Friday, 30 September 2011

Botafogo Held by Santa Fé in Copa Sul-Americana

God bless the Copa Sul-Americana and it's wonderfully counter-intuitive schedule. Yes, this midweek round-up consists of only one match, and thus will be laughably short. With Vasco set to get their last 16 tie underway next week, and São Paulo and Flamengo only continuing their campaigns in late October (seriously), it was left to Botafogo to fly the Brazilian flag on Thursday night.

Botafogo 1-1 Santa Fé
With Série A success understandably his side's main priority, Caio Júnior rested a number of top players for the visit of Santa Fé. Fábio Ferreira, Marcelo Mattos and Maicosuel were all given the evening off, whilst Elkeson started on the bench. Botafogo's weakened side struggled in the opening period, and fell behind to a lovely team goal. Alejandro Bernal swapped passes with a teammate on the edge of the area and burst to the byeline, before picking out Omar Pérez in the six-yard box. The Santa Fé captain completed the easiest of finishes, inspiring Colombian hopes.

Anything you Canedo: Caio grabs Botafogo's equaliser.

Botafogo improved considerably after the break, buoyed by the introduction of Elkeson (who was on Brazil duty just 24 hours earlier). It was he who created the equaliser, sliding an impeccable pass through to Caio Canedo, who lofted coolly over the goalkeeper. It was a welcome return to prominence for Caio, a one-time prodigy whose star has dipped over the last twelve months. If Botafogo can harness his undoubted ability, they will lend yet another string to their formidable attacking bow. On Thursday, their late pressure came to nothing, meaning that they face a tricky second leg in Bogotá. That match is scheduled to take at some point before February 2019.*

*Don't take this as gospel.

(Photo credit; Paulo Sergio.)

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Young Guns Fire Brazil to Superclássico Win

It wasn't the most exciting match Brazil and Argentina have ever produced, but let's look on the bright side - this was a far better game than the drab goalless draw two weeks ago. The seleção won the Superclássico das Américas with a comfortable 2-0 win in Belém, a result that spoke volumes about the growing quality gap between the two countries' domestic leagues.

Brazil 2-0 Argentina
With Leandro Damião sidelined through injury, Mano Menezes handed a start to Borges, who has been in stunning form for Santos in recent weeks. Although not a traditional target man, the 30-year-old acted as the nominal focal point in attack, with Neymar, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Lucas buzzing round in support. Behind them, Vasco defensive midfielder Rômulo earnt a first start and in-form Botafogo man Bruno Cortês (he of the infamous fast food wedding) got the nod at leftback.

The joy of six: Neymar celebrates half-dozenth Brazil goal.

Before kick-off, the Mangueirão produced a rousing rendition of the Hino Nacional. Belém (literally "Bethlehem") is on Brazil's north coast, miles away from the country's traditional footballing centres, and so only rarely hosts seleção matches. The rarity of the event guaranteed that the Brazilian fans were even more vocal than usual. Buoyed by the partisan support, Menezes' side started on the front foot. Neymar - who had been unusually quiet in the first leg of the Superclássico - was at his effervescent best, dropping deep to drag defenders out of position and teasing them with his footwork. On the right, Lucas also caused problems; Emiliano Papa decided that the best way to deal with the pacy attacker was to clobber him in the face with his forearm.

The visitors, despite being outplayed for much of the opening period, made it to the interval on level terms. Admittedly, they did so more by luck than by judgement; Neymar spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring from Borges' drilled cross just before the break. Argentina did manage the occasional foray forward, but were well marshalled in the main by Dedé and Réver. Ironically, two of Argentina's better players on the night - Walter Montillo and Pablo Guiñazú - actually play in Brazil; a fact that reveals plenty about the contrasting prosperity of the two domestic leagues in question.

With the second half just eight minutes old, Brazil were rewarded with the goal that their play deserved. Bursting onto Danilo's slide-rule pass, Lucas outpaced the Argentina defence before slotting calmly into the far corner. In truth, the São Paulo player really should have squared the ball to Neymar, who was in a far better position, but all complaints were rendered slightly churlish when the ball found the back of the net. It was Lucas' first goal for the senior side, and one that prompted wild celebrations around the Mangueirão.

Sem cortes, com Cortês: Brazil celebrate winning the Superclássico.

Neymar wouldn't have to wait long to get his name on the scoresheet, though. With 75 minutes on the clock, the excellent Cortês surged forward, and slipped a pass to substitute Diego Souza on the left of the penalty box. The Vasco attacker crossed hard and low, and this time Neymar made no mistake, bundling the ball past Agustín Orión. That goal was the last meaningful action of the match, as both teams played out the remaining minutes in cruise control. The performance of the seleção - and of Neymar, Cortês and Lucas in particular - will have been pleasing to Menezes, especially after Brazil's rather indifferent display in the first leg. A win over your side's perennial rivals never goes amiss either...

