Friday, 31 December 2010

The Guardian's Top 100 Football Blogs

The lovely folks at The Guardian have put together a real post-Christmas treat for the football fan; a selection of the 100 top football blogs to follow in 2011. I'm honoured to have been included in the list, alongside a whole host of excellent writers. I thoroughly recommend that you have a look at the list, and discover some of the excellent sites out there. I should warn you, however; only click on the link if you have no important commitments within the next two or three hours!

The list can be found here.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

SKP: Now With Added Organisation!

Now that the season is over, I've finally got round to adding some tags to the posts on this site. Think of it as my Christmas gift to you, if you like. The categories, which you'll find down on the right hand side below the blog archive, should help everyone navigate with more ease around these parts.


Categories are organised according to competition (Brasileirão, Copa do Brasil, Copa Libertadores, etc), article type (player profiles, IBWM articles, history, etc) and club. Rather than tag every single team that I mention in Série A round-ups (which would take ages, and kind of defeat the aim of this exercise), I've tagged only those who featured in the detailed match reports, as well as those who form the subject of more specific articles.

So, boring administrative post over. A very merry Christmas/happy holiday to you all, and I hope to see you when SKP returns to cover the state championships in the new year!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Inter Set to Rebuild After Club World Cup Disappointment

Firstly, a word of apology to my readers. I was caught up in a whirlwind of university work this week, and so was unable to offer my thoughts on Internacional's shock Club World Cup loss to TP Mazembe. Sometimes, unfortunately, the real world crashes into my glorious Brazilian football utopia. Inter recovered some of their pride yesterday, with a convincing victory over Asian champions Seongnam, but will likely now face up to a transitional period ahead of the 2011 season.

Before this year's competition, there had never been a final of the Mundial without a South American representative. The Colorado travelled to the Middle East with the expectation of maintaining that record, and were hopeful of overcoming near-namesakes Internazionale to become the fourth Brazilian side to win the Cup in its current format. Having used the last few rounds of the Brasileirão to experiment with personnel and formation, there can be little doubt that coach Celso Roth was prioritising the competition, and players such as Alecsandro and Oscar declaring their excitement ahead of the trip. All of Inter's preparation, however, was to prove insufficient in their semi-final clash with the wonderfully-named Tout Puissant ('all-powerful') Mazembe, the African champions.

A frustrated Celso Roth offers advice to Rafael Sobis.

Roth set his side up to attack; Tinga and D'Alessandro were to provide support for strikers Alecsandro and Rafael Sobis, whilst full-backs Kléber and Nei also had a largely attacking remit. Inter duly dominated the first half, and were only denied by a stunning performance from Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba. The veteran stopper pulled off a string of fine saves, the best of which thwarted Rafael Sobis, who looked destined to score from close range. The second period brought more frustration for Inter; they went behind to Mulota Kabangu's stunning volley, and struggled to create clear-cut chances.. The Porto Alegre side were then dealt a knockout blow in the 85th minute, when dynamic winger Dioko Kaluyituka cut inside his marker and fired past Renan. The final whistle confirmed a landmark success for African football, and a bitter disappointment for Inter.

The Colorado players were understandably distraught; Rafael Sobis, for instance, admitted on his Twitter account that he didn't sleep the following night, and broke down into tears on a couple of occassions. The Brazilian media, meanwhile was busy pressing the panic button; speculating that Roth and a host of first-team players (Alecsandro, Guiñazú, D'Alessandro) could leave the Beira-Rio.

Roth and Alecsandro will hope to have secured their short-term futures in the victory over Seongnam. The burly striker, who has at times looked out of place among Inter's technically-gifted squad, netted two goals and set up the opener for Tinga. He will want to remain ahead of young forward Leandro Damião in the striking pecking order, and must hope that the club's reported interest in forwards Luís Fabiano (Sevilla), Zé Roberto (Vasco), and Everton (Tigres) fails to materialise. Roth, meanwhile, despite rumours that he could be replaced by Atlético-MG boss Dorival Júnior, will be encouraged by the (relative) patience that the Porto Alegre club tend to have with their coaches.

There may be, however, some truth surrounding the rumours about Guiñazú and D'Alessandro, two Argentines who have become firm favourites at the Beira-Rio. Guiñazú has been linked with São Paulo, who have long been admirers of the defensive midfielder. A renewed effort on their part to prize the defensive midfielder away from the Colorado looks likely. D'Alessandro, meanwhile, has suggested that he may be open to a return to his home country should River Plate come in for him. The departure of this pair would undoubtedly leave a significant hole in Inter's midfield engine room.

Luckily for Inter's fans, though, the club remains in a strong position to cope with such uncertainty. Youngsters like Giuliano, Damião, and Oscar are beginning to stamp their mark on the first team, and will be aided by the experience of Sobis, Tinga, and captain Bolívar. Some rebuilding of the first team may well be necessary ahead of the 2011 campaign, then, but we shouldn't read too much into the upset at the hands of Mazembe. Inter will remain a force in next season's Libertadores, and will also be confident of mounting a (recently all-too-infrequent) Série A challenge.

(Photo credit; VIPCOMM.)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Santos and Palmeiras Set to Benefit from Unification of National Titles

The CBF, Brazilian football's governing body, made an announcement this week regarding the history of the country's national championship. A decision has been made to unify the Campeonato Brasileiro (which came into existence in 1971) and the national competitions which existed before it; namely the Taça Brasil and the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa. The Taça was contested between 1959 and 1968, whilst there were four editions of the 'Robertão' between 1967 and 1970.

The Palmeiras side that claimed the 1969 Robertão.

What this means, in real terms, is that sides who were victorious in thse competitions will now be able to count such successes alongside (and as of equal value to) their Brasileirão titles. Cruzeiro, for instance, who won the Taça Brasil in 1966 and the Campeonato Brasileiro in 2003, can now declare themselves bicampeão do Brasil. It should be noted however, that most clubs already considered such achievements as commensurate with their post-1970 triumphs. Fluminense's fans, for instance, unveiled an enormous 'JUNTOS PELO TRI' banner during their title-winning victory over Guarani, a plea that only makes sense if you count the club's 1970 Robertão title. To some extent, then, the CBF's decision merely brings official records into line with public feeling.

The flipside of the coin is that the organisation of these competitions bore little or no resemblence to the modern league format. The better sides often entered the tournaments at the semi-final stage, after the smaller regional clubs had contested the earlier rounds. This week's announcement, then, has created a backlash from the supporters of clubs whose titles were won over more than a handful of matches.

The main beneficiaries of the announcement are Santos and Palmeiras; the former gain six official titles (a move which will only enhance the legend of Pelé, incidentally), whilst the latter see their tally increased by four. The full list of winners from the competitions in question is as follows;

Taça Brasil

1959 - Bahia
1960 - Palmeiras
1961 - Santos
1962 - Santos
1963 - Santos
1964 - Santos
1965 - Santos
1966 - Cruzeiro
1967 - Palmeiras
1968 - Botafogo

Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa

1967 - Palmeiras
1968 - Santos
1969 - Palmeiras
1970 - Fluminense

In light of these records, Palmeiras and Santos are now the clubs with the most national titles overall, with eight. São Paulo and Flamengo are next with six apiece, whilst Corinthians and Vasco have four. The full classification is as follows;

8 titles
Palmeiras (1960, 1967, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1973, 1993, 1994)
Santos (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968, 2002, 2004)

6 titles
Flamengo (1980, 1982, 1983, 1987*, 1992, 2009)
São Paulo (1977, 1986, 1991, 2006, 2007, 2008)

4 titles
Corinthians (1990, 1998, 1999, 2005)
Vasco da Gama (1974, 1989, 1997, 2000)

3 titles
Fluminense (1970, 1984, 2010)
Internacional (1975, 1976, 1979)

2 titles
Bahia (1959, 1988)
Botafogo (1968, 1995)
Cruzeiro (1966, 2003)
Grêmio (1981, 1996)

1 title
Atlético Mineiro (1971)
Atlético Paranaense (2001)
Coritiba (1985)
Guarani (1978)
Sport (1987*)

*The 1987 championship was split into to two 'modules.' One was won by Sport, the other by Flamengo. There is some debate in Brazil as to which of these should be counted in official records, so I've hedged my bets and taken account of both.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Resurgent Fluminense Evoke Spirit of '84

My latest effort for world football site In Bed With Maradona looks at Fluminense's recent title success, and draws parallels with their 1984 championship victory. You can read it here.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Goiás Defeated in Sul-Americana Final; Grêmio Qualify for Libertadores

Goiás' continental fairytale came to an abrupt end last night, as they lost the Copa Sul-americana final to Independiente. The Esmeraldino had built up a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, but came unstuck in Argentina; losing on penalties after their opponents had drawn level on aggregate. Disappointment, then, for Arthur Neto's men, but the result was celebrated in the blue and black half of Porto Alegre; Grêmio now qualify for the 2011 Libertadores.

