staff of the two clubs. Boys, it seems, will be boys, especially in South America. Eventually, when all the toys had been gathered back into the relevant prams, the proper post-match regalement began. Santos players lifted the (improbably cumbersome) Libertadores trophy, and Pelé (dressed, incidentally, in a dapper red jacket) was wheeled out to add some gravitas. Somewhere amidst the melee was a grinning Muricy Ramalho; the most succesful Brazilian club coach of recent times finally picked up the continental crown that had previously eluded him.

The victory, though, belonged to everyone; to the battle-hardened Durval and Edu Dracena; to the emergent Danilo and Rafael; to Elano and Léo, who added experience; to the hard-running Arouca, Adriano, and Zé Eduardo; to the visionary Ganso; and, perhaps most of all, to Neymar, who grew into a footballer of international quality during the course of the competition. This title will live long in his memory, and in the hearts all those who follow Brazilian football. Parabéns Santos, tricampeão da Libertadores!

(Photo credits; (1) Vanderlei Almeida, (2) Reuters, (3) Marcos Riboli.)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Five Star Palmeiras Beat Avaí; Cuca Resigns Following Cruzeiro's Winless Start

Another slightly shorter round-up this Monday, folks, as SKP continues his dizzying battle with what experts are calling "real life." It was another exciting weekend in the Brasileirão, with nine games taking place around Brazil.

Brasileirão Gameweek 5 Round-up
São Paulo continue to set the early pace; their 2-0 win against Ceará was their fifth on the bounce. Marlos and Lucas grabbed the goals for the Tricolor, but the real star of the show was Rogério Ceni, who produced a vintage performance in goal. Hot on São Paulo's heels are Palmeiras, who obliterated the hapless Avaí at the Canindé. Star striker Kléber (who was the subject of a bid from Flamengo over the weekend) scored the goal of the game with a deft curling effort, whilst youngster Luan bagged a brace. After a slightly turbulent start to the year, things are looking up for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side.

Luan and only; the Palmeiras man celebrates his second against Avaí.

The first managerial change of the Brasileirão season has taken place, rather surprisingly, at Cruzeiro. After a 1-1 draw with local rivals América Mineiro left them in the bottom four, the Raposa announced that coach Cuca had handed in his resignation; a case of jumping before being pushed, if ever there was one. His replacement is the lovable former Botafogo boss Joel Santana. Atlético Mineiro, the division's third team from Minas Gerais, sit in fifth place after a 2-2 draw with Atlético Goianiense.

Also flying high are are Série A new boys Figueirense. The Furacão do Estreito kept their third clean sheet of the campaign, allowing them to record a simple win over Atlético Paranaense. Bahia too continue to cause quite a stir; they struck deep in injury time to overcome reigning champions Fluminense. The club's season, however, could hinge on matters off the pitch; striker Jóbson (who scored their goal on Saturday) has a hearing this week at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, regarding a previous ban for drug abuse. Any extension of his sentence would be a hammer blow for the Salvador side.

Jóbson (right) competes with Fluminense midfielder Valencia.

For a side with such attacking riches, Flamengo continue to be stultifyingly dull in local derby matches. The latest of these came on Sunday, when the Rubro-Negro yawned their way to a 0-0 draw with Botafogo. I won't bother wasting any more sleep-related wordplay on that one. At the Couto Pereira, an impressive performance from young goalkeeper Muriel allowed Internacional to salvage a point against Coritiba, whilst Vasco held Grêmio to a 1-1 draw at the Olímpico. That game, like many others this weekend, was marked by an amusing new celebration craze; players recreating the dance from the Funk do João Sorrisão. Footballers in other countries take note; wiggling round like a roly-poly toy is good for team spirit!

Série A results; Fluminense 0-1 Bahia, América-MG 1-1 Cruzeiro, Palmeiras 5-0 Avaí, Flamengo 0-0 Botafogo, Grêmio 1-1 Vasco, Figueirense 2-0 Atlético-PR, Ceará 0-2 São Paulo, Atlético-MG 2-2 Atlético-GO, Coritiba 1-1 Internacional.