(Photo credits; (1) Fernando Bizerra Jr, (2) Mowa Press.)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Brilliant Diego Souza Fires Vasco to Win Over Raposa; Flamengo Return to Winning Ways

The home straight of the Campeonato Brasileiro season is crawling into view, and confidence will be growing among fans of Vasco da Gama. Their side pulled away at the summit of the league this weekend, with São Paulo only managing a draw against Botafogo. Elsewhere, Flamengo finally returned to winning ways, and Figueirense put an end to Santos' excellent run of form.

Brasileirão Gameweek 26 Round-up
"That's it," claimed one Brazilian journalist on Twitter, "we have our player of the year." He was referring, of course, to Diego Souza. The Vasco attacking midfielder continued his majestic recent form with a hat-trick on Sunday, as his side cruised to a routine victory over Cruzeiro. His third, which involved a chapéu (literally a "hat" - when the attacker lifts the ball over the head of an unsuspecting opponent before bringing it back under control) past the blameless Fábio, was particularly memorable, and provoked an outpouring of appreciation among the Brazilian football community. The 26-year-old will hope that his club performances will be enough to earn him a starting spot for the seleção against Argentina on Wednesday evening.

Illuminado; hat-trick hero Diego Souza celebrates his opener for Vasco.

São Paulo, who went into the weekend level on points with Vasco, could only manage a drew with Botafogo. At half time, they would have bitten your hand off if you'd offered them that much; O Glorioso dominated the opening period and established a two-goal lead thanks to a brace from the increasingly influential 'Loco' Abreu. Adílson Batista's team talk at the interval must have been a good one, however, as São Paulo clawed their way back to rescue a point; Henrique reduced the arrears with an opportunist strike, before Rivaldo restored parity in the dying minutes. That result allowed Corinthians - who snuck a win against Bahia - to climb into second position.

After ten games without a win, Flamengo finally managed to secure maximum points, coming from behind to beat América-MG. Deivid and Thiago Neves were the heroes for the Rubro-Negro, but an honourable mention also goes to Júnior César. The Fla man employed novel means to distract opposition striker Kempes in the lead up to a first half penalty kick, repeatedly pulling down the latter's socks as he waited at the edge of the area. (It didn't work, as fate would have it, but full marks for trying.) That win saw Flamengo draw level on points with bitter rivals Fluminense, who drew away to Atlético Paranaense.

Socks offender; Júnior César (left) battles for possession.

In-form Santos would have been confident of maintaining their impressive recent run on Saturday, but came unstuck at home to Figueirense. Talented attacking duo Júlio César and Wellington Nem again made the difference for the Florianópolis side, bagging three goals between them. Ceará, who have enjoyed a rotten September, picked up three much-needed points; the Vozão battled to a 3-2 win over Coritiba. Below them, Atlético-MG and Avaí remain entrenched in the relegation dogfight after 2-1 losses to Internacional and Grêmio respectively. Draw specialists Palmeiras, meanwhile, met Atlético-GO and... drew.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Ramon Bitencourt, (2) Paulo Sergio.)

Friday, 23 September 2011

Botafogo Close Gap With Win Over Grêmio; São Paulo and Corinthians Play Out Goalless Draw

It was a rare low-scoring round in the Campeonato Brasileiro; the ten midweek games produced only 19 goals. With Vasco, São Paulo and Corinthians all drawing, Botafogo edged closer to the leadership with a fortuitous win over Grêmio. Further down the table, losses for Cruzeiro and Ceará saw them edge ever closer to the relegation zone.

Brasileirão Gameweek 25 Round-up
Football, as we all know, can be a cruel mistress. Grêmio were reminded of this the hard way on Thursday evening; the Tricolor battered Botafogo at the Olímpico, only to come away empty-handed. The hosts racked up an incredible 22 efforts on goal, but were made to pay for their profligacy when 'Loco' Abreu slid home the winner after the interval. That result takes Caio Júnior's side to within two points of leaders Vasco, who could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Atlético Goianiense. São Paulo and Corinthians, the two remaining members of the top four, played out a goalless draw at the Morumbi.

Matador; Fred celebrates his second goal against Avaí.

Ronaldinho Gaúcho was back among the goals on Wednesday, cancelling out Daniel Carvalho's gorgeous free-kick to rescue a point for Flamengo against Atlético-MG. That result, however, leaves the Rubro-Negro's title challenge hanging by a thread; Vanderlei Luxemburgo's charges have now gone ten games without a win. Bitter rivals Fluminense are having a much better time of it; a brace from Fred sent them on the way to a comfortable win over Avaí in Rio. That game also saw the return of Deco, whose decision to forgo his wages during his last spell in the treatment room appears to have prompted new-found patience among some sections of the Tricolor faithful.

