Thursday, 11 December 2014

Continuity the key for Cruzeiro, Brazilian champions for the second year running

The Campeonato Brasileiro, to bastardise that neat Gary Lineker aphorism, is a simple championship. 20 teams slog away for the best part of a year and in the end, Cruzeiro win.

It wasn’t always thus, of course: the Belo Horizonte side’s dominance is a relatively unusual phenomenon for a league that usually prides itself on the fact that pretty much any one of 12 or so teams could take the title in any given year. Yet for the first time since São Paulo’s reign of terror between 2006 and 2008, one side looks to be establishing something of a dynasty.



Key to Cruzeiro’s success this term was that most rare of commodities in Brazilian football: continuity. Forward-thinking coach Marcelo Oliveira stayed put following the 2013 title, as did the vast majority of his key players: Éverton Ribeiro, last season’s player of the year, resisted overtures from Europe, while Lucas Silva and Ricardo Goulart also stuck around.

Read the rest of this article on the WhoScored site.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Golden Boy's final act: Former Fenerbahçe playmaker Alex gets emotional send-off from Coritiba fans

Days before the game, they filled the streets, lighting flares and chanting his name. The words "thank you, captain," rang around the city like a mantra.

The game was always going to be a sellout; there had been queues to reach the ticket booths at the Couto Pereira. Coritiba had done just about enough to avoid relegation from Brazil's top flight, meaning there was nothing much to play for, but that mattered little. He would be there, for the final time. 25,550 people flooded the stands. It was their highest attendance of the season.


This was a party, certainly, but one tinged with sadness. Coritiba, one of Brazil's most historic clubs, were bidding farewell to perhaps their biggest idol of the modern era.

As kick-off approached, he made his big entrance. The reception was huge but there were to be no real histrionics on his part. Not that that surprised anyone familiar with him. For Alexsandro de Souza – better known as Alex – has always been one to shy away from the fanfare when possible.

Read the rest of this piece on the Mirror website.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Absolutely fabulous: Luís Fabiano gatecrashes São Paulo's Fantastic Four to provide reminder of his quality

Bad news for fans of title races going right to the wire: it now seems unlikely that São Paulo will manage to overthrow the heavyweights of Cruzeiro before the Campeonato Brasileirão season ends. Going into the midweek round, the Tricolor trail by four points having played a game more than their rivals. Stranger things have happened, but rarely to a side so battle-hardened as this Cruzeiro outfit.

And yet, as thoughts turn to end-of-year lists and prizes, there is an argument to be made that São Paulo are some kind of people’s champions. Led by the ‘Quartero Fantástico’ – the Fantastic Four of Kaká, Alexandre Pato, Alan Kardec and Paulo Henrique Ganso – São Paulo embarking on a run of 7 victories in 8 games to climb above Internacional, Corinthians and Fluminense.


Yet after the Cruzeiro win came a frustrating stutter: just one point salvaged from four games. The chasing pack closed in; one of the runners in the two-horse race looked to have limped out of contention. One man, though, had other ideas. Luís Fabiano has stepped up to the plate in grand style in recent weeks, netting four times in five starts to put São Paulo back within striking distance once more.

Read the rest of this piece on O Fabuloso's mini-revival on the WhoScored site. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Tears and tantrums: On Thiago Silva's fall from grace

Brazil’s doomed World Cup summer threw up all manner of memorable images. Most of those were of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s players looking utterly bemused during and after their shellacking at the hands of Germany, but there is one other that still stands out.

It is of Thiago Silva, the captain of the side, refusing to watch the penalty shootout against Chile in the second round. Almost 60,000 souls inside the Mineirão – in those hazy, hopeful days before it hosted that 7-1 – are urging Brazil’s players on; yet one of the men whose job that is cannot even bring himself to look. It later emerged that he had point-blank ruled himself out of taking a kick - not exactly leadership of the highest order, as many pointed out.


In the post-tournament scramble, Neymar’s appointment as Brazil’s new captain went almost unnoticed. But evidently not by Thiago. Having missed the first games of the Dunga Redux era due to injury, he jumped at his first chance to sound off about the transition at the weekend.

“[Neymar] didn't come and speak to me,” he told the press. “No one did. That's what's annoying. I can't pretend I'm happy. It's a sad, painful moment... like they took something away from me."

Read this piece on Thiago Silva's fall from grace on the Yahoo! Eurosport site.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Five youngsters enjoying a breakout season in Série A

With six games of the season remaining, there remains plenty to play for in the 2014 Brasileirão – even if those dastardly Cruzeiro schemers have already all but wrapped up their second consecutive title. The race for the Libertadores places is hotter than the surface of the sun (just the four teams on 54 points as things stand), while plenty of sides are still battling manfully against the drop.


For many, though, the real battle begins after the season’s end, when European clubs will once more come sniffing round in search of talent to tempt to the Velho Continente. Many of the names likely to be in the mix will be broadly familiar by this stage – think Éverton Ribeiro, Lucas Silva, Gabriel – but the gold rush is usually such that it’s not just the established stars who attract attention.

Without wishing to tempt fate (heaven knows Brazilian football could do with keeping its talented kids for longer), I have picked five youngsters who could be on the radar having enjoyed breakout seasons in 2014. Find out who they are on the WhoScored site.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Meet Lucas Lima, the heir to Santos' playmaking throne

The first pass is all about vision – that most nebulous of attributes that most players aspire to but very few attain. A quick look up in a busy midfield. A runner. A swish of the left boot. Centre-back and full-back sliced apart. Geuvânio scampers through to score the opener.


The second is different. A good pass, sure, but that’s not the main thing. Besides, it doesn’t even go down as an assist. No, the key here is the speed of thought. A free-kick. Everyone relaxes for a second. Some moan at the referee. Opportunity knocks. Ball on the floor, Eugenio Mena released. A simple cross later and Gabriel makes it 2-0. Job done.

He did not score and he did not make the headlines, but everyone who knew anything knew. One man and one man alone masterminded Santos’ 3-1 derby win over Palmeiras on Sunday: 24-year-old midfielder Lucas Lima.

Read the rest of this profile on the WhoScored website.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Eduardo da Silva proving in Brazil that his finishing powers remain undimmed

Whisper it quietly, but it is perhaps indicative of the global standing of the Campeonato Brasileiro that players can thrive there long after they hit the proverbial wall in Europe. A fading Ronaldinho? Amazing in Brazil. Kaká, years after his peak? Doing really well, thank you very much.


The trend is testament to the fact that quickness of thought can compensate for ageing legs, particularly in a league that struggles to produce cerebral, tactically-astute players. A little bit of nous gleaned from European football, allied with technical quality, is usually enough to allow a player to stand out in Brazil.

Most appear to enjoy being the big fish in a small pond. But the recent form of one man also shows that the Brasileirão can also be a fruitful hunting ground for those who tend to prefer the quiet life.

In my latest column for WhoScored, I look at the recent form of former Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva. Read it here.
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