(Photo credits; (1) Tom Dib, (2) Paulo Sérgio.)

Friday, 17 June 2011

Article in Soccer International Magazine

If you, cherished reader, either (a) live in Australia, or (b) know a really good newsagent, then I have a treat for you. For the first time, SKP has been properly published... physically published, with paper, ink, and all that jazz. I've contributed an article to the latest issue of Soccer International, Australia's flagship football magazine.

The magazine is already on sale (for a mere AUS$8.50, no less!), and includes plenty of great material about the upcoming Copa América. Go grab yourself a copy!

The Great Pretender

He was, to quote former teammate Ricardo Rocha, "the biggest conman in Brazilian football." He feigned injury, received fake phone calls, started fights, and managed only thirty appearances in his whole career. He was the most rock & roll footballer you've (probably) never heard of.

Read the story of Carlos Henrique Kaiser in my latest IBWM article.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Franco Announces Squad for U20 World Cup

Brazil U20 boss Ney Franco has named his provisional squad ahead of the U20 World Cup in Peru. Plenty of familiar faces have made the cut, including Philippe Coutinho, Casemiro, and Diego Maurício. The involvement of Neymar and Lucas in the Copa América, however, means that they won't play a part.

In the squad; Philippe Coutinho.

The full squad is as follows;

Aleks (Avaí)
César (Flamengo)
Gabriel (Cruzeiro)

Danilo (Santos)
Galhardo (Flamengo)
Alex Sandro (Santos)
Gabriel Silva (Palmeiras)
Bruno Uvini (São Paulo)
Juan (Internacional)
Romário (Internacional)
Frauches (Flamengo)

Allan (Vasco da Gama)
Casemiro (São Paulo)
Fernando (Grêmio)
Dudu (Cruzeiro)
Alan Patrick (Santos)
Felipe Anderson (Santos)
Oscar (Internacional)
Philippe Coutinho (Internazionale)
Roni (Criciúma)

Diego Maurício (Flamengo)
Henrique (São Paulo)
Willian José (São Paulo)
Negueba (Flamengo)
Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim)
Sebá (Cruzeiro)

The list, then, includes five Flamengo youngsters, three of which (Diego Maurício, Galhardo, Negueba) have featured for the first team this term. São Paulo and Santos are also well represented in the seleção. Coutinho - who was disappointed to miss the South American U20 tournament through injury - will likely attract plenty of interest, as will Casemiro, who is reported to be the subject of transfer interest from Europe. The tournament starts on the 29th of July.

(Oh, and a round of applause for what might be the weirdest name ever. Take a bow, Frauches.)

Goalless Draw in Montevideo Puts Santos in Libertadores Driving Seat

And so, with history heavy in the night air, Peñarol hosted Santos in the first leg of this year's Copa Libertadores decider. The Peixe travelled to Uruguay hoping to emulate their class of 1962; Pelé's side picked up the club's first continental silverware that year, after a three-legged final against the Montevideo giants. The current Santos team, of course, has one or two nascent icons of its own; their moment, one suspects, will come in next week's return match.

Peñarol 0-0 Santos
Goalless it may have been, but last night's first leg was far from dull. Chances came and went for both sides, with neither defence truly convincing. Without Paulo Henrique Ganso, who failed to recover from injury in time for the game, Muricy Ramalho elected to flood the midfield; Adriano and Arouca sat slightly deeper, with Elano and Danilo given licence to support the front men. In defence, Bruno Rodrigo replaced the suspended Edu Dracena, and Pará got the nod at rightback.

Float like a butterfly; Neymar in full flow.