In Uberlândia (aside: Über Land sounds like some kind of post-fascist theme park), Borges continued his ridiculous "YEAH I SCORE IN EVERY MATCH, SO BLOODY WHAT?" routine, as Santos picked up a 2-1 win over the hapless América Mineiro. If the Peixe continue in this vein (and win their games in hand), they could yet have a say in the destination of the Série A title. Cruzeiro, though, who were tipped by many as contenders before the start of the campaign, will not be in the running; this week's defeat to Coritiba leaves them just four points above the drop zone. (Goalkeeper Fábio, incidentally, must be keeping a close eye on the Rubgy World Cup; he's now taken to donning scrum cap to complement his trademark gumshield.)

Relief for Palmeiras; striker Luan commemorates his side's goal against Ceará.

Palmeiras earnt some respite from their recent poor form, sneaking a 1-0 win over Ceará at the Canindé. That result leaves the Fortaleza side perilously close to the relegation zone, heading into the last third of the season. Atlético-PR can already hear the chilling call of Série B; they remain ensconced in the mire after succumbing to Bahia. Finally, in Inconsequential Midtable News ©, Internacional held Figueirense to a 1-1 draw.

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

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Lancenet.)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Menezes Names Separate Squads for Brazil Games

Mano Menezes had a bumper press conference today, in which he announced two different Brazil squads; one for the second leg of the superclássico against Argentina (which takes place on October 28), the other for the friendlies against Costa Rica and Mexico (October 7 and 11 respectively).

The squad for the Argentina clash again consists only of domestic-based players, and includes a few new faces; Elkeson and Borges have been rewarded for their excellent Brasileirão form, and Diego Souza earns a recall some two years after last being selected. Coritiba defender Emerson is the surprise name on the list, but Leandro Damião misses out through injury.

Brace yourself; Botafogo attacker Elkeson has been in fine fettle this term.

The full squad for the superclássico is as follows:

Jefferson (Botafogo)
Rafael (Santos)

Danilo (Santos)
Mário Fernandes (Grêmio)
Bruno Cortês (Botafogo)
Kléber (Internacional)
Dedé (Vasco da Gama)
Réver (Atlético-MG)
Rhodolfo (São Paulo)
Emerson (Coritiba)

Ralf (Corinthians)
Paulinho (Corinthians)
Casemiro (São Paulo)
Rômulo (Vasco da Gama)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Diego Souza (Vasco da Gama)
Oscar (Internacional)
Elkeson (Botafogo)

Borges (Santos)
Neymar (Santos)
Fred (Fluminense)
Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo)

The squad for the Mexico and Costa Rica games also contains a number of surprises. Fábio da Silva earns his first senior call-up despite hardly having played for Manchester United this term, whilst young Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto has also been drafted in. Yet more intriguing is the selection of Porto striker Kléber, who is a relatively unknown quantity in Brazil. Lúcio has been left out of this latest squad, and has been replaced by Atlético-MG stopper Réver. Pleasingly, SKP favourite Hernanes has finally earnt a recall.

Surprise inclusion: Porto striker Kléber.

The full squad for the matches against Costa Rica and Mexico is as follows:

Júlio César (Internazionale)
Jefferson (Botafogo)
Neto (Fiorentina)

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Fábio da Silva (Manchester United)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Adriano (Barcelona)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Réver (Atlético-MG)
Dedé (Vasco da Gama)

Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich)
Elias (Sporting)
Oscar (Internacional)
Hernanes (Lazio)

Neymar (Santos)
Hulk (Porto)
Kléber (Porto)
Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo)
Fred (Fluminense)
Jonas (Valencia)

(Photo credits; (1) Gazeta Press, (2) Unknown.)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Vasco Go Top as Rivals Falter; Santos Claim Third Successive Win

Another week, another round of musical chairs at the top of the Brasileirão. This time Vasco and São Paulo were the major beneficiaries, climbing as Corinthians, Botafogo, Fluminense and Flamengo all failed to record maximum points. Elsewhere, Santos picked up a third consecutive victory and Cruzeiro continued their mid-season malaise.

Vasco da Gama 4-0 Grêmio
It's shaping up to be a vintage season for Vasco da Gama. With the Copa do Brasil title (and a Libertadores spot) already in the bag, the Rio side are set to mount their most serious title challenge in years. With Diego Souza firing on all cylinders and Dedé insurmountable at the back, the Gigante da Colina have made steady progress up the Série A table in recent weeks, and now sit in pole position with fourteen matches to play. Even the stroke suffered by Ricardo Gomes last month appears to have galvanised team spirit at the São Januário; caretaker boss Cristóvão Borges has merely taken up where his more illustrious colleague left off.