Penalty agony for the Goiás players.

Independiente 3-1 Goiás (5-3 on penalties)
The hosts, needing a two-goal victory, predictably flew out of the blocks in the opening minutes. They were boosted by a goal within 20 minutes; Julian Velazquez tucked home neatly after Goiás 'keeper Harlei had parried a shot. Within seconds, however, the Esmeraldino silenced the Estádio Libertadores. Wellington Saçi broke down the left, and crossed for Rafael Moura (who else?) to power in a header.

The first half continued to be played at breakneck pace, with chances falling for both sides. Independiente regained the lead in fortuitous fashion; Ernando's attempted clearance ricocheted off Facundo Parra, and looped into the far corner of the net. The home side had the wind in their sales, and swiftly bagged a third. The Goiás backline failed to cut out Patricio Rodríguez's cross from the left, allowing Parra, who was lying on the floor after challenging for a header, to poke out a leg and flick the ball past Harlei. It was another bizarre goal, but Independiente didn't care a jot; they needed just one more to guarantee the title.

Unfortunately for the hosts, the attacking verve of the opening period was replaced by conservatism and nerves after the interval; they looked more concerned about not conceding than they were about scoring. Consequently, the best chances fell to Goiás; Otacílio Neto had a goal chalked off for offside, and Rafael Moura could only blast into the side netting in the final minutes. The teams, level on aggregate (the Sul-americana has no away goals rule) went to extra time, and the visitors continued to push forward; Rafael Tolói struck the woodwork with their best opportunity.

Independiente, who had offered precious little since their third goal, must have been pleased to see the game go to penalties. Journeyman striker Felipe was the unlucky player whose miss would prove crucial for Goiás, as El Diablo Rojo expertly converted all five of their spot-kicks. As the Independiente faithful celebrated victory, the Goiás players shuffled despondently into the dressing room. The disappointing final chapter, though, shouldn't take too much away from what was a thoroughly impressive cup run, especially from a team who will play in Série B next term.

Result; Independiente 3-1 Goiás (5-3 on penalties).

(Photo credit; Reuters.)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Elias Set for European Adventure With Atlético Madrid

Elias, who has undoubtedly been one of the Brasileirão's best players over the last couple of years, this week sealed a move to Spanish side Atlético Madrid. I've contributed a profile of the player to an article at the blog spanishfootball.info. You can read it here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Fluminense Dominate Globo's 2010 Brasileirão Awards

The Campeonato Brasileiro's best players were out in force at the Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro last night, as Globo hosted their annual Craque do Brasileirão awards ceremony. The awards have taken place since 2005, when the CBF teamed up with the broadcasting network. Some categories are decided by public vote, including the that of Craque da Galera (people's player). The big winners, predictably, were Fluminense, with talisman Darío Conca and coach Muricy Ramalho both picking up gongs. The evening ended with the Tricolor finally getting their hands on the Brasileirão trophy.

Darío Conca and Ricardo Berna proudly hold the Série A trophy.

The full list of 2010 winners is as follows;

Best player; Darío Conca (Fluminense).
Top scorer; Jonas (Grêmio).
Craque da Galera; Darío Conca (Fluminense).
Revelation; Bruno César (Corinthians).
Best fans; Bahia (Série B).
Best coach; Muricy Ramalho (Fluminense).
Best referee; Sandro Meira Ricci.
Team of the year; Fábio (Cruzeiro); Mariano (Fluminense), Dédé (Vasco), Miranda (São Paulo), Roberto Carlos (Corinthians); Elias (Corinthians), Jucilei (Corinthians); Montillo (Cruzeiro), Conca (Fluminense); Neymar (Santos), Jonas (Grêmio).

(Photo credit; Rafael Andrade.)

Fluminense Crowned 2010 Brasileirão Champions

Fluminense were crowned champions of the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro on Sunday evening, after seeing off Guarani 1-0 at the Engenhão. The title is the Tricolor's first league win since 1984, and only their third since coming into existence in 1902. The success is also another feather in the cap of coach Muricy Ramalho, who now has four national titles to his name. In truth, Flu have limped over the finish line in recent weeks, aided by a schedule which has seen them play three demotivated sides in the final rounds. This, though, shouldn't take too much away from the club's achievement. Fluminense were on the verge of relegation just twelve months ago, saved by Marquinhos' goal on the final day. One year, a few signings, and a wise managerial appointment later, they are at the summit of the Brazilian game.

Command and Conca; Flu's inspirational captain soaks up the applause.

Fluminense 1-0 Guarani
As fans queued around the clock during the week for Flu's final game, the expectant atmosphere was tainted with mild disappointment. The club's biggest match (and more importantly, biggest party) in recent history took place at Botafogo's Engenhão stadium, rather than at the Maracanã, Fluminense's spiritual home. By matchday, however, such reservations had been firmly buried, as the fans of the Tricolor joyfully colonised their temporary home. An enormous mosaico (a picture created by thousands of individual banners) filled the stadium with white, green, and maroon, and was adorned with the message "JUNTOS PELO TRI" (together for our third national title). This was an impressive display of support for a club which has been starved of domestic success in recent years.

Tricolor fans celebrate a third national title.

Muricy Ramalho's side were without the injured Deco, but forwards Emerson (lovingly known as 'Sheik' following a spell in the middle east) and Fred, and talisman Darío Conca (who has started every Série A game for the club in 2010) were all present and correct. Guarani...well nobody really cared about Guarani; already relegated, the Bugre were merely the straw man forced to stand in the path of history. The game, in truth, was a disappointment; Fluminense predictably dominated possession, but created precious few chances. Those that came in the first period were promptly squandered by Fred. The performance, though, was understandably of secondary importance; the crowd were merely waiting for the inevitable to occur.

Sheik, rattle, and roll; Emerson celebrates with Washington, Fred, and Conca.

The moment arrived just after half time. Carlinhos' cross from the left ricocheted off Washington and a Guarani defender, and fell at the feet of Emerson. The striker poked out his left leg, doing just enough to divert the ball below his namesake in the Guarani goal. Cue a wild outpouring of emotion in the stadium, and an enormous pile-up of Flu players on the pitch. At that point, a bet on the final score being 1-0 would have been the safest wager in history (if only I was a betting man...); Muricy duly shut up shop, replacing Fred with defensive midfielder Fernando Bob, and howling cautionary instructions at his players from the touchline. The game, hardly a classic to begin with, became almost unbearably dull; the clock in the corner of the screen became the sole point of interest.

Flu coach Muricy Ramalho salutes his side's fans in the Engenhão.

When Carlos Simon blew the final whistle (the last act of his distinguished refereeing career, incidentally), the stadium erupted. A throng of journalists, who had already been interviewing Emerson before the final whistle, swarmed around the jubilant Muricy Ramalho. His reaction, though, was drowned out by the songs and cheers of the crowd; this was a historic day, 26 years in the making. As captain Conca (who was elected the Série A player of the year on Monday) lifted the Brasileirão trophy, everyone involved with the Tricolor must have looked back at the past twelve months with a vague sense of disbelief. Whatever the next couple of years brings, Fluzão's recent turnaround in fortunes will live long in the memory. Parabéns, Fluminense; campeão Brasileiro de 2010!

