Thursday, 8 December 2011

This One's for You, Doutor: Corinthians Seal Fifth Brazilian Title on Tense Final Day

With clenched fists raised skyward, the Corinthians faithful paid tribute to their fallen idol. Doutor Sócrates, that benchmark of humanity (and human excess) had taken his final breath on the morning of the Brazilian championship's final act. The simple gesture that took place at the Pacaembu brought a tear to the eye of the most hardened observer, and spoke volumes about the esteem in which the former seleção great was held. Further soul-searching, however, would have to wait: the Timão had business to attend to...

Corinthians 0-0 Palmeiras

Vasco da Gama 1-1 Flamengo

On a Sunday replete with derby matches, the league leaders hosted Palmeiras, hoping to secure local bragging rights as well as the Série A title. Vasco, who just about managed to keep their title hopes alive the previous weekend, could at least rely on Luiz Felipe Scolari's side to put up a decent fight in São Paulo. The task facing the Gigante da Colina, however, proved insurmountable.

É campeão! Corinthians players celebrate their title win.

Despite taking the lead through Diego Souza, Vasco never truly clicked into gear against Fla. The absences of Juninho Pernambucano and Éder Luís again robbed Cristóvão Borges' side of much of its creativity, leaving Alecsandro marooned in attack for long periods. Flamengo, who had been poor in a scrappy first half, improved significantly after the break. Vanderlei Luxemburgo's decision to introduce Deivid paid immediate dividends: the former Fenerbahçe striker ran onto Ronaldinho's lofted pass before squaring for Renato Abreu to equalise. That strike prompted groans among Vasco fans, many of whom had their ears glued to radios in anticipation of a goal in the Corinthians game.

That a goal never arrived in São Paulo owed more to luck than to judgement: Corinthians looked nervy from the off and soon found themselves pinned back by a wall of green. Palmeiras, inspired by Marcos Assunção and Patrik, worked the ball well in the opening period, coming close to opening the scoring on a handful of occasions. Corinthians were punch drunk, and would need a helping hand from the refereeing gods to recover. Jorge Valdivia's challenge on Jorge Henrique just after the interval was clumsy rather than dangerous, but earnt the Chilean an early bath.

Even with a numerical disadvantage, Palmeiras continued to cause problems: Fernandão's clever header rattled back off the woodwork with Júlio César beaten, before Luan blasted over a presentable chance from the rebound. That was just about the last notable action of the game. Or rather, the last notable footballing action...

Quase: Vasco's bullet train stopped just short on Sunday.

Stereotypes can be vicious, harmful things. They can ruin reputations, hurt innocent parties, and obscure objective fact. Sometimes, however, they're totally accurate. The following statement is one such instance.

Important football matches in South America always (always, of course, is stereotype shorthand for sometimes) descend into violence.

It started with Corinthians defender Wallace, who was sent off for clattered Maikon Leite with a reckless lunge. (The latter has reason to be wary of such challenges, having spent months recovering from a horrifying knee injury in 2009. Warning - do not Google this image if you are of a sensitive disposition. Seriously.)

Then the real fun started. Having already contributed to Valdivia's dismissal, Jorge Henrique decided to really make the pantomime villain role his own, sparking a mass brawl by indulging in one of the dummy air-kicks made (in)famous by none other than Valdivia himself. The denouement? Red cards for João Vitor and Leandro Castán, and a likely knighthood for Jorge Henrique from the República Popular do Corinthians.

Not wanting to be outdone, the clássico carioca served up some indiscipline of its own. Renato Abreu received a second yellow card for diving and launched into an incredible tirade against the referee. Only the diligence of his teammates stopped the dispute descending into violence, with the incandescent Renato grappling to land a blow on the official. (The decision to dismiss the midfielder, incidentally, was spot on.)

All this nonsense ate up much of the time remaining in both matches. The final whistle blew in Rio, spelling the end of Vasco's title challenge, but the mood at the Engenhão remained one of proud celebration. Although their side came up short, the vascaínos present saluted their players for their efforts throughout the campaign. This has been a fantastic year for the Gigante da Colina, who picked up the Copa do Brasil title and reestablished themselves among the country's elite. They will expect to challenge again next term.

Corinthians president Andrés Sánchez (left) salutes coach Tite.

The major celebrations, though, were happening in São Paulo. Corinthians celebrated their fifth national title in fine style, fully justifying their banda de loucos ('group of madmen') nickname. Coach Tite, who has gradually won over the Fiel after a shaky start, was at the centre of the action, grinning from ear to ear in his Lothario-esque black shirt. This success owes much to his quietly forceful style, which has been reflected in his side's performances in the second half of the campaign. Although by no means head and shoulders above some of the competition's other outfits, Corinthians displayed the mettle and the consistency required to grind things out. They are, without doubt, worthy champions. Somewhere, a scruffy-looking philosopher of the game is smiling.

Brasileirão Gameweek 38 Round-up
Fluminense ended their campaign with a 1-1 draw against rudderless Botafogo, thus securing a respectable third-placed finish. Fred was on target once more for the Tricolor, but just fell short of Borges' haul of 23 goals this season. The latter, along with the majority of Santos' first choice eleven, was rested for the derby clash with São Paulo. Emerson Leão's charges ended a topsy-turvy year on a high note, romping to a 4-1 win in Mogi Mirim. Luís Fabiano bagged a brace in that one, and will likely be a crucial figure for São Paulo in 2012.

A penalty from Andrés D'Alessandro gave Internacional a narrow win over Grêmio, a result that puts them into next season's Libertadores. Figueirense and Coritiba, both of which were in with a chance of qualifying for the competition, dropped points against Atlético-PR and Avaí respectively. The latter two clubs will play in Série B next season along with Ceará (who lost to Bahia) and América-MG (who were thrashed by Atlético-GO).

Cruzeiro, who were hovering above the relegation zone before the final round, secured their top flight status in some style, beating bitter rivals Atlético-MG 6-1 at the Arena do Jacaré. Their final league position (16th), however, will hardly fill the Raposa faithful with pride: this was a side that started the year in imperious form, and was tipped by many to be title contenders. They will hope for much better next year.

Série A results: Corinthians 0-0 Palmeiras, São Paulo 4-1 Santos, Internacional 1-0 Grêmio, Cruzeiro 6-1 Atlético-MG, Atlético-GO 5-1 América-MG, Atlético-PR 1-0 Coritiba, Bahia 2-1 Ceará, Avaí 1-1 Figueirense, Botafogo 1-1 Fluminense, Vasco 1-1 Flamengo.

(Photo credits: (1) Nike, (2) Marco Terranova, (3) Marcos Ribolli.)

1 comment:

  1. I was at Engenhão for the Vasco x Flamengo. Was an awesome atmosphere, too bad that was brawls all over the outside the stadium.

    I truly believed that Vasco could pull it, and with a little more luck they should've.

    The penalty not given was an absurd, (I was at the other side of the stadium, and could see the stretching shirt). And it was clear in the second half that the marathon of games took it's toll.

    Even with the disappointment, I was happy with the spirit of the team and the fight they gave even with the shaky start of the year.

    Was the best championship since the new format was adopted.