Check out SKP, being all mature and not making a pun with Fagner's name.

Saturday's win over Grêmio had an air of inevitability about it; the Vasco trem bala (bullet train) had been cruising past all comers on home turf. Grêmio, whose form has actually taken a turn for the better of late, turned out to be very forgiving guests, hardly putting up a fight as Vasco notched four goals. Diego Souza and Élton both maintained their impressive form with first half strikes, but the real stars of the show were Fagner (no, that's not a typo) and Éder Luís, who combined time and again down the right flank. Both were rewarded with goals after the interval. It would be foolish to pick a title winner this early in the campaign, but Vasco fans have every reason to be confident heading into the home straight.

Brasileirão Gameweek 24 Round-up
São Paulo supporters also had motive to celebrate this weekend; their side strolled to a 4-0 win over Ceará at the Morumbi. Rivaldo, who - much to the chagrin of the Tricolor faithful - started on the bench, rolled back the years once more with an instinctive volleyed finish in that one. At the Engenhão, Botafogo and Flamengo battled to a 1-1 draw - a result that did neither club much good. That match was notable, though, for some more Brazilian celebration politics; Flamengo players took umbrage at 'Loco' Abreu's apparent send-up of Ronaldinho's parado na esquina routine (see here for details). Gloriously petty, I'm sure you'll agree.

Deadlock; Bruno Cortês of Botafogo tracks Flamengo midfielder Thiago Neves.

Fluminense's impressive run of form (four wins on the trot heading into the weekend) was brought to an abrupt end by Bahia, a side that many pundits (myself included) are still trying to figure out. Able to pull off impressive results against the big guns, yet oddly toothless against more modest opponents, the Tricolor de Aço are the Brazilian Blackpool. Only without so much patronising media sympathy. Midtable bedfellows Cruzeiro, meanwhile, continued their indifferent form with a goalless draw against local rivals/whipping boys América Mineiro.

History was made at the Serra Dourada, where Atlético Goianiense beat partial namesakes Atlético Mineiro for the first time in their 74 year existence. (Yes, it was actually only the sixth meeting between the two, but only fools let "facts" stand in the way of a good story.) Santos, meanwhile, continued their excellent run of form with a convincing win over rivals Corinthians. In an even game at the Pacaembu, it was the Peixe's ruthless finishing that proved the difference between the two sides; Henrique and Alan Kardec netted with opportunistic efforts, and Borges scored for the millionth* consecutive game. Elsewhere, there were deadlocks aplenty; Figueirense, Palmeiras and Coritiba scraped points against Atlético-PR, Avaí and Internacional respectively.

*A rough estimate. Don't quote me on this.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Gilvan de Souza, (2) Bruno de Lima.)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Hamit Altintop Rocky Horror Stockholm Sydrome Experience

Firstly, an admission; the following plug is entirely unrelated to Brazil (Christ, it's hardly even related to football). It is, however, an article ("article") penned by SKP's own fair hand, and thus finds its way onto this page.

Twisted Blood, an excellent blog run by the inimitable Andrew Thomas, has been running a series entitled "Through Gritted Teeth," in which various writers have detailed their begrudging affection for certain characters within the beautiful game. My effort is the latest entry into this growing pantheon of loveable rogues, and concerns José Mourinho. It also concerns Real Madrid new boy Hamit Altintop. And his (probably entirely fictional) Stockholm syndrome. And The Rocky Horror Picture Show...

It's probably just better to read it, before you get any more confused. Click here to be whisked away to the page in question.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Brazil and Argentina Play Out Sleepy Draw in Córdoba

Rarely can a match between these two most bitter of rivals have been so lacking in spectacle. "Superclázzzzzzzzico," punned Globo, with some reason; Argentina and Brazil sleepwalked their way through 90 goalless minutes in Córdoba. Working on the assumption, then, that one of the few things worse than a dull match is a lengthy article about a dull match, let's keep this brief...

Argentina 0-0 Brazil
With only domestic-based players at his disposal, Mano Menezes fielded a relatively inexperienced lineup. Botafogo 'keeper Jefferson got the nod in goal, whilst Vasco's imperious centreback Dedé earnt a first start for the seleção. The surprise selection was that of Renato Abreu, who, by my reckoning, worked his way into the squad by virtue of being the fourth-best midfielder at Flamengo. Hmm. Only Brazil's attack was truly bristling with international experience; Ronaldinho Gaúcho again started alongside Neymar and Leandro Damião.

Ronaldinho probes for an opening in the Argentina backline.