Gameweek 38 Round-up
Cruzeiro finished their campaign on a high, overcoming Palmeiras to leapfrog Corinthians into second place. This means that the Raposa will not have to go through a qualifying round to qualify for next season's Libertadores. A sensational run and cross from Patrik allowed Rivaldo (not that one) to put Palmeiras ahead, but strikes from Henrique and the gloriously-named Wallyson gave Cuca's men the points. Corinthians, meanwhile, fluffed their final lines of the season, drawing against a Goiás missing many regular starters. Felipe Amorim coolly gave Goiás the lead following a poor clearance from Corinthians 'keeper Júlio César, before Dentinho rounded off a slick move to equalise. The Timão, however, could not find a winner, and finish in third. The immanent departures of Elias and Jucilei could signal the start of a transitional period for the Pacaembu club.

At the Olímpico, Grêmio brushed Botafogo aside to claim fourth spot. André Lima bagged the opener against his former employers, reacting quickly after Jéfferson parried Jonas' shot. Jonas then got in on the act himself, drilling home a low shot from outside the area. It was the striker's 23rd of the campaign, a figure which made him the competition's artilheiro by some distance. The victory was sealed in the second period, when Douglas finished following a slick one-two with André Lima. The Tricolor will now hope for a favour from Independiente; if Goiás win the Copa Sul-americana, Grêmio will be denied their place in next season's Libertadores.

Série A's top scorer Jonas celebrates his goal.

Atlético Paranaense ended their impressive season with a tight win Avaí at the Arena da Baixada. Paulo Baier scored the only goal of the game, nodding home Márcio Azevedo's superb left-wing cross. Vasco also finished on a high note, beating Ceará 2-0 thanks to Dédé's header and Bruno Paulo's deflected effort. Santos and Flamengo, meanwhile, completely cancelled each other out, playing out a dull goalless draw.

Due to travel arrangements for their upcoming appearance at the Club World Cup, Internacional played their final game on Wednesay. The Colorado faced Grêmio Prudente, and strolled to a convincing 3-0 victory. Alecsandro headed home a typically accurate Kléber cross to give Inter the lead, before Tinga chested (!) home to round off a devastating attack. Rising star Giuliano completed the scoring the second half, smashing home a stunning first-time volley from distance.

São Paulo also concluded their campaign in some style, storming to a 4-0 win over Dorival Júnior's Atlético Mineiro side. Former Shakhtar Donetsk player Ilsinho scored the opener; drilling home a low finish when the referee brilliantly let play continue after a foul. The impressive youngster Lucas rifled home the second, before Marlos made it three with a delightful curling effort. Renato Silva's late header would be the final meaningful action of the game. Vitória met Atlético-GO at the Ressacada, needing a win to secure survival at their opponents expense. In a predictable nervy game, Atlético just did enough, battling to a goalless draw. Try as they might, Vitória could not manage the single goal they needed, and will have to compete in Série B next term.

So there we have it. As ever. it's been an exciting Brasileirão season, with the title and relegation battles going down to the wire. 380 games, and 978 goals later (that's an average of 2.57 per game), there's one thing we know for sure; things are never predictable in Brazil. At the bottom of the table, Vitória, Guarani, Goiás, and Grêmio Prudente are relegated, and will be replaced by Coritiba, Fugueirense, Bahia, and América-MG. There are Libertadores places for Fluminense, Cruzeiro, Corinthians, Internacional (as reigning champions), Santos (as Copa do Brasil winners), and one of Grêmio and Goiás. The biggest prize of all, however, goes to Fluminense, the 2010 Brasileirão champions.

Thanks to all who have followed SKP (here and on Twitter) over the course of the season, it's been a fun ride. There's no rest for the wicked, however; the Club World Cup starts later this month, and the 2011 state championships will be kicking off before you can say "largely meaningless, ridiculously unbalanced, glorified pre-season tournament." No complaints from me, though; there's always the next big star or a returning hero (Elano, anyone?) to look out for.

Results; Grêmio Prudente 0-3 Internacional, São Paulo 4-0 Atlético-MG, Goiás 1-1 Corinthians, Cruzeiro 2-1 Palmeiras, Fluminense 1-0 Guarani, Santos 0-0 Flamengo, Vitória 0-0 Atlético-GO, Grêmio 3-0 Botafogo, Vasco 2-0 Ceará, Atlético-PR 1-0 Avaí.

(Photo credits; (1) Paulo Sergio, (2) Júlio César Guimarães, (3) Agência Photocâmera, (4) Folhapress, (5) Ricardo Rimoli.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Goiás Continue to Confound Critics in First Leg of Copa Sul-Americana Final

It's a funny old game, this football. This year, for the first time, the winners of the Copa Sul-americana (the South American equivalent of the Europa League) will receive the significant prize of automatic qualification for next year's Copa Libertadores. Rather than being a battle between two of the continent's big hitters, though, the final is being contested by two clubs who have struggled in domestic competition this term; Independiente are currently languishing near the bottom of the Argentine Primera División, while Goiás have already been relegated from Série A following a tepid campaign. It was the Brazilian club, however, who continued their inspirational cup form last night with a 2-0 first leg win at the Serra Dourada.

By the power of Greyskull; Rafael Moura celebrates his goal.

Once again it was Rafael 'He-Man' Moura who made the breakthrough for the Esmeraldino, tucking home calmly when Carlos Alberto fortuitously diverted the ball into his path. Moura has undergone a remarkable media-led transformation in the last couple of months; from hapless targetman to one of Brazil's most feared strikers. A move to one of the country's more reknowned clubs surely beckons in the off-season.

The home fans, jumping following Moura's opener, were sent into raptures just minutes later when Otacilío Neto added a fortunate second. Douglas' scuffed cross looked certain to be cut out by an Independiente defender, but somehow dribbled through to Neto, who made no mistake. Goiás remained in the ascendency, and gained a numerical advantage when Silvera was dismissed for the Argentine side. Despite their efforts, though, the scoreline remained 2-0; Artur Neto will hope that his charges have done enough ahead of next-week's second leg.

Result; Goiás 2-0 Independiente.

(Photo credit; EFE.)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Title Race Goes Down to Wire as Top Three All Win; Guarani Relegated

The penultimate round of the 2010 Brasileirão saw all twenty clubs play simultaneously on Sunday evening. Leaders Fluminense and third placed Cruzeiro both came from behind to record wins, meaning that the title will be decided in the final rodada. Corinthians (who also picked up a victory) sit just one point behind Flu, with Cruzeiro a further point back. The battle for the final Libertadores spot (which will only be in play if Goiás fail to win the Copa Sul-americana final...I hope you're paying attention at the back) will also be resolved next week, as both Grêmio and Botafogo claimed maximum points. Things are a bit clearer at the bottom, where Guarani have now joined Grêmio Prudente and Goiás in being relegated to Série B. Atlético Mineiro are now safe, as are Flamengo and Avaí barring some cricket scores next week. That leaves only Vitória and Atlético-GO fighting it out for the sanctuary of 16th place; conveniently, those two will play each other next Sunday.

Palmeiras 1-2 Fluminense
Just like last week, Fluminense travelled to São Paulo to face a bitter rival of title challengers Corinthians. Just like last week, the fans of that team had spent most of the build-up to the game pleading their side to roll over and gift Flu the points. Just like last week, the home side's goal was greeted with a communal "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" rather than genuine celebration. And just like last week, Fluminense eventually ran out comfortable winners, one step closer to a historic title.

If anything, the sense of inevitability surrounding this match was even more palpable than that which preceded the São Paulo game. Palmeiras players and staff were bitterly disappointed to lose their Copa Sul-americana semi-final with Goiás, and spent most of the week moaning about how demotivated they were for this clash. Luiz Felipe Scolari, though, contrary to expectations, fielded a strong side, including key players Kléber and Marcos Assunção. Fluminense, for the first time in months, boasted a full-strength attack; the quartet of Fred, Emerson, Deco, and Conca were able to start a match together for the first time.

