Monday, 30 August 2010

Guarani Stun Flamengo; Ronaldo Returns in Corinthians Win

Firstly, an apology. Due to travel commitments this week, this entry and the next few will be rather shorter than usual, and may not be as prompt as I'd like (depending on how much internet access I have in São Paulo). Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Gameweek 17 Round-up
Vasco's unbeaten run continued on Saturday, as the Gigante da Colina earnt a point against Cruzeiro at the São Januário. Zé Roberto put Vasco ahead with a stunning long-range effort, before Fernando turned into his own net to equalise on the stroke of half time. Botafogo saw their sequence of five wins brought to an end by Internacional, who picked up a 1-0 win at the Beira-Rio. Youngster Leandro Damião again got his name on the scoresheet, flicking Rafael Sobis' cross past Jefferson in the Fogão goal.

Santos forward Zé Éduardo unleashes a spectacular effort for the opening goal.

Despite yet another missed penalty from Neymar, Santos claimed a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Goiás. Zé Éduardo, in fine form of late, scored a fabulous overhead kick, before Alan Patrick's low drive sealed the points. In Saturday's final match, Grêmio Prudente picked up a valuable draw against Ceará in Fortaleza. Washington's header put the home side into an early lead, but a brace from Prudente striker Wesley put the Abelha in the driving seat. Careca's late header, however, secured a point for Ceará.

Flamengo's woes continued on Sunday, as they imploded in the final minutes against Guarani. Jean's goal looked to have won it for the Rubro-Negro, but Geovane's close-range flick and a deflected Reinaldo effort (both in injury time) gave Guarani all three points. Flamengo fans are rapidly losing patience with their misfiring attack, particularly Val Baiano, who sliced wide in the second period with the goal at his mercy. The loss meant that Fla were overtaken in the Brasileirão by Atlético Paranaense, who drew 1-1 with Grêmio at the Baixada. Maikon Leite put the Furacão ahead with a pacy dart and finish, but Vílson's header ensured the spoils were shared.

Corinthians battled to a 2-1 win over Vitória at the Pacaembu, a match enlivened by the return of Ronaldo Fenômeno after a lengthy absence due to fitness troubles. The seleção icon, despite understandably lacking the sharpness of old, showed enough neat touches to suggest that his career hasn't petered out quite yet. It would be two other veterans, however, who would combine for the opening goal. Roberto Carlos launched a searching ball from the halfway line, which pint-sized forward Iarley headed sensationally over Viáfara in the visitors' goal and into the net. Paulinho doubled the Timão's advantage, pouncing on a loose ball after good work from Alessandro and Elias. Kléber Pereira pulled one back with a late header, but Corinthians held on for a victory which sees them move within three points of top spot.

Ronaldo Fenômeno; back in action.

Corinthians will be thankful to bitter rivals São Paulo, who held leaders Fluminense to a 2-2 draw at the Maracanã. After just eight minutes, Darío Conca and Júlio César combined down the left, and the latter crossed for Deco to put the Rio side ahead. São Paulo grew into the game, and went close with efforts from Richarlyson and Jean, before levelling thanks to a free-kick from Rogério Ceni, their goleiro artilheiro. Just a minute later, São Paulo took the lead; Flu 'keeper Fernando Henrique misjudged a long ball, allowing Fernandão to head home at the far post. The second period saw the home side lay siege to the São Paulo goal. Despite Rogério's best efforts, the equaliser arrived on the hour; Leandro Euzébio heading home Conca's free-kick. The drama was not yet over though; Fluminense were awarded a penalty which Washington (who started the campaign with São Paulo) decided to take. The burly forward saw his penalty saved, however, by the heroic Rogério.

Palmeiras recovered from their atrocious performance last week to beat struggling Atlético Mineiro at the Ipatingão. Neto Berola put the Galo 1-0 up with a deft finish, but some laughable handling by Fábio Costa (not the first instance of this recently) allowed Marcos Assunção to level. Kléber's near post finish completed the comeback. Atlético Goianiense looked to have claimed a second consecutive win, but a late Vandinho goal earnt Avaí a point at the Serra Dourada. It was Vandinho, indeed, who opened the scoring, finishing coolly following a glorious pass from Jefferson. The Dragão reacted, however, with two brilliant goals from Elias, who has now netted no fewer than five goals in their last two games. Only Vandinho's opportunism denied them the three points; the striker was on hand to tap home after some poor defending.

(Photo credits; (1) Ricardo Noguiera/Folhapress, (2) Eduardo Knapp/Folhapress.)

Friday, 27 August 2010

São Paulo's Woes Continue Against Vasco; Santos Win Marred By Ganso Injury

Another full midweek schedule in Série A (THIS is what a busy schedule looks like, Premier League managers!) saw Fluminense again extend their lead over Corinthians at the top of the table, thanks to a convincing win over Goiás. São Paulo's troubles continued, as they slumped to a drowsy goalless draw against Vasco. Santos came from behind to beat Grêmio, but festivities were cut short with the news that playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso will be out until February with a knee injury.

São Paulo 0-0 Vasco

Sometimes you just choose the wrong game. I thought that Wednesday night's live offering on Globo would be a decent match; with São Paulo keen to resurrect a stuttering campaign against an in-form Vasco side. The result? Total, soul-crushing, deadlock. There was, perhaps, a hint of things to come in the starting XIs. Vasco were without Carlos Alberto (suspended), and shifted their other creative force, Felipe, to a berth at left-wing back. The home side too, were short of a playmaking influence; the Tricolor need to fill the Hernanes-shaped void in their line-up as soon as possible.

Vasco veteran Felipe drifts past São Paulo's Casemiro.

The home side should be given some credit; they dominated possession throughout and looked dangerous in the opening period. Ricardo Oliveira brought a reflex save from Fernando Prass after some good work from the pacy Marcelinho, and right-back Jean clipped the bar with a long-range free-kick. Vasco offered little - the strike pairing of Éder Luís and Zé Roberto hardly saw the ball - but defended well, especially down their right, where Fágner and Fernando dealt well with Júnior César and Fernandinho. It was Fernandinho who was at the centre of the half's most interesting incident; the forward managed to snap a corner flag in frustration, before himself repairing it minutes later.

Sérgio Baresi, São Paulo's interim coach, threw on Fernandão and Dagoberto in the second half, but to little effect. Jean saw a couple of efforts drift over, before Marcelinho drilled the game's best chance straight at Fernando Prass. These were rare moments, however, in a dire 45 minutes. Baresi's days in charge at the Morumbi were always likely to be numbered, but performances like this will only quicken the club's search for a new manager. High on the club's wanted list is Vanderlei Luxemburgo, but an initial approach from São Paulo was turned down in the week by his current club Atlético Mineiro.

Gameweek 16 Round-up
Fluminense's unstoppable form shows no sign of abating, as they blew away Goiás at the Serra Dourado. Portuguese midfielder Deco, excellent on his first start for Muricy Ramalho's side