The latter spurned Brazil's best chance of the first half, hitting the outside of the post when it looked far easier to score. The opportunity was created by some magical work from Neymar; the Santos forward controlled a long ball and feinted his way past two defenders before squaring for Damião. It was a rare moment of quality from the seleção, who, in the absence of a true playmaker, looked rather short of fluency for much of the game. Argentina, meanwhile, did threaten in short bursts, only to be undone by lacklustre finishing. Wigan Athletic fans will know what I'm talking about.

Little changed after the interval. Oscar and Casemiro, heroes of the Brazil U20 side's World Cup triumph, were thrown on for a taste of senior action, and gave a decent account of themselves. Efforts on goal, however, were few and far between. Ronaldinho, revelling in his role as dead ball don, tested Agustín Orión with a series of free-kicks, but couldn't make the difference in open play. Neymar, for all his energy, was similarly unproductive.

The moment of the match arrived with 15 minutes to go, and was greeted with elation by Brazilian observers. Seemingly stranded outside the Argentina penalty area, Leandro Damião produced a jaw-dropping lambreta (or rainbow kick, as I believe the FIFA generation would label it), leaving Emiliano Papa rooted to the spot. Damião then sought to lob Orión, only to see his delicate effort come back off the far post. Marvellous feet for a big man, as the cliché goes. Papa, incidentally, later joked that he "wanted to kill" the Internacional striker. He'd have to get within fifty yards of him first.

(Photo credit; Mowa Press.)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Damião Guns Down Palmeiras; Top Four All Drop Points

Things have got a bit strange at the top of Série A lately. While Corinthians and Flamengo were flying just a month or two ago, there now seems be a genuine effort among the leading clubs to mess things up royally. Not one of the top four managed a victory this weekend, and Fla slipped down to sixth in the table. Uma confusão danada, I tells ya. On with the show!

Brasileirão Gameweek 23 Round-up
Reigning champions Fluminense, who endured a difficult start to the campaign, seem to be hitting their stride. The Tricolor beat Corinthians on Sunday, a result which saw them climb to 5th. The game was settled in fortuitous fashion; Fred's free-kick took a wicked deflection before dribbling past Júlio César. Flamengo, meanwhile, succumbed to Atlético-PR, and have now gone eight games without a win. Atlético goalscorer Heracles, incidentally, shares his name with the son of Zeus, and thus wins the latest edition of Brazilian Name of the Week ©.

Fred dead redemption.

Botafogo's wonderful recent form was brought to an abrupt halt by Coritiba, who earnt a scarcely believable 5-0 win at the Couto Pereira. Rafinha scored the goal of the game, swapping passes with Marcos Aurélio before tapping home. "More holes than Swiss cheese," remarked the Globo commentator of Botafogo's (usually solid) defence. Grêmio, meanwhile, ensured that São Paulo wouldn't profit from their rivals' shortcomings; a second half Douglas strike gave the Tricolor Gaúcho all three points in Porto Alegre. Vasco were also frustrated away from home, drawing 1-1 with Figueirense.

At the Pacaembu, a majestic hat-trick from Leandro Damião gave Internacional a convincing win over faltering Palmeiras. Those goals - particularly the first and third - provided yet further evidence of the young striker's rising stock. Another forward in the form of his life is Borges of Santos; he took his season's tally to 16 in the Peixe's 1-0 win over Cruzeiro. Elsewhere, Atlético-MG's mini-revival continued with a comfortable victory over Bahia and both Ceará and América Mineiro were held at home.

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

(Photo credit; Alexandre Loureiro.)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

André Santos Profile

A Brazil regular under Mano Menezes (at least until the recent friendly with Ghana), André Santos was recently snapped up by Arsenal, in a deal worth just over £6million. Whilst the leftback will be familiar to those who follow the seleção, he remains somewhat of an unknown quantity in England.

With that in mind, I wrote a profile of the player for the ITV Football website. After detailing the various stages of André's career, I suggest that his signing represents good business from Arsène Wenger.

You can read the article here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Corinthians Condemn Flamengo to Third Straight Loss; Botafogo Crush Ceará

Not so long ago, Flamengo looked nigh-on unbeatable. With Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves providing the cutting edge ahead of a sturdy-looking defense, all seemed rosy in the ruby-and-black corner of Rio de Janeiro. How quickly things change. Defeat to arch-rivals Corinthians on Thursday left Fla down in fifth place, closer to the bottom half than to the pace-setting Timão. The rest of the chasing pack (São Paulo, Botafogo, Vasco) all picked up maximum points, and there were also wins for Santos and Fluminense.

Brasileirão Gameweek 22 Round-up
Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold. With 60 minutes played at the Pacaembu, and with Corinthians trailing 1-0, Flamengo centreback Gustavo took it upon himself to deliver a cowardly thump to the midriff of Liédson, who collapsed in a heap. The act was clearly worthy of a red card, but - much to the annoyance of the home crowd - the referee failed to see the incident. Liédson, however, dished out some justice of his own, turning the match on its head with two instinctive strikes. His goals secured a significant victory for Corinthians, whose shirts all bore the inscription Dr. Sócrates in tribute to their illness-stricken idol.

