Tuesday 29 January 2013

Why Philippe Coutinho could be a star for Liverpool

Philippe Coutinho's proposed move to Liverpool edged ever closer to completion over the weekend, with Internazionale accepting a revised offer from the Anfield club.

I wrote a profile of the young Brazilian in my weekly Unibet column, in which I suggest that Coutinho, with his mercurial dribbling ability and eye for the unexpected, could be a big hit in the Premier League.

Click here to read the article.

Monday 28 January 2013

The week(end) that was - #1

Welcome to a new feature! Once a week or so, I will reflect on some of the interesting stories that have developed in Brazilian football over the last few days (either over the weekend or during the week, hence the hopelessly non-comittal title). I'll be keeping it relatively short and sweet; brevity, after all, is man's best friend. Enjoy!

Tough times for Ganso

Paulo Henrique Ganso scored his first goal for São Paulo in their 2-1 win over Atlético Sorocaba but has a real fight on his hands to even establish himself in Ney Franco's first XI. The coach told Trivela's Luís Augusto Simon that the playmaker will have to compete with Jádson for a single spot in his preferred 4-3-3 formation, given that (a) Wellington and Denílson look like nailed-on starters and (b) neither Jádson nor Ganso is adept at playing wide. Ganso is certainly capable of higher highs than Jádson, but the latter is, in Brazilian parlance, far more regular – and sometimes consistency counts for a lot.

Elias and Renato Augusto start off on the right foot

Two of the bigger imports to Brazilian football made promising starts over the weekend. For newly austere Flamengo, former Sporting midfielder Elias roamed around nicely, managing to complete all 33 passes he attempted against Volta Redonda – no mean feat given his main attributes lie elsewhere. Renato Augusto, meanwhile, set up the winner for Corinthians against Mirassol (not a Cypriot town, despite its name), before awarding himself a modest six out of ten in the post-match press conference. More will be expected of both in the coming months, but a solid start never goes amiss.

Seedorf key for Botafogo

Veteran midfielder-cum-crooner Clarence Seedorf came off the bench for Botafogo and helped them rescue a point in the clássico against Fluminense. It was doubtful whether he'd even be in the matchday squad at all – his grandmother having died in Surinam recently – but his classy assist for Bolívar's equalising goal underlined once more how crucial he is for O Glorioso.

The countdown continues

The World Cup is now just 500 days away. While celebrations have been put on hold due to the tragic events in Santa Maria, a significant milestone was reached at the weekend: for the first time football was played in a (renovated) World Cup stadium. The Castelão (above) drew a modest (read: disappointing) crowd for the Copa do Nordeste match between Ceará and Bahia, for whom former Brazil midfielder Kléberson netted the winning goal. With works on the Mineirão also completed, eyes now turn to the remaining ten host cities. Sadly, a last-minute rush is all but guaranteed.

Neymar the willing provocateur

Neymar scored his fourth goal of 2013 for Santos against Bragantino. More notable, however, was the rugged treatment he received from opposition defenders: the seleção forward was fouled 12 times (of a total of 24 against the Peixe), with four Bragantino players getting booked for their challenges. Now the Neymar of two years ago would have moaned to the referee about such abuse, but an internal sea change appears to have occurred. "I don't care anymore," Neymar deadpanned afterwards; "One of them comes [and fouls me] and he gets a yellow card. The next guy tries, he gets one too."

His tricks against Botafogo-SP last week had led some to claim that Neymar aims to "humiliate" defenders, and that this somehow justifies rough challenges. (Corinthians coach Tite (in)famously asserted last year that Neymar is a "bad example" to young players for this very reason.) This is nonsense, of course; a player has the right to do whatever aids his team – and pleases fans – within the laws of the game. Angering opponents to the extent that they behave rashly is a legitimate tactic, albeit a dangerous one. It might be hypocritical, of course, to wind players up and then moan when you get fouled, but Neymar's comments suggest that he's not going to fall foul (ahem) of that dilemma anymore.

A version of this round-up was published by The Guardian here.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Five storylines to follow in Brazil's state championships

Brazilian football is back! After a long, gruelling wait roughly five weeks, the dust has settled on the 2012 season and Corinthians, Fluminense et al have to go out there and earn their stripes all over again. Luckily, for the first few weeks at least, 'out there' remains pretty local; yes, this is state championship season.

Aware that not everybody goes gaga for the whole really-big-teams-playing-really-tiny-teams-for-four-months schtick, I've picked out five storylines that should interest even those sceptical of the value of these regional competitions.

You can read the article at Unibet by clicking here.

(Photo credit: Sergio Barzaghi, Gazeta Press.)

Friday 18 January 2013

Rivaldo still going strong at 40

Of the 'Three Rs' who lit up Brazil's 2002 World Cup campaign, two have hogged the headlines in recent months. A rejuvenated Ronaldinho Gaúcho was elected the player of the year in the Brasileirão following a series of dynamic displays for Atlético Mineiro while Ronaldo Fenômeno has been busy in his retirement, promoting his sports marketing agency and enrolling in the Brazilian version of Celebrity Fat Club. (I'll save you from Googling it yourself.)

This week, though, the third R is back on the scene. At the ripe old age of 40, Rivaldo has signed a one-year deal with São Caetano, meaning that he will appear in the Campeonato Paulista – the most prestigious of Brazil's state championships, although that isn't saying much these days – and Brazil's second division.

Read the rest of this article over at ESPN FC here.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Brazilian football digest: December

The latest edition of my monthly round-up for the Betting Expert blog features the new Club World Cup champions, a striker whose star sparkled in Japan, some youthful arrogance and a timely reminder of Paulo Henrique Ganso's subtle skillset.

You can read the article here.