Wednesday night was a huge one in Brazilian football, with the first legs of both the Copa do Brasil final and the all-Brazilian Copa Libertadores semi-final. A pity, then, that the games were on at exactly the same time; you can't beat some sound South American logic.
Santos 2-0 Vitória (Copa do Brasil)
Santos continued their superb home record in the cup by claiming a deserved 2-0 win over Vitória at the Vila Belmiro. The Peixe's post World-Cup form has been ropey, but the potential reward of a Libertadores spot for next season seemed to spark a number of their players into life; they could easily have won this game by five or six. Dorival Júnior lined up with all four of the attackers who received recent call-ups to the seleção; Paulo Henrique Ganso prompting from deep behind a flexible front three of Neymar, Robinho, and André. Vitória, on the other hand, were set up to counter attack, with the pacy Elkeson supporting Schwenk in attack.
The home side nearly took the lead within the first ten minutes, but Ganso's precise free-kick came back off the post with the 'keeper beaten. The opener, though, was not long in coming. Robinho found Pará down the right, and the full-back's low cross was chested (yes, chested) home by Neymar at the far post. It was the young forward's eleventh goal of the competition. Further chances were scarce before the break; the best fell to André, who ballooned over with the net beckoning.
The second period saw Santos dominate yet further, and create a flood of chances to extend their lead. Paulo Henrique and Robinho were both guilty of some wasteful finishing, but the biggest culprit was Neymar. Having won a spot-kick with a fabulous bit of trickery, the youngster attempted a 'Loco' Abreu-style cavadinha - a delicate chip over the diving goalkeeper. Unfortunately, however, Vitória stopper Lee stood rooted on the line and gratefully plucked the ball out of the air. Neymar looked understandably crestfallen.
Dorival Júnior threw on Marquinhos and Zé Eduardo (who look like a father and son combo) in search of a second goal, a move which paid off almost instantly. Zé Eduardo was felled outside the box, and Marquinhos bent a stunning free-kick in off the post. It was no more than Santos deserved, and puts the Peixe in the driving seat ahead of the second leg next week. Vitória, though, will be a different prospect at the Barradão.
Internacional 1-0 São Paulo (Copa Libertadores)
São Paulo travelled to Porto Alegre off the back of some truly horrible league form, and will surely be happy to tackle the home leg with only a one goal deficit. They were outplayed by Inter for long periods at the Beira-Rio, and frequently needed Rogério Ceni to rescue them.
In a goalless first half, Inter who showed the greater attacking intent, but were largely stifled by the Tricolor's defensive tactics. Ricardo Gomes evidently set his side up to frustrate the home side; the attacking instincts of players like Marlos and Hernanes were reigned in, leaving Fernandão lacking in support up front. The approach, despite its negativity, seemed to be working. The Colorado were reduced to just a handful of half-chances; Andrés D'Alessandro went close with a free-kick, and Taison's header brought a flying save from Rogério.
It appeared that the second period would provide more frustration for Inter; Rogério Ceni denied both Andrezinho and Kléber within the first five minutes of the half. Inter's pressure finally paid off, however, with twenty minutes to play. Substitute Giuliano drifted in from the right and (fortuitously) found D'Alessandro, who lifted a delicate chip towards Taison. The ball ricocheted back into the path of Giuliano, who spun brilliantly to arrow a shot into the bottom corner. Inter, spurred on by the superb D'Alessandro, sought a second, but could not find one. The tie remains evenly balanced ahead of next week's return leg at the Morumbi.
(Photo credits; (1) Eduardo Viana, (2) EFE.)