Counter punch; Liédson shot Corinthians to a comeback win over Flamengo.

A long-range effort from pocket rocket Dagoberto gave São Paulo a narrow win over Atlético-MG at the Morumbi, a result that leaves the Tricolor just two points off the lead. Botafogo also remain in the hunt; they turned in a superb performance to beat Ceará 4-0. Germán Herrera continued his excellent recent form with a brace for O Glorioso. At the São Januário, meanwhile, a stunning free-kick from Juninho Pernambucano (I wonder how many times that phrase has been used over the years...) helped Vasco to a routine win over Coritiba.

Brazil U20 starlet Oscar scored the goal of the game at the Beira-Rio, where Internacional put four past América-MG. Porto Alegre neighbours Grêmio picked up maximum points too, battling to a 2-1 victory over Bahia. Former Marseille striker Brandão got off the mark for the Tricolor in that one. Santos and Fluminense both picked up narrow wins, away to Avaí and Cruzeiro respectively. In monsoon conditions at the Ressacada, the Peixe were bailed out by youngster Felipe Anderson, who settled the match with a stunning individual strike. Elsewhere, Atlético-GO and Atlético-PR were held by Figueirense and Palmeiras respectively.

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

(Photo credit; Ari Ferreira.)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Menezes Annouces Domestic Squad for Argentina Friendly

Mano Menezes has announced the Brazil squad for the friendly ("friendly") against Argentina, which will be played on September 14th. The seleção is comprised only of domestically-based players, meaning that there are no fewer than ten new faces on Mano's list. Among the players receiving a first call-up are Oscar, who excelled at the U20 World Cup, and São Paulo defender Rhodolfo, who has been the subject of plenty of transfer speculation in recent weeks.

Oscar nominated.

The full list is as follows;

Fábio (Cruzeiro)
Rafael (Santos)
Jefferson (Botafogo)

Danilo (Santos)
Mário Fernandes (Grêmio)
Kléber (Internacional)
Bruno Cortês (Botafogo)
Dedé (Vasco da Gama)
Réver (Atlético Mineiro)
Rhodolfo (São Paulo)
Henrique (Palmeiras)

Casemiro (São Paulo)
Paulinho (Corinthians)
Ralf (Corinthians)
Rômulo (Vasco da Gama)
Cícero (São Paulo)
Oscar (Internacional)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Renato Abreu (Flamengo)
Thiago Neves (Flamengo)

Leandro Damião (Internacional)
Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo)
Neymar (Santos)
Fred (Fluminense)

There are certainly a few surprises in the squad. 33-year-old Renato Abreu must have thought his chances of a Brazil call-up had passed him by, whilst Botafogo leftback Bruno Cortês was playing for regional side Nova Iguaçu six short months ago. Mário Fernandes, Réver and Rômulo can also count themselves rather lucky to be in the squad, in my view. The absence of players such as Elkeson (Botafogo), Willians and Léo Moura (both Flamengo), Borges and Arouca (both Santos) - all of whom have garnered plaudits for their club form in recent months - has also raised a few eyebrows. One aspect of the squad that seems beyond criticism, however, is the array of options in attack; Leandro Damião, Neymar, Ronaldinho and Fred represent exactly the exciting blend of youth and experience that Menezes has sought to instill in the Brazil side during his reign.

(Photo credit; Vipcomm.)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Exclusive; Elias Talks (Very Briefly) to SKP

SKP was fortunate enough to nab Brazil midfielder Elias for a (very) quick interview after the game against Ghana last night. While most players made a beeline for the team coach (and really, who can blame them, given the borderline glacial conditions at Craven Cottage?), the recent Sporting Lisbon recruit was kind enough to spare a minute to share his impressions of the stadium, and his appreciation for the Brazilian fans...

SKP: Elias, have you enjoyed being in London?

Elias: I didn't really get to know [the city], I was just here for the match. But I think playing here is lucky for us; the seleção has been coming here a lot, and we're winning games. [London] is the place we've adopted as our 'home' in Europe. Lots of Brazilians came to see the match and enjoyed themselves.

SKP: [Craven Cottage] is a nice little stadium, isn't it?

Elias: It's cool, isn't it! It's different! It reminds me a bit of Rua Javari [the stadium of Juventus, for whom Elias played in 2007] in Brazil. It's a very intimate stadium.

SKP: Thanks very much, Elias!

Elias: No problem!