The first chance of the game fell to the hosts; Luis Aguiar picked out Juan Manuel Oliveira, whose clever run had not been tracked by his marker. Luckily for Santos, goalkeeper Rafael was alert, darting out to smother at the feet of the attacker. At the other end, the Peixe also began to threaten. With Neymar being double-marked for much of the match, space was created for leftback Alex Sandro to power into; the youngster brought two decent saves from Sebastián Sosa midway through the half. Bruno Rodrigo also saw a header clip the woodwork. Peñarol, though, almost landed a sucker punch just before the interval; a loose ball fell to Darío Rodríguez, whose lobbed effort fell just over the bar.

The opportunities continued to flow thick and fast in the second half. Elano dragged an attempt into the path of Zé Eduardo, whose snapshot brought another fine stop from Sosa. The Peñarol 'keeper was marooned just minutes later, however, when the same striker met Alex Sandro's cross with a downward header. Unfortunately for Santos, the ball bounced inches wide of the post. The home side began to push more men forward, hoping for a goal to defend in the second leg. Substitute Antonio Pacheco added some guile, and Olivera dragged a decent chance wide of the upright.

Heartbreak; Diego Alonso sees the assistant referee's flag.

With just four minutes remaining, the Uruguayan side finally had the ball in the back of the net; the Santos defenders failed to deal with a low cross, and Diego Alonso tapped home from close range. To the ire of nearly everyone in the Centenário, however, the goal was (correctly) chalked off for offside. Peñarol boss Diego Aguirre was livid, sprinting down the touchline to remonstrate with the official. His side, one imagines, will need more of that garra (fighting spirit) in Wednesday's second leg; Santos, with their greater technical ability, are surely favourites to seal the title on home soil.

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Miguel Rojo.)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Paulista Giants Continue to Set Early Pace; Dragão Thrash Woeful Ceará

A slightly shortened round-up this week, readers, as 'real life' rears its ugly head in SKP's schedule. The fourth round of the Brasileirão took place over the weekend, with clubs from Brazil's largest city maintaining their impressive early season form...

Brasileirão Gameweek 4 Round-up
São Paulo continue to dominate the early rounds of the Série A season; the Tricolor picked up their fourth win on the trot against Grêmio on Saturday night. Utility man Jean scored the goal of the game at the Morumbi, finishing coolly following Dagoberto's delightful chipped pass. Paulo César Carpegiani - who was actually sacked last month before being hastily reinstated - looks to be finally winning over the fans. Local rivals Corinthians currently occupy second spot in the table, having also picked up a win at the weekend; a brace from Willian was enough to see off a below-par Fluminense.

Jean genius; the São Paulo man celebrates his goal with Lucas.

Avaí and Atlético Paranaense both managed their first points of the season, picking up draws against América-MG and Flamengo respectively. Madson, who was finally included in the Atlético side after significant fan pressure, scored a lovely free-kick in the latter match. At the Pituaçu, an inspired goalkeeping performance from Marcelo Lomba (who, incidentally, was an inspired selection in my Cartola (Brasileirão fantasy football) team) allowed Bahia to claim a 1-1 draw with Atlético Mineiro.

A last minute strike from the in-demand Leandro Damião rescued a point for Internacional in their game against Palmeiras; that one finished 2-2 in Porto Alegre. Santos also struck late to salvage a draw; Borges netted his third in two starts to cancel out Walter Montillo's penalty for Cruzeiro. The Raposa, who still haven't picked up a league win, are in the relegation zone after four matches. Just above them are Coritiba, who followed their Copa do Brasil final loss with a 3-1 defeat to Botafogo. New signing Elkeson was impressive for O Glorioso, scoring one goal and setting up another.

Botafogo new boy Elkeson (right) in action.

Atlético Goianiense, who just avoided relegation last year, continue to surpass expectations; they produced a great performance to overcome Ceará 4-1. Unheralded striker Anselmo was the hero for the Dragão, bagging himself a brace at the Serra Dourada. Their boss PC Gusmão looks set to cement his reputation as an excellent shoe-string coach. Another manager growing in stature is Jorginho; his Figueirense charges nicked a draw against Vasco, and are sitting pretty in sixth.