Carlinhos (right) salutes the crowd after his equaliser.

Within minutes of kick-off, Palmeiras (decked out in a kit that made them look like the Ireland rugby team) went ahead. Some careless Tricolor defending allowed Dinei to steal the ball, before unleashing an impeccable half-volley into the top corner of Ricardo Berna's goal from 30 yards. A true golaço, and one which briefly suggested that this could be a closely-fought battle. What followed however, was total dominance by Fluminense. The visitors spurned a flurry of chances over the following minutes; Emerson saw his header come back off the bar, and Deco and Fred both wasted presentable chances. An equaliser soon arrived, though, and it was Carlinhos who made the breakthrough. The left-back made space for himself on the edge of the box before curling the ball neatly into the far corner.

Muricy Ramalho's side continued to boss things until the half-time whistle, but, as so often recently, lacked the ruthlessness that would have seen them rack up a hatful of goals; chances came and went for Fred, Conca, Emerson and Gum. The start of the second half followed much the same pattern, and eventually Fluminense bagged their second. Tartá, on as a sub for the injured Deco, collected a rebound and coolly beat Deola in the Palmeiras goal. That was the end of the contest; players from both sides spent the remaining thirty minutes jogging round, occasionally trying half-hearted passes to their teammates. Palmeiras forward Kléber, for instance, usually such a hard-worker, could barely even be bothered to disguise his lack of interest. It was a disappointingly predictable end to the match, but Fluminense will have no complaints; they remain in the box seat ahead of their final game against Guarani.

Gameweek 37 Round-up
Corinthians kept the pressure on Fluminense with a routine 2-0 win over Vasco in front of a rapturous crowd at the Pacaembu. The Timão went ahead when Bruno César's speculative cannoned off Dedé and slid under the body of Fernando Prass. It was the midfielder's 14th goal of the campaign. The victory was sealed in the second period, when Roberto Carlos' tempting cross was converted by Danilo at the far post. Corinthians will travel to play Goiás next week, hoping their rivals slip up.

Vasco's Zé Roberto is watched by Dentinho and Roberto Carlos.

Despite going behind to Diego Maurício's early strike (a simple finish after a lovely Diogo pass), Cruzeiro proved too much for Flamengo, claiming a 2-1 victory. Roger's deflected free-kick brought the Raposa level, before Thiago Ribeiro nodded home Walter Montillo's inch-perfect cross. Cruzeiro's local rivals Atlético Mineiro finally secured their Série A survival with a 3-1 win over Goiás at the Arena do Jacaré. Diego Souza slotted the Galo into an early lead, before Éverton Santos flicked home a clever equaliser. Dorival Júnior's men were not to be denied however; Renan Oliveira and Diego Tardelli both added emphatic finishes to seal the win. Much credit must be given to Dorival for turning round the club's fortunes since his arrival in September.

Botafogo earnt their first win in five games, overcoming Grêmio Prudente at the Engenhão. Prolific centre-back Antônio Carlos headed home his seventh of the season from a Lúcio Flávio corner to give O Glorioso the lead, before Edno rifled home a spectacular second. Willian José reduced the arrears with a fine lone-range strike, but Marcelo Cordeiro's spot kick put the game to bed. Joel Santana's men, though, must beat Grêmio in their final match in order to claim the final Libertadores spot, after the Porto Alegre side brushed aside Guarani. André Lima's simple header put the Tricolor ahead, before Jonas converted a penalty and young striker Diego added a breakaway third in the final minutes.

A hattrick from diminutive midfielder Caio inspired Florianópolis side Avaí to a stunning comeback victory over Santos. Some magical skill from Neymar allowed Keirrison to bundle home the opener, and Neymar himself put the Peixe two goals to the good with a typically cool finish. From there on in, however, Santos were forced to take a front row seat for the Caio show. The 30-year-old skipped past five challenges to knock home a glorious first, before smashing home two unstoppable drives from the edge of the area, one with either foot. It was a lovely way to ensure the club's continued Série A status.

Elias (left) celebrates his vital goal for Atlético-GO.

The remaining three games all finished as 1-1 draws. Rafael Santos gave Atlético Paranaense the lead over Ceará, but the Fortaleza club equalised thanks to Magno Alves' heavily deflected effort. At the Beira-Rio, it was Adaílton who smashed Vitória into the lead against Inter, only for Rafael Sobis to spare the Colorado's blushes with a well-taken solo goal. São Paulo took the lead in their clash with Atlético Goianiense when Rogério tucked home a penalty, but were pegged back by Elias' scuffed finish. Those results mean that Vitória's game against Atlético-GO is a straight shootout for survival. Vitória need to win that match; a draw would see Atlético survive due to having scored more goals, even though the teams have the same goal difference.

Results; Atlético-GO 1-1 São Paulo, Corinthians 2-0 Vasco, Internacional 1-1 Vitória, Flamengo 1-2 Cruzeiro, Atlético-MG 3-1 Goiás, Avaí 3-2 Santos, Palmeiras 1-2 Fluminense, Guarani 0-3 Grêmio, Ceará 1-1 Atlético-PR, Botafogo 3-1 Grêmio Prudente.

(Photo credits; (1) Ivan Storti, (2) Eduardo Viana, (3) Carlos Costa.)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Goiás Stun Palmeiras to Reach Copa Sul-Americana Final

Having won the away leg 1-0 last week, Palmeiras were considered favourites to advance from their all-Brazilian Copa Sul-americana semi-final with Goiás. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was clearly prioritising the competition; frequently resting his side's star players in recent Série A matches so as to keep them fresh for this game. Goiás, however, tore up the scipt last night, coming from behind to dump the Verdão out of the tournament.

In front of a packed Pacaembu, the hosts took control early on; Tinga rattled the post with a powerful drive, and Luan tested Goiás 'keeper Harlei. With half an hour gone, Palmeiras broke the deadlock; Edinho lofted a lovely diagonal pass for Luan, who held off his marker before volleying into the far corner. The goal have the São Paulo side a 2-0 aggegate advantage, leaving Goiás with plenty to do. Their task was made easier with a slightly fortuitous goal on the stroke of halftime; Carlos Alberto's close range header took a heavy deflection off Tinga, and beat Deola in the Palmeiras goal.

Despair for Palmeiras forward Luan (left), as the Goiás players celebrate.

Palmeiras had their share of chances in the second period, with Kléber in particular guilty of some wasteful finishing. Their profligacy would be punished by Goiás, who scored their crucial second goal with ten minutes remaining. Marcão's cross from the left was headed back across goal by Rafael Moura, giving Ernando the easiest of finishes. The entire Pacaembu fell silent, stunned at the away side's comeback. Palmeiras tried to recover in the final minutes, but the dye was cast; Goiás progress to the final on away goals. They will meet either LDU Quito or Independiente, who will settle their semi-final this evening.

Result; Palmeiras 1-2 Goiás (2-2 on aggregate; Goiás win on away goals).

(Photo credit; Ari Ferreira.)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Fluminense Back on Top After Beating São Paulo; Neymar Nets Three for Santos

The Série A season took another twist this weekend, only the latest of hundreds over the past 36 rounds. Corinthians were held by Vitória, allowing Muricy Ramalho's Fluminense to regain top spot with a win over São Paulo. Cruzeiro sealed their Libertadores place with a comfortable victory over Vasco, while Grêmio snuck into fourth. At the other end, there were vital wins for Avaí, Atlético-MG, and Flamengo.

São Paulo 1-4 Fluminense
The lead-up to Sunday's game at the Arena Bareuri had seen a group of ardent São Paulo fans call for their team to lose this match, allowing Fluminense to overtake their bitter rivals Corinthians at the head of the Brasileirão. In truth, the campaign way made with tongue firmly in cheek, but one may have wondered, at full time, whether a few of the home players hadn't missed a midweek memo; the Tricolor Paulista rolled over like a playful kitten in the second half, allowing their sub-par opponents to take the spoils.