So there we have it. I did warn you that it was on the brief side, but a short interview is better than no interview at all, right? If you want to read a bit more about Elias, I refer you back to this article, the second half of which is a profile I wrote when he joined Atlético Madrid. I can now supplement my respect for him as a player with the knowledge that he's also a lovely bloke. Valeu, Elias!

(Thanks to the inimitable Rupert Fryer, who lent me his trusty dictaphone for the interview. He was far more prepared for actual journalism than I was.)

Leandro Damião On Target as Brazil Beat Ghana

If London really is the seleção's home from home, they could hardly have chosen better visitors than Ghana. One small corner of the capital was awash with colour and song last night, as two of the world's liveliest sets of fans converged on Craven Cottage. The match - the latest in what will soon seem like a never-ending series of pre-World Cup friendlies for Brazil - was largely entertaining, but told us rather little about the progress of Mano Menezes' side.

The view from the press box.

Brazil 1-0 Ghana
The big news in the lead-up to yesterday's game had been the recall of Ronaldinho Gaúcho, who has been in imperious form for Flamengo of late. The veteran began the match on the left of a front three, with Neymar on the right and Leandro Damião the target man. In midfield, Fernandinho earnt another start alongside Lucas Leiva, whilst Paulo Henrique Ganso was restored to the side as playmaker. The latter's evening, however, was quickly curtailed; he limped off within the first ten minutes. That prompted an alteration in Brazil's midfield shape; the two-one triangle was reversed, with both Fernandinho and substitute Elias operating in shuttling roles just ahead of Lucas.

By that point, Ghana has already built up a head of steam. The Black Stars had plenty of joy down the channels early on, forcing Daniel Alves and Marcelo to play rather more cautiously than they would have liked. Dnipro colossus Derek Boateng single-handedly dominated the midfield zone during the opening half an hour, snuffing out nascent Brazil attacks and using the ball with admirable economy. The seleção only managed one meaningful attack in that period, but Leandro Damião's cool lob was disallowed for offside.

Do the bigode! Leandro Damião celebrates his first goal for Brazil.

The defining moment in the match occurred in the 34th minute. Ghana leftback Daniel Opare - whose walking of a disciplinary tightrope up to that point was truly circus-worthy - burst into the Brazil box, only to be dispossessed by Lúcio when shaping to shoot. The Internazionale defender launched straight into his extinction of the last dinosaur routine, prompting Mike Dean to issue a second yellow to Opare. If that decision - which was greeted with universal incredulity around the ground - didn't quite spell the end of the game as a contest, the opening goal certainly did. Fernandinho's magnificent pass released Leandro Damião, who slammed home his first international goal on the stroke of half time.

The second half was notable only for its one-sidedness. The introduction of Hulk initially created rotating trio of players (Hulk, Neymar, Ronaldinho) behind Damião, but this gradually turned into a flat line as Ghana's lack of attacking threat became manifest. With Daniel Alves and Marcelo overloading on the flanks, Brazil at times had as many as six men in the attacking third, with precious little space in which to operate. As Mano Menezes noted in his post-match press conference, this was simply attack vs. defence, and as such provided negligible insight into the workings of either side.

Ron on the run.

One man, however, seemed to be enjoying himself. Ronaldinho came alive in the second period, peppering the Ghana goal with a series of free-kicks and indulging in some crowd-pleasing tricks towards the end. The skeptics, of course, will take this as a telling microcosm of the player's post-Barça years; that Ronaldinho might generate a wealth of Olés when a side is dominating possession in a friendly, but simply can't cut it anymore when the chips are down. One would be mistaken, however, to write the 31-year-old off so hastily. His first half performance, although admittedly indifferent, was that of a man who will need time to re-acclimatise to the pace of international football, rather than one whose career has reached the point of no return. I, for one, hope to witness a few more moments of buck-toothed genius in the next couple of years.

(Photo credits; (1) Writer's own, (2) & (3) Mowa Press.)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Rafael Sóbis Inspires Fluminense Comeback; Vasco Thumped by Coelho

The action in the Campeonato Brasileiro continued to flow thick and fast over the weekend (God, why did I choose to cover a league that insists on such a relentless schedule?!), with nine matches taking place. Round 21 was a good one for São Paulo, whose victory over Figueirense allowed them to snatch second place from Vasco da Gama. The game of the week, however, undoubtedly took place at the Raulino de Oliveira...

Fluminense 3-2 Atlético Goianiense
Let's not beat about the bush; for 80 minutes on Saturday, Flu were abysmal. Not just below par, but truly can't-string-three-passes-together awful. Manuel Lanzini, the Argentine playmaker signed on loan from River Plate to replace the departed Darío Conca, had a couple of nice touches early on, but was soon dragged into the Sunday-league midfield minefield. Up front, meanwhile, Ciro did a passable impression of the invisible man. Atlético, who have been in decent form of late, took a deserved lead when Bida blasted home a free-kick from an improbable angle.