Série A results; Avaí 2-2 América-MG, Cruzeiro 1-1 Santos, São Paulo 3-1 Grêmio, Vasco 1-1 Figueirense, Bahia 1-1 Atlético-MG, Atlético-GO 4-1 Ceará, Internacional 2-2 Palmeiras, Corinthians 2-0 Fluminense, Atlético-PR 1-1 Flamengo, Botafogo 3-1 Coritiba.

(Photo credits; (1) Edson Lopes Jr, (2) Wagner Meier.)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Vasco Crowned Copa do Brasil Champions; São Paulo Maintain 100% League Record

Vasco da Gama won the Brazilian cup for the first time in their 113 year history last night, overcoming Coritiba on away goals. There was also a Campeonato Brasileiro match taking place, with unbeaten pair Atlético Mineiro and São Paulo meeting in Sete Lagoas...

É campeão! Diego Souza and Alecsandro celebrate.

Coritiba 3-2 Vasco da Gama
Finally, the perennial bridesmaids of Brazilian football have a Copa do Brasil title of their own. Vasco were forced to do things the hard way, however, against Marcelo Oliveira's brave Coritiba outfit. The Rio giants travelled to Paraná with the slenderest of leads, having won the first leg 1-0 at the São Januário. That clean sheet on home soil would turn out to be critical.

Both sides came flying out of the blocks; Éder Luís had an early effort deflected into the side netting, whilst Jonas came close with a free-kick for the Coxa. The opening goal duly arrived in the 11th minute; Éder Luís ran onto Diego Souza's fine pass, before squaring for Alecsandro to finish. The Couto Pereira, usually so vibrant, was momentarily silenced. The home side fought back, however, managing two quick goals before the interval; Bill nodded home from close range, and Davi smashed home the second.

Vasco players celebrate Éder Luís' strike in trademark style.

The hosts, then, needed just one more after the break, and continued to press forward. What came next was a knockout blow. There seemed to be little danger as Éder Luís dribbled forward, with plenty of Coritiba defenders between him and the goal. His hopeful shot, however, was horribly misjudged by Édson Bastos, who allowed the ball to bounce over his flailing left leg. Vasco's players indulged in their trem bala da colina (bullet train) celebration, forming a conga line of delirium. Coritiba pulled one back through Willian's fabulous volley, but the spoils went to Ricardo Gomes' men. Parabéns, Vasco, campeão inédito!

Atlético Mineiro 0-1 São Paulo
Despite being on the back foot for much of the match, São Paulo snatched all three points from their trip to Minas Gerais. With Rogério Ceni on vintage form for the Tricolor, Atlético's dominance of possession failed to translate onto the scoreboard, despite the Galo racking up nearly 20 attempts on goal. Brazil U20 midfielder Casemiro netted the winner, curling home from just outside the area. The victory - their third in three games - takes São Paulo to the summit of Série A.

Results. Copa do Brasil; Coritiba 3-2 Vasco (3-3 on aggregate, Vasco win on away goals). Série A; Atlético-MG 0-1 São Paulo.

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Cleber Mendes.)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Menezes Announces Copa América Squad

Brazil boss Mano Menezes has announced the Brazil squad which will compete for the Copa América next month. The 22 man seleção includes Alexandre Pato and Paulo Henrique Ganso, both of whom have been deemed fit enough to appear in Argentina. Among the names to miss out are Kaká, Marcelo, Hernanes, Nilmar, and Thiago Neves.

On the list; Santos playmaker Ganso.

The full squad is as follows;

Júlio César (Internazionale)
Victor (Grêmio)

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Maicon (Internazionale)
André Santos (Fenerbahçe)
Adriano (Barcelona)
Lúcio (Internazionale)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Luisão (Benfica)

Ramires (Chelsea)
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Elano (Santos)
Jádson (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos)

Fred (Fluminense)
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Robinho (Milan)
Neymar (Santos)

There are very few surprises among the goalkeepers and defenders; Victor gets the nod over Fábio for the role of reserve goalkeeper, whilst Menezes continues to overlook Real Madrid left back Marcelo. The likes of Anderson and Henrique have failed to work their way into contention for the defensive midfield positions, with Mano keeping faith with Lucas Leiva, Ramires, and Sandro. Further forward, Jádson's impressive display against Romania may have helped earn him a spot, and São Paulo prodigy Lucas also makes the cut.