Flu were boosted by the fitness of Fred and Deco, who added some much-needed attacking weight to the side alongside Darío Conca and Washington. For São Paulo, young forward Lucas Gaúcho earnt a start after scoring against Vasco, replacing Dagoberto. The visitors dominated possession in the opening period, but once again lacked a cutting edge; Washington was guilty of a handful of misses, and Fred struggled to get into the game. When Fluminense did finally break the deadlock, they had a defender to thank; Gum rose highest to nod home Conca's corner.

Right said Fred; the former Lyon striker netted in Fluminense's win.

Hero, though, turned villain early in the second half; Gum diverted Jean's cross past Ricardo Berna for the equaliser. What followed was a period of real frustration for Flu; they continued to boss play in midfield, yet looked utterly toothless in attack. Luckily for them, a couple of São Paulo players were in a generous mood; both Xandão and Richarlyson were dismissed within a ten-minute period (the first for hauling down Fred, the latter for being a whining, swearing child). With a two-man advantage, Fluminense suddenly had the space they needed, and Darío Conca (who else?!) took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Argentine neatly volleyed home his side's second, before later adding a powerful fourth. Those strikes sandwiched a goal by Fred, who finally benefitted from the kind of inexplicable fumble that Rogério Ceni had been making all game. An odd match, and hardly a Fluminense performance that warranted a 4-1 scoreline. Muricy Ramalho's men, nonetheless, are now in pole position for the title.

Gameweek 36 Round-up
Whilst Fluminense were huffing and puffing to blow down São Paulo's straw house, Corinthians were having more significant troubles. The Timão went ahead against Vitória thanks to Danilo, who ran onto Ronaldo's clever pass before bundling past the 'keeper, but things quickly fell apart for Tite's side. Ronaldo limped off with what looked like a hamstring pull, and a penalty from Leão goalkeeper Viáfara ensured that the points were shared. Corinthians now need Fluminense to slip up in the final games.

Grêmio look the best bet to seal fourth spot (and the Libertadores spot it brings), after a convincing win over Atlético Paranaense. Neuton put the Porto Alegre side ahead with a nice individual effort, but then cost his side a penalty, which Paulo Baier duly smashed home for the Furacão. Grêmio, though, were not to be denied, and earnt a penalty of their own when Edílson was felled by Rhodolfo. Douglas coolly stroked it home, before Diego added a third late on. Botafogo, meanwhile, slipped down to sixth with a 2-1 loss to Internacional. Andrezinho volleyed home to give Inter the lead, and Rafael Sobis flicked home a second. Antônio Carlos' emphatic finish would prove to be little more than a consolation for Joel Santana's men.

Neuton's laws; the Grêmio defender (right) clearly enjoyed his goal.

In front of a measly 842 fans at the Prudentão, Grêmio Prudente and Ceará battled to a 1-1 draw. Rhayner powered home the opener for the Abelha, before Geraldo levelled with a late penalty. Flamengo scraped a much-needed win over Guarani, a win that should ensure their safety. Renato Abreu's marvellous free-kick set the Rubro-Negro on their way, only for Baiano equalise directly from a corner (that's the third gol olímpico in as many weeks, incidentally; a fact that probably says more about Brazilian goalkeepers than it does about corner takers). Flamengo's Drogbinha da Gávea, Diego Maurício, came up trumps, though; drilling home after Diogo's pass. Breathing space for Vanderlei Luxemburgo's men.

Luxemburgo's previous employers, too, look increasingly likely to avoid the drop; Atlético Mineiro saw off Palmeiras 2-0 at the nicely-named Fonte Luminosa ('Luminous Source') stadium. A deflected Diego Souza free-kick opened the scoring, and Neto Berola smashed home late on to seal the victory. Avaí also did their survival hopes the world of good, seeing off Atlético Goianiense by three goals to nil. Eltinho's free-kick snuck in to put the Leão da Ilha ahead, before a late brace from Jéferson put the result beyond doubt.

Neymar celebrates his impressive hattrick.

Cruzeiro got back to winning ways at the Arena do Jacaré, overcoming Vasco on Sunday night. The Raposa netted three remarkably similar goals in a twenty minute spell; Roger, Henrique, and Edcarlos on each occassion struck following Walter Montillo corners from the right. Renato Augusto reduced the arrears with a final-minute rocket. Santos, meanwhile, confimed Goiás' relegation with a 4-1 win over the Esmeraldino. Goiás actually went ahead via Ernando's towering header, but Danilo swiftly equalised with a low strike. The rest of the game was lit up by a Neymar hattrick; the first of which arrived from the spot after the young striker had himself been tripped. Neymar then expertly tucked home his second despite significant pressure, before adding a third with a delightful chip.

Results; Grêmio 3-1 Atlético-PR, Grêmio Prudente 1-1 Ceará, Flamengo 2-1 Guarani, São Paulo 1-4 Fluminense, Vitória 1-1 Corinthians, Palmeiras 0-2 Atlético-MG, Botafogo 1-2 Internacional, Cruzeiro 3-1 Vasco, Avaí 3-0 Atlético-GO, Goiás 1-4 Santos.

(Photo credits; (1) Gustavo Tilio, (2) Ricardo Rimoli, (3) Carlos Costa.)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Advantage Palmeiras in Copa Sul-Americana Semi

Brazilian interest in the 2010 Copa Sul-americana has boiled down to two teams; Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras, and Série A strugglers Goiás. The two met at the Serra Dourada on Wednesday in the first leg of their semi-final, with both sides gunning for a final berth against LDU or Independiente.

Marcos Assunção smashes home the winner in Goiânia.

Palmeiras were again without Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who has struggled to overcome a series of niggling injuries since his arrival. The trio of Tinga, Luan, and former Galatasaray man Lincoln were charged with providing support to the team's attacking focal point, Kléber. Goiás have been carried in recent weeks by Rafael Moura, and the big forward once again provided the main threat to the opposition defence. In a tight game of few clear chances, it was (as so often this term) Marcos Assunção who made the difference for the Verdão. The midfielder received the ball midway into the Goiás half, and advanced swiftly before rifling a glorious drive into the top corner of Harlei's goal. Assunção's 2010 highlight reel will make compulsive viewing.

Despite their best efforts, Goiás could not find a foothold in the match, and were restricted to only a handful of opportunities. Their best chance fell to Otacílio Neto, who saw his effort well saved by Palmeiras 'keeper Deola. The Esmeraldino now have it all to do in next week's return leg.

Result; Goiás 0-1 Palmeiras.

(Photo credit; Evaristo Sa/AFP.)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Seleção Rethink Needed After Argentina Loss

A late Lionel Messi goal put an end to Mano Menezes' 100% record with the seleção this evening, as Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in Doha. With just minutes remaining, the diminutive No.10 swapped passes with Ezequiel Lavezzi in the centre circle, skipped past a couple of half-hearted challenges, and planted a shot past Victor. It was a goal worthy of winning any match, and was the single moment of brilliance in a largely disappointing clash.

Messi's strikes through Thiago Silva's legs to condemn Brazil to defeat.

Menezes handed Ronaldinho a start in a central playmaking role, with Neymar on the left and Robinho...actually I have no idea where Robinho was meant to be playing. The former Santos ace turned in one of the most uninspiring performances I've ever seen, leaving Brazil effectively a man light in attack. Elias earnt a start in midfield, but also failed to impress, while Ramires, a man visibly lacking confidence following his recent downturn in form with Chelsea, looked a shadow of the player who starred against the USA. Defensively, Thiago Silva had a decent game, whilst David Luiz showed intelligence; frequently tracking Argentina's attackers into midfield, knowing that his colleagues could cope with lone frontman Gonzalo Higuaín.

Brazil, in fairness, started brightly; André Santos and Daniel Alves were typically effervescent down the wings, and Ronaldinho showed that his abilities to protect and pass the football have not deserted him yet. Neymar looked lively cutting in from his wing, but often chose to tumble in the box rather than pick out a cross. It would be two relative veterans who had the seleção's best chances; Alves hit the bar with a snapshot, and Ronaldinho's cheeky backheel brought a save from Sergio Romero. As the half wore on, though, Argentina began to boss possession, and some last-ditch defending was needed to thwart the likes of Angel di María and Messi.