Que virada! Fluminense players celebrate a spectacular comeback.

Things got worse after the interval. Rafael 'He-Man' Moura - who has all the finesse of a chest of drawers - blasted a penalty into orbit, before Dragão 'keeper (oh, the joys of the goalscoring goalie) Márcio showed him how it was done at the other end. Game over, as I claimed on Twitter.

Unfortunately, I was to be left with egg on my face; Fluminense produced an astonishing comeback, grabbing three goals in eight breathless minutes. Rafael Sóbis was the catalyst, coming off the bench (oh Abel Braga, why was he even on the bench?) to net a quickfire brace. His first, a 20-yard curler with his left foot, was followed by a simple tap-in after Márcio had fumbled a shot. The Tricolor weren't done there, however. With injury time approaching, Rafael Moura nodded home a Marquinho free-kick to delight the home fans. Fluminense may not be title contenders this term, but they remain deserving of their nickname - Time de Guerreiros (team of warriors).

Brasileirão Gameweek 21 Round-up
São Paulo clawed their way back into second place in the standings, beating Figueirense 2-1 at the Orlando Scarpelli. Rivaldo rolled back the years once more, showing great composure to score the Tricolor's winner. Vasco da Gama drop to third, following a surprise defeat at the hands of Brasileirão lanterna América Mineiro. The Coelho were rampant on Sunday afternoon, chalking up four goals - including a lovely swerving effort from André Dias - against a shell-shocked Vasco defence. Atlético Paranaense were also on the wrong end of a goleada; Grêmio produced some scintillating attacking play to record 4-0 win in Porto Alegre.

United States of América; Kempes (left) was on target for the Coelho.

Despite remaining entrenched in the relegation zone, Atlético Mineiro are finally showing signs of life. The Galo eased to victory over Avaí on Saturday, and now sit just two points behind Santos in the table. The latter's match against Botafogo, incidentally, was postponed. At the Engenhão, Bahia produced a spirited display to condemn Flamengo to a second consecutive loss. One-time Manchester United target Dodô scored the goal of the game, powering in from the left and blasting past Felipe. Corinthians also tasted defeat on Sunday, succumbing to Coritiba in the city of Curitiba (yes, I know... and no, I don't know why). Finally, both Palmeiras vs. Cruzeiro and Ceará vs. Internacional finished 1-1.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Gilvan de Souza, (2) Gil Leonardi.)

Friday, 2 September 2011

Inter Stunned by Santos Comeback; Flamengo Drop Out of Top Four

SKP has had a rather busy week, dear reader, so please excuse the tardiness of this round-up. The second half of the Campeonato Brasileiro started in exciting fashion; no fewer than 38 goals were scored around the country. With no further ado, then...

Brasileirão Gameweek 20 Round-up
After their recent wobble, Corinthians consolidated their leadership with a hard-fought victory against Grêmio on Wednesday night. The Timão finished the match with nine men after the dismissals of Liédson and Edenílson, but withstood a late siege to emerge 3-2 winners. In-form Vasco da Gama also picked up maximum points, moving up into second place after a routine win over Ceará. Former Benfica forward Éder Luís was excellent at the São Januário, scoring one goal and setting up another with a slalom run. São Paulo, meanwhile, fell to yet another home loss; goals from Argentine starlet Manuel Lanzini and Rafael Sobis gave Fluminense a 2-1 win over the Tricolor.

All smiles; Éder Luís celebrates his goal for Vasco.

Flamengo, who looked almost unbeatable just a few short weeks ago, are also enduring a lengthy blip; the Rubro-Negro came unstuck against lowly Avaí at the Ressacada. Ronaldinho Gaúcho scored a gol olímpico (a goal direct from a corner kick) in that one, but strikes from Róbson, Lincoln, and Rafael Coelho handed the hosts a much-needed win. Fellow strugglers Atlético Mineiro also picked up three points, beating Atlético-PR thanks to a penalty from Mancini. América-MG, however, remain rooted to the bottom of the table after a dire goalless draw with Bahia.

With a three goal cushion and just fifteen minutes left on the clock, Internacional probably thought they were home and dry against Santos. Big mistake. The Peixe dragged themselves back into contention with goals from Borges and Alan Kardec, before a fine individual effort from the former restored parity in the dying minutes. Borges now leads the Série A scoring charts, with fourteen goals to his name. That match wasn't the week's only six-goal thriller; Figueirense stunned Cruzeiro with a 4-2 win at the Ipatingão. Elsewhere, both Botafogo and Atlético-GO picked up comfortable wins, against Palmeiras and Coritiba respectively.

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

(Photo credit;