The most interesting selection, however, is that of Fred. The Fluminense man has only played around 100 minutes of football under Menezes, the majority of them spent marooned up front against Holland on Saturday. His goal against Romania, however, coupled with his recent club form, evidently proved enough for him to get the nod over players like Hulk and Leandro Damião. Many will also be surprised at the omission of Nilmar, who would have provided excellent back-up for Neymar or Robinho in the support striker roles. I, for one, would have included him at the expense of Elias.

Brazil play their first match in the Copa on the 3rd of July, meeting Venezuela in La Plata. Menezes will be desperately hoping that Pato and Ganso prove their fitness before that date; otherwise, this Brazil side could be worryingly reliant on Neymar.

(Photo credit; Santos website.)

Adeus, Fenômeno! Brazil Beat Romania in Ronaldo's Final Game

And thus, with a goofy smile and a wistful glance, he was gone. Ronaldo Fenômeno enjoyed one last moment in the spotlight last night, making a 15 minute cameo appearance for the seleção in the match against Romania. Of more note, perhaps, was the emotional farewell that followed; the veteran, joined by his two sons, walked the entire perimeter of the Pacaembu, waving goodbye to his adoring public. When he finally descended back into the dressing room, there was barely a dry eye in the house.

Centre of attention; Ronaldo laps up the applause.

The evening brought back all of the sadness of Ronaldo's retirement, announced just a few months ago. Rather than restating my reaction to that news here, allow me to point you in the direction of a piece I wrote at the time, paying tribute to the best striker of his generation. He will be sorely missed.

What, though, of the match itself? Mano Menezes shuffled his pack, maintaining only five of those who started against Holland at the weekend. Grêmio 'keeper Victor earnt a start in goal, whilst Maicon and David Luiz came into the back line at the expense of Daniel Alves and Thiago Silva. The midfield also underwent a complete overhaul; Tottenham Hotspur player Sandro acted as the anchor, with Elias and Jádson either side of him.

Brazil started brightly, evidently keen to put Saturday's underwhelming performance behind them. Lúcio tested Ciprian Tătăruşanu early on, before Neymar blazed over at the end of a flowing move. Robinho also squandered a great chance, hooking into the side netting after a wonderful run from Maicon. The early pressure finally paid off, however, as Fred gave Brazil a 21st minute lead. Running onto a pass from Jádson (who produced his best performance yet in the yellow jersey), Neymar rounded the goalkeeper before presenting the Fluminense striker with the easiest of opportunities. Fred proceeded to celebrate with Ronaldo's trademark 'finger-wagging' routine, and was soon withdrawn to allow O Fenômeno himself some game time.

Amor e paixão; O Fenômeno salutes the fans at the Pacaembu.

Ronaldo actually could have scored a couple of goals; he had one effort saved from point blank range, and blazed over when well-placed a few minutes later. His reaction to that latter miss reminded everyone present that nobody does a rueful smile quite as well as the 34-year-old. Those chances were to be the last of his distinguished playing days; he gave a short speech at halftime, and was replaced by Nilmar for the second period. Predictably, some of the spark left the game; Brazil came close on a few more occasions, but couldn't manage another goal.

Despite the scoreline and the modest opposition, this was a far more convincing performance from Brazil. Robinho participated far more in attack, and Jádson added some much-needed guile in the centre of the park. It was also pleasing to see Maicon provide a reminder of his considerable ability. The match itself, however, was always going to be the secondary attraction. Last night belonged, like so many before it, to Ronaldo; a man who, even in retirement, continues to bewitch the football world. Adeus, Fenômeno, and thanks for the memories!