The second half was even more disappointing from Brazil, who failed to create a clearcut chance. Douglas took the place of Ronaldinho, but the problem was one of formation, not of personnel; with no central striker to speak of (maybe Robinho was meant to fulfill that role, who knows), Brazil's forays down the wings and Ronaldinho's patient probing were somewhat aimless. Menezes eventually threw on young André, but inexplicably sacrificed Neymar, who had been causing Gabriel Heinze problems after switching to the right. The move made little difference to Brazil's play, and the game appeared to be limping towards a goalless draw until Messi's sensational strike.

So what lessons can we draw from this game? The first thing to note is that the performance highlighted the importance of Alexandre Pato to Menezes' system; while hardly a targetman in the traditional sense, Pato at least provided a focal point in attack for the likes of Neymar and Robinho to provide for. When Pato withdrew from the squad, Menezes probably should have turned to Nilmar or Hulk (both of which deserved call-ups in the first place) to fulfill this role. With only Neymar and Robinho in the starting XI, Menezes had to abandon the 4-2-1-3 which has served him so well in favour of a system with a diamond midfield and two forwards. The experiment, in my view, didn't really work.

Secondly, and perhaps more crucially, Menezes must think carefully about the set-up of his midfield. The partnership of Lucas and Ramires may have worked well against more modest opposition, but it failed to function this evening. Both are broadly 'box-to-box' midfielders; players valued primarily for their physical capabilities, rather than obviously attacking or defensive functions. Better, surely, would be to play one of the pair (Lucas, on current form) alongside a deep-lying regista - a player whose passing can start moves from deep, and who can control the tempo of a game. The obvious candidate, for me as for many in Brazil, is Hernanes. Menezes snubbed the Lazio midfielder, claiming that his advanced role at club level made him unsuitable to act as a withdrawn midfielder for the seleção. Mano do well to cast aside such politicking; Hernanes played for years in such a position with São Paulo, and cannot have lost the knack overnight.

Maybe such analysis is out of place after what is, after all, just a friendly. Maybe the return of Alexandre Pato and Paulo Henrique Ganso next year will put our minds at rest over Menezes' seleção legacy. But in the meantime, this result, and more importantly, this performance, will surely have given the former Corinthians boss plenty to think about. The honeymoon period is well and truly over; the hard work starts now for Menezes.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Brazilian Football Caricatures at the Museu Afro Brasil

Back in August, I visited the Museu Afro Brasil in São Paulo, which (conviently for me) had an exhibition looking at the impact of black players in the country's football history. As well as the usual displays and films about Garrincha, Pelé, et al, there was an enjoyable collection of caricatures, published (mainly) in the newspaper A Gazeta Esportiva during the 1950s and 60s. The images below provide a nice snapshot, I think, of a football culture steeped in glorious ephemeral detail; one in which players are (or at least were) immediately recognisable by their nicknames, the club they represented, and their personality on the pitch. I'm posting them up here just on the off chance that you find them as charming as I did.

(The images may be a little blurry...partly due to my poor photography skills, and partly because Blogspot seems to pixellate everything I upload. Try clicking to get them in full size/better quality.)












(Photo credits; all writer's own.)

Corinthians Overcome Cruzeiro Thanks to Controversial Penalty; Galo Thrash Flamengo

Round 35 could well prove to be the decisive one in the outcome of the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro. Corinthians took a huge step towards the title on Saturday night, beating fellow challengers Cruzeiro by one goal to nil. That victory sent the Timão back to the top of Série A, as Fluminense could only manage a draw at home to Goiás. In the race for the final Libertadores spot, Atlético Paranaense leapfrogged Botafogo and Grêmio into fourth place. Down at the bottom, things are tighter than ever; just three points separates six teams above the doomed duo of Grêmio Prudente and Goiás.

Corinthians 1-0 Cruzeiro
A packed Pacaembu awaited, but anyone expecting a rip-roaring game of football between Corinthians and Cruzeiro, two of Série A's most consistent performers this term, was to be disappointed. As so often in football, this most important of games failed to produce a lively spectacle. In fact, all of the drama was condensed into the final five minutes, which at least provided the excitement which had been lacking for the previous 85 minutes.

Corinthians were at full strength, with Dentinho continuing in support of Ronaldo in attack. Midfielders Jucilei and Elias were able to play this game, despite being due in the Middle East for Wednesday's clash between the seleção and Argentina. The Corinthians attack, however, was well contained by the Raposa; Fabrício and Henrique largely nullified the creative threat of the hosts' No.10, Bruno César. Corinthians were reduced to just a handful of efforts in the opening period; Elias twice went close, and Ronaldo smashed an effort just over the bar. At the other end, Cruzeiro offered little, but could have had a penalty when Thiago Ribeiro went down under the challenge of Júlio César.

Jucilei and Ronaldo salute the home crowd after their vital win.

The second half brought some improvement; Ronaldo and Thiago Ribeiro both missed presentable chances, and the entrance of Jorge Henrique momentarily sparked the Timão's fans into life. Cruzeiro really ought to have taken the lead with ten minutes to go, but Wellington Paulista could only shoot at Júlio César with the goal gaping. The visitors would live to regret their profligacy; Corinthians were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes of the game, after Gil barged Ronaldo in the area. The Cruzeiro players protested furiously; Fabrício and Gilberto were booked for their troubles, and coach Cuca was sent to the stands. The decision was certainly a debatable one, but the challenge from the Raposa centre-back was a clumsy one. Ronaldo stepped up and coolly tucked the spot-kick away to put Corinthians in pole position in the title race.

Gameweek 35 Round-up
Back on Wednesday evening, Botafogo travelled to Fortaleza with the hope of resuscitating their Libertadores dreams, but could only draw 2-2 with Ceará. 'Loco' Abreu flicked home a cross to put O Glorioso ahead, but in-form Magno Alves levelled matters following Leandro Guerreiro's error. Veteran midfielder Geraldo then smashed home a glorious second for the home side, before Abreu equalised; the Uruguayan turned expertly before slotting into the far corner. Joel Santana's men slip to fifth, but remain ahead of Santos and Grêmio, who battled to a goalless draw at the Vila Belmiro.

Atlético Goianiense appear to be edging closer to safety, and recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Palmeiras at the Serra Dourada. Gilson headed the Dragão into the lead, and a brace of instinctive finishes from Robston sealed the victory. Meanwhile, two of the more realistic relegation candidates, Guarani and Vitória, earnt a point apiece in their clash. Adaílton tucked home from close range to put Vitória ahead, but Geovane responded immediately for the hosts; his corner snuck in off the far post for a gol olímpico. Atlético Paranaense snuck into the top four on Sunday, with a win over Grêmio Prudente. SKP favourite Paulo Baier was the star of the show, netting a first half penalty and adding a second with a placed header. Willian José netted for the Abelha, but they couldn't find a way back into the game.

Atlético-MG goalscorers Obina and Renan Oliveira celebrate the latter's second strike.

When Vanderlei Luxemburgo's torrid spell with Atlético Mineiro came to an end in October, he would have been forgiven for thinking that the Flamengo job represented the perfect coaching tonic. The Rubro-Negro, while a shadow of the team that won last year's title, looked safe in mid-table. How ironic, then, that the club that Luxemburgo left in the relegation zone should drag his current club into the very same battle for survival; Atlético thrashed Fla 4-1 at the Arena do Jacaré, and now sit just a point behind the Rio side. The Galo took the lead when Obina (a former Flamengo player) pounced on Marcelo Lomba's fumble, and added a second through Renan Oliveira. Diego Tardelli added a third with a classy individual effort, before Renan Oliveira scrambled home his second of the game. Marquinhos' late goal was all that Fla could manage.