(Photo credits; (1) Nacho Doce, (2) Ari Ferreira.)

Monday, 6 June 2011

Petković Bids Farewell; Inter and Santos Pick Up First Wins

Yes, the seleção were in action on Saturday, but that didn't force a pause in the relentless Brazilian footballing calendar; nine Série A games took place over the weekend. Internacional and Santos both picked up their first wins of the campaign, whilst Palmeiras moved joint top with victory over Atlético-PR. At the Engenhão, meanwhile, Flamengo fans said their goodbyes to a modern icon...

Flamengo 1-1 Corinthians
Think of a Serbian footballer. Any one you like. Got one? OK, now read on. Maybe you went for a current star like Nemanja Vidić, Dejan Stanković, or Branislav Ivanović. Maybe you're a bit older (and/or cooler), and opted for Seniša Mihajlović, Dragan Stojković, or Vladimir Jugović. Maybe you went for someone I've never heard of. Fine. If you're Brazilian, however, one name almost certainly sprang to mind; that of Dejan Petković.

A player who shot to prominence in the early 90s with Red Star Belgrade, Petković (often shortened to 'Pet' in Brazil) has enjoyed a topsy-turvy career. After brief spells at Real Madrid, Sevilla, and Racing Santander, the midfielder crossed the Atlantic to sign for Vitória in 1997. Since then, and despite further sojourns in China and Saudi Arabia, Pet has become a fixture in Brazilian football; appearing for seven different sides in his adopted nation. One of those clubs, however, will remember him with particular warmth.

Pet salutes the Flamengo fans for the final time.

Pet commenced his first spell at Flamengo at the turn of the millennium, after failing to impress at Italian side Venezia. The Serbian's all-action style quickly won him a place in the hearts of most Flamenguistas, and helped Fla to the 2000 Campeonato Carioca. Any remaining doubters were silenced one year later, in one of the stand-out moments of Petković's career. Flamengo and Vasco were tied at 3-3 in the dying minutes of the Rio state championship final, when the Rubro-Negro were awarded a free-kick thirty yards from goal. The gringo stepped up, curling an impeccable effort just beyond the reach of the despairing Helton. Flamengo had won the tricampeonato (three successive titles); Petković was the hero.

Returning to the club in 2009, Pet showed himself to be effective even in the twilight of his career; his dynamism and dead-ball prowess were vital as Fla claimed their first national league title for 17 years. That campaign proved to be a swansong; Petković was used sparingly last season, prompting his decision to retire midway through the current year. On Sunday, the 38-year-old bowed out in dignified fashion; he started his final game for the Rio giants against bitter rivals Corinthians.

Goodbye, Brazilian style; supporters at the Engenhão pay tribute to Petković.

The fans at the Engenhão did the veteran proud, unveiling an enormous mosaico and waving countless banners in tribute to their idol. The game itself started at a rollicking pace, and Corinthians took an early lead; in-form striker Willian applied the finishing touch after a nice run by Weldinho. Flamengo gradually grew into the game, and snatched an equaliser just before the interval; a thirty yard free-kick was smashed home by... Renato Abreu. Someone sack the scriptwriters.

As planned, Petković was replaced at half time; Vanderlei Luxemburgo brought on Negueba, a man of (literally) half the Serbian's age. The chances, however, dried up somewhat; Ronaldinho drilled a shot against the post in the best attacking action of the half. The full time whistle went, leaving Pet to bid an emotional farewell to the Flamengo fans. He will be fondly remembered by most football fans in Brazil.

Brasileirão Gameweek 3 Round-up
Both Santos and Internacional secured maximum points for the first time this season, beating Avaí and América Mineiro respectively. Débutant Borges was on target twice for Santos, whilst young midfielder Oscar plundered a brace for Inter. Newly-promoted Figueirense continued their impressive start to the season, beating Atlético-GO 2-0 at the Orlando Scarpelli.