Fluminense fluffed their lines in the title race, slumping to a 1-1 draw with struggling Goiás at the Engenhão. Rafael Moura opened the scoring for the Esmeraldino with a trademark header, and Flu again had Darío Conca to thank for their point; the Argentine drilled home a late penalty after Rodriguinho had dived in the area. At the São Januário, Vasco took the lead against São Paulo with a stunning Éder Luís strike, but had to settle for a draw when Lucas Gaúcho stylishly flicked home with ten minutes remaining.

Fluminense midfielder Deco stretches for a loose ball.

Avaí boosted their survival hopes with an impressive 3-2 win away to Internacional. The Florianópolis side took the lead with just 15 seconds on the clock, with one of the best goals you're ever likely to see. Inter actually kicked off, but Alecsandro's slack pass gave the ball straight to Rudnei. Avaí then launched an unstoppable passing move down the right, culminating in a stunning finish from right-back Patric. Que golaço! Batista added a second for the visitors with a deflected strike, but Inter showed their mettle to fight back to 2-2; Leandro Damião tucked away a neat finish, before Rafael Sobis dug out a glorious lofted equaliser. This was to be Avaí's day, however, and they snatched the win with another tidy move; Caio's through ball found Patric, whose chipped cross was nodded home by Robinho. A great result for Avaí, who are finally returning to the attacking football that served them so well early in the campaign.

Results; Ceará 2-2 Botafogo, Atlético-MG 4-1 Flamengo, Santos 0-0 Grêmio, Corinthians 1-0 Cruzeiro, Fluminense 1-1 Goiás, Internacional 2-3 Avaí, Guarani 1-1 Vitória, Atlético-GO 3-0 Palmeiras, Vasco 1-1 São Paulo, Atlético-PR 2-1 Grêmio Prudente.

(Photo credits; (1) Ari Ferreira, (2) Gil Leonardi, (3) Paulo Sergio.)

Friday, 12 November 2010

Palmeiras and Goiás Through to Copa Sul-Americana Semi-Finals

And then there were two. Palmeiras and Goiás knocked out fellow Brazilian sides Atlético-MG and Avaí to secure a semi-final showdown later this month. The winner of the clash between the Verdão and the Esmeraldino (a veritable green derby) will then face either Independiente or LDU in the final.

Palmeiras goalscorers Marcos Assunção and Luan celebrate the latter's strike.

In front of 35,000 fans at the Pacaembu, Palmeiras comfortably overcame Atlético Mineiro. Despite seeing playmaker Jorge Valdivia limp off after just 15 minutes (the latest in a series of setbacks for the Chilean), Luiz Felipe Scolari's men took control of the tie, and went ahead through Marcos Assunção. The dead-ball expert has been in fine goalscoring form of late, but even he must have been delighted with this one; a gol olímpico, directly from a corner kick. Luan sealed the victory late in the second half, tucking away neatly after a swift Verdão break.

At Avaí's Ressacada ground, meanwhile, a single goal from Rafael Moura was enough to send Série A strugglers Goiás through. The big target man tapped home from close range on the stroke of half time, after the home defence failed to clear a corner. Avaí, despite their home advantage, looked sluggish throughout, and must now concentrate their efforts on beating the drop in the league.

Results; Palmeiras 2-0 Atlético-MG (3-1 on aggregate), Avaí 0-1 Goiás (2-3 on aggregate).

Photo credit; Tom Dib.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

SKP at the Pacaembu and the Brazilian Football Museum!

Loyal readers (if I'm privileged enough to have any) will be aware that SKP occasionally drifts away from the cut and thrust of the Campeonato Brasileiro, and into more anecdotal territory. Previous examples have concerned my trips to see games to the Engenhão and the Morumbi; you can have a look at those articles here and here. On this rainy day, I've decided to delve a bit further back into the past; to 2009, when I visited the Pacaembu, home of the mighty Corinthians...

***

"Is there any chance we could go at the weekend, rather than from Wednesday to Friday?" Many a football fan will recognise this plea; a subtle but fundamental building block of any plan to sneak a football match into one's travel plans. It may be addressed to a friend, a loved one, even one's boss; but for me, it's always made to my fantastically understanding girlfriend. So it was that we arrived in São Paulo on a Friday morning, giving us plenty of time to take in some culture ahead of Sunday's main event; Corinthians vs Atlético Mineiro.


Luckily for me, our tour of sights and museums was to include a visit to a veritable sporting Mecca; the recently opened Museu do Futebol, which is conveniently located at one end of Corinthians' Pacaembu stadium. After a quick journey from the city centre on the city's impeccable metro, we met a couple of friends outside the Clínicas stop, named after the preponderance of medical facilities in the area. A steep descent brought into view the Pacaembu district, an ardently green valley in sharp contrast with the surrounding Megalopolis (see photo below). At its centre stands the Estádio Paulo Machado de Carvalho, which, like many Brazilian stadiums, more commonly goes by the name of the bairro in which it is found.


Located at the head of the glorified roundabout that is the Praça Charles Miller (named after the man credited with introducing football to Brazil), the main entrance to the Pacaembu has a glorious retro charm. With pillars, flagpoles, and portholes rendered in a creamy off-white, the recently renovated facade (see photo below) certainly bears the hallmarks of antiquity. Constructed in 1940, the stadium hosted six games in the 1950 World Cup, as well as some events in the 1963 Pan-American games. Although considered the home of Corinthians, the stadium is municipally-owned, and has also been frequented over the years by Palmeiras, Juventude, and even Santos.


Before entering the museum, we nipped to the club shop to buy our tickets for the following day. A student ticket in the main stand set me back 30 Reais, which although more expensive than the games I'd attended in Rio, was still absurdly cheap by UK standards (around £10). The Museum represented even better value; entry cost just 12 Reais (£4) each. Annoyingly, photography was banned within the museum, so your wide-eyed reporter was restricted to a handful of sneaky snapshots.

The entrance hall of the Museu was an utter treasure trove; an enormous concourse devoted entirely to footballing paraphernalia of every sort. The collection ranged from the sublime (a huge wall covered with club banners and crests) to the brilliantly ridiculous (a selection of some of the ugliest replica kits I had ever seen), encompassing everything in between. A particular highlight was the assortment of antique futebol de botão (the Brazilian equivalent of Subbuteo) sets, all lovingly decorated with the names and numbers of past footballing greats.


We filtered through to the next exhibit, a dark room with ever-changing projections of seleção idols. Dangling headphones blasted out commentary of some of the defining moments of Brazil's football history; Carlos Alberto's goal in 1970, Roberto Baggio's penalty miss in 1994. Round the corner, interactive displays allowed visitors to relive important goals in the history of the Campeonato Brasileiro. All simple stuff, but mesmeric to a fan of the game.


After a brief lull in my interest level (a room about common football chants should have been intriguing but was poorly executed, and an area filled with 3D videos and interactive games was predictably tawdry), we arrived at the holy grail of football fandom. A group of what can only be described as televisual pillars (see photo above) played highlights from every single World Cup, alongside videos putting the tournaments in context. Further displays provided an enthralling look at the careers of Pelé and Garrincha, the country's most cherished sons. I could have spent all day in that room. A small door at the back of the hall led to a platform overlooking the Pacaembu pitch, dwarfed by the skyscrapers which tower over the valley. I left the museum on a high, full of anticipation for Sunday's match.


On the day of the game, we met our friends in the same place. On this occasion, though, we could barely move for Corinthians fans, and were positively swept down the road to the stadium. As we entered the East stand, my friend Leandro was stopped by an overly judicious security guard for attempting to smuggle in...a piece of paper. The sheet bore the message "faltou você, Fabi," in reference to a mutual friend who supports São Paulo, and as such wouldn't be seen dead (or perhaps more accurately, would have a death wish if he came) within a mile of the Pacaembu. After taking a picture of ourselves holding the sign outside the stadium, then, we entered the ground and settled into our seats. By 'our seats,' I of course mean 'the seats that we had to scramble to secure'; stadium seating in Brazil is a bit of a free-for-all.