In a fateful piece of scheduling, Coritiba hosted Vasco in a match sandwiched between the two legs of their Copa do Brasil final. With both clubs fielding reserve teams,
it was the Coxa who came out on top, picking up a convincing 5-1 win. Anderson Aquino was the star of the show, bagging a first half hat trick. Coritiba's local rivals Atlético Paranaense, meanwhile, fell to a third successive defeat; a Chico header gave Palmeiras all three points at the Canindé.

Chico time; the Palmeiras man celebrates his goal against Atlético-PR.

Rafael Moura struck twice for Fluminense, as they battled to victory over Cruzeiro on Saturday night. That result leaves the Raposa (my tip for the title) in the bottom four after the opening three rounds. Thank goodness I'm not a betting man. Elsewhere, Botafogo claimed a useful draw away to Ceará, and Grêmio beat Bahia. The tenth match of the round takes place on Wednesday night, when Atlético Mineiro host São Paulo.

Série A results; Palmeiras 1-0 Atlético-PR, Fluminense 2-1 Cruzeiro, Ceará 2-2 Botafogo, Figueirense 2-0 Atlético-GO, Flamengo 1-1 Corinthians, Grêmio 2-0 Bahia, Coritiba 5-1 Vasco, Santos 3-1 Avaí, América-MG 2-4 Internacional.

(Photo credits; (1) André Durão, (2) Paulo Sérgio, (3) Ari Ferreira.)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Brazil Play Out Goalless Draw With Holland

Let's cut to the chase; this was far from a classic. Brazil's first game in home soil in around three years turned out to be a damp squib, as they toiled to a 0-0 draw with World Cup nemeses Holland. A packed house at the Serra Dourada was audibly frustrated by the spectacle, booing the seleção off the pitch at the final whistle.

The return of Robinho to Brazil's starting lineup meant that Mano Menezes could return to his preferred three-man front line; the Milan man started on the right, with Fred central and Neymar drifting from the left. The shape in midfield was similar to that employed against Scotland in March; Lucas acted as a deep anchor, with Elano and Ramires slightly advanced to his right and left respectively. This 1-2 midfield triangle has been forced upon Menezes somewhat with Paulo Henrique Ganso's continuing injury problems; the lack of a truly creative force has meant that Ramires is used more offensively than he was in Menezes' first couple of games in charge. It is a role that he can't quite fulfil; despite producing the odd surging run, Ramires' lack of passing ability can impede Brazil's fluency.

Neymar looks for an opening.

Elano, in truth, fared no better; struggling to exert any influence against a competitive Dutch midfield. The shortcomings in the centre of the park meant that - as predicted - creative responsibility fell on the shoulders of Neymar and Robinho. The latter dropped slightly deeper, to no real effect; in fact, it was striking how little he and Daniel Alves combined down the right. Neymar was far more active on his flank, linking well with André Santos (a pleasing feature of Brazil's recent matches) and providing the penetration that his side so desperately needed. Fred, deprived of crosses, cut a lonely figure for much of the game.

In a dire opening period, it was Holland who created the better chances. Ibrahim Afellay brought two fine saves from Júlio César, and Robin Van Persie glanced wide with the goal beckoning. Brazil's best attacks were, unsurprisingly, instigated by Neymar; an excellent pass from the youngster allowed Robinho to tee up Ramires, only for the ensuing goal to be wrongly ruled out for offside. Opportunities were more plentiful for the hosts after the break; Tim Krul denied Neymar, Fred miscued from a decent position, and Thiago Silva's effort was deflected past the post. Mano Menezes threw on youngsters Leandro Damião and Lucas, hoping for a moment of inspiration. It didn't come. Instead, Brazil were reduced to ten men when Ramires picked up his second yellow card.

Work to do; Menezes looks pensive in Goiânia.

The performance, then, was one that will concern many fans of the seleção. The lack of imagination and technical ability in midfield meant that Brazil struggled to dictate the rhythm of the game; indeed, there was a period during the first half when they struggled to string together three consecutive passes. There were a couple of positives; Júlio César looked to be back to something resembling his best, whilst the central defensive pairing of Thiago Silva and Lúcio (who, incidentally, was making his 100th appearance in the yellow jersey) looked relatively solid. The feverish optimism which surrounded Menezes' first matches in charge, however, is now a distant memory. With the Copa América fast approaching, he seems to be increasingly reliant on the mercurial talents of Neymar to keep the public onside. It's an enormous weight to put on such young shoulders.

(Photo credits; (1) Jefferson Bernardes, (2) Ricardo Nogueira.)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Jekyll and Hyde Santos Reach Libertadores Final; Vasco Establish Copa do Brasil Advantage

In Brazil, big games come in twos. Such was the case last night; a couple of the year's most important cup matches took place (at ridiculous o'clock). Santos secured their place in the final of the Copa Libertadores with an exciting draw against Cerro Porteño, whilst Vasco took a narrow advantage in the Brazilian cup final.

Cerro Porteño 3-3 Santos
Santos are a divided beast. Their historic heart pulls one way, craving attacking nirvana at the expense of defensive solidity. Ludicrous seven-goal thrillers are its calling card. Their head, meanwhile, embodied by master pragmatist Muricy Ramalho, tugs the other; demanding cool, calm, cold results. The latter had been getting its way; the Peixe's previous five Libertadores results had read like binary code - 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, 1-0. Last night, however, belonged to Mr Hyde.

Gol é gol! Neymar celebrates Santos' fortuitous second.

Two minutes on the clock. BANG. Zé Eduardo (finally) scores, nodding home Elano's free-kick from fully 60 centimetres out. One swiftly became two, in quite hilarious fashion. Ganso (the Cerro Porteño defender, not the crocked Santos man) headed a harmless-looking ball back to his goalkeeper, who somehow sliced his punch (no, I wouldn't have said that was possible either) into his own net. Santos, in imminent danger of being comfortable in the tie, promptly conceded; César Benítez headed home Juan Manuel Iturbe's fine corner.

There was still time, however, for one more goal before the break. Santos midfielder Arouca ran the length of the pitch (which, incidentally, was cut in a manner reminiscent of the Japanese imperial flag... I kid you not) before teeing up Neymar to slot home. After the interval, things slowed down somewhat, but there was still ample excitement. Cerro scored two lovely goals (Juan Manuel Lucero with a swiftly-taken volley, and Jonathan Fabbro with a stunning individual effort), Edu Dracena managed to get sent off for dissent, and Muricy Ramalho got hit on the head with a projectile thrown from the stands. Santos, though, managed to see the game out, and progress to the final. Muricy will be hoping for a rather more serene climax to that one.

Vasco da Gama 1-0 Coritiba
With both sides chasing their first Copa do Brasil title, this first leg was always going to be an attritional affair. In front of a packed crowd at the São Januário, the opening period produced only a couple of real chances; Bill had a decent shot from range, before Édson Bastos got down low to deny Diego Souza. Thankfully, the deadlock was broken just after the interval; Allan crossed to the near post, where Alecsandro powered a header into the back of the net. The bulky striker proceeded to pull a funny face, in tribute to his father Lela (who celebrated in that manner during his days as a player).

If the wind changes, you'll be stuck like that, Alecsandro...

Coritiba rallied after that point, throwing men forward at every opportunity. Unfortunately for Marcelo Oliveira's men, Vasco goalkeeper Fernando Prass was having one of those evenings; blocking shots with all parts of his body, and being a general nuisance. The home fans, of course, were loving every minute. 1-0 may not be the most comfortable lead to take to the Couto Pereira, but, on current form, the Gigante da Colina will be confident of finishing the job next week.

Results. Libertadores; Cerro Porteño 3-3 Santos (3-4 on aggregate). Copa do Brasil; Vasco 1-0 Coritiba.

(Photo credits; (1) Norberto Duarte, (2) Gilvan de Souza.)