Before kick-off, we bore witness to the raucous Corinthians crowd. To our right, the club's brilliantly-named supporters group Gaviões da Fiel ('hawks of loyalty') were in fine voice, ringing out choruses of "Ooooh, o Coringão voltou!" ('big Corinthians is back!') and "Uuuuu-oooooo-oh; todo poderoso Timão!" ('all-powerful big team'...slightly lost in translation, that one). At the opposite end of the stadium, the fans in the famous 'ski jump' stand (see photo above) showed their support in more austere fashion, unfurling an enormous replica of the Corinthians jersey. The Atlético Mineiro fans, although small in number, added to the atmosphere; dancing back and forth above their vivid 'Galoucura' (a nice portmonteau mixing the club's nickname, Galo (rooster), and the word Loucura (madness)) banner.


Despite only having regained their Série A status nine months earlier, the hosts boasted an impressive starting XI, with many of the players who have since impressed in the 2010 Campeonato. Jorge Henrique and Dentinho started up front, while Elias, Jucilei, Willam, and Chicão were also on the pitch. The match itself, in truth, was unspectacular; Atlético boasted a good strike force in Diego Tardelli and Éder Luís, but little else, and Corinthians were sluggish in the main. The hosts would pick up the points, however, thanks to two moments of inspiration. Dentinho's pace allowed him to slot the hosts ahead in the first half, and Boquita added a late second with an emphatic rising drive.


The crowd responded wildly on each occasion, and your reporter twice found himself topless and twirling his Corinthians shirt above his head with the best of them. Despite having a reputation for violence and criminality, the Timão's fans were brilliant; vocal and fully supportive of their side. After the final whistle, the punters sat behind us were only too happy to take our photo and chat about the game. Of all the matches I have attended in Brazil, this is the one I look back on most fondly; that this be the case despite the rather drab on-pitch spectacle speaks volumes about a wonderful stadium and those who populate it.

(Photo credits; (1), (3), (4), (6), (7), (8) & (9) Writer's own, (2) Wikipedia commons, (5) Uol.com.br.)

Behind Enemy Lines; the Argentines Taking the Brasileirão by Storm

My latest piece for IBWM is about the recent success of Darío Conca and Walter Montillo, two players who are continuing the trend of Argentines impressing in the Brasileirão. You can read the article here.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Fluminense Respond to Pressure with Clássico Victory; Grêmio and Furacão Chase Libertadores Place

Whereas the English Premier League can be roughly hewn into different sections right from the start of the season (races for the title and for the final Champions League spot, midtable obscurity, relegation battle), the Brasileirão tends to resist this categorisation until late in the season. Série A is so unpredictable, so evenly matched, that only now, after the 33rd gameweek, can we start to perform the task.

At the top, Corinthians have recovered their form to join a clear three-horse race with Fluminense and Cruzeiro. All three picked up wins this weekend. Then, from Botafogo in 4th, down to Palmeiras in 10th, come those chasing the final Libertadores spot. Just five points separate those seven sides. At the bottom, Grêmio Prudente have long looked doomed, but above them there are seven other sides (up to Flamengo in 13th) trying to avoid the three further relegation positions. The only two sides who occupy the 'nothing much to play for' group - Vasco da Gama and Ceará - will likely be more than satisfied with their safety.

Gameweek 34 Round-up
The round started in rip-roaring fashion on Saturday night, with 14 goals in three games. Grêmio continued to stake their claim to the final Libertadores spot, cruising to a 5-1 over Ceará. Douglas celebrated his recent seleção call-up with an impressive midfield display; setting up two goals and scoring one of his own. His early cross was converted by André Lima, before his smart cut-back was guided home beautifully by Jonas. Fábio Rochemback struck next with a low free-kick, before Douglas got his goal; his deep free-kick fortuitously drifted into the top corner of Michel Alves' net. The rout was completed when André Lima grabbed his second; flicking home after a glorious run from Jonas. Magno Alves smashed home a late consolation for the Fortaleza side.

Atlético-MG striker Diego Tardelli got back to goalscoring ways against Santos.

In the town of Sete Lagoas, Atlético Mineiro coach Dorival Júnior came face-to-face with former club Santos. Predictably enough, it was Neymar (whose conduct was the major contributor to Dorival's dismissal) who opened the scoring; the youngster's opportunistic strike snuck in at Renan Ribeiro's near post. The Galo reacted in some style, however; Diego Tardelli's subtle header brought them level, before Obina pounced on a fumble from Santos goalkeeper Rafael make it 2-1. With time running out, though, Santos would rescue a point; some defensive confusion allowed (yep, you guessed it) Neymar to turn home his second. The result leaves Atlético perilously close to the drop zone.

At the Serra Dourada, Internacional produced a fine second half recovery to earn a point against Atlético Goianiense. The Dragão went ahead in the 11th minute; some over-elaborate play from Inter 'keeper Pato Abbondanzieri allowed Juninho to poke home from close range. Elias doubled Atlético's advantage from the spot following an inexplicable decision by referee Sandro Meira Ricci. A powerful Leandro Damião header got Inter back into contention, before the Colorado were awarded a dubious penalty of their own. Youngster Giuliano made no mistake, sending Márcio the wrong way and earning a point for his side.

Tooth fairy; Dentinho marked his return to the Corinthians starting XI with a goal.

Sunday's early kick-offs saw Cruzeiro and Corinthians pile the pressure on Fluminense, who played later in the evening. Cruzeiro were not at their best against Vitória, but bagged three priceless points when defender Jonas turned Thiago Ribeiro's searching cross into his own net. Corinthians visited the Morumbi, home of bitter rivals São Paulo, knowing that a win would send them top. The Timão, boosted by the return of Dentinho (who replaced the much-maligned Iarley up front alongside Ronaldo), came flying out of the blocks; Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, and Bruno César all tested Rogério Ceni early on. As so often, though, it was Elias who stamped his mark on the game for Corinthians. The midfielder ran onto Jucilei's measured pass, and fired high into Rogério's net. São Paulo improved in the second period, but couldn't find a way past Júlio César in the visitors' goal. The Tricolor were then caught cold in 85th minute; Alessandro's cross somehow reached Dentinho, who tapped home to seal the victory for Corinthians.

Fluminense were down to third place, then, when they met Vasco at 7.30pm local time. If the Tricolor had any pre-match nerves, they were instantly settled; Tartá tapped home in the 3rd minute after Washington's effort was spilled by Fernando Prass. It was an emotional moment for the 21 year-old, who has only recently returned to the first team fold. With Washington continuing his dry patch up front, Flu endured some worrying moments, but held on until the final whistle. The return of attackers Emerson and Fred cannot come quickly enough on this evidence. Fellow Rio side Botafogo, meanwhile, saw their meagre title hopes evapourate in Florianópolis; O Glorioso could only manage a lacklustre goalless draw with Avaí.

Fluminense goalscorer Tartá (right) advances with the ball.

Atlético Paranaense and Palmeiras both did their Libertadores hopes a world of good, scraping 1-0 victories over Flamengo and Guarani respectively. SKP favourite Paulo Baier grabbed the winner for Atlético with an emphatic penalty, and Leandro Amaro's header was enough for Palmeiras. At the Prudentão, Grêmio Prudente dealt a colossal blow to Goiás' survival hopes with a 4-1 win. Rafael 'He-Man' Moura put the Esmeraldino ahead with a towering header, but it was all Prudente from there on in. João Vitor crashed home a sumptuous first-time effort, before Willian José nodded in a second. Wesley then tapped in his tenth of the campaign, and the oddly-monickered Rhayner rounded off the scoring with a nice individual goal.

Results; Atlético-MG 2-2 Santos, Grêmio 5-1 Ceará, Atlético-GO 2-2 Internacional, São Paulo 0-2 Corinthians, Grêmio Prudente 4-1 Goiás, Vitória 0-1 Cruzeiro, Avaí 0-0 Botafogo, Palmeiras 1-0 Guarani, Flamengo 0-1 Atlético-PR, Fluminense 1-0 Vasco.

(Photo credits; (1) Gil Leonardi, (2) Ari Ferreira, (3) Ricardo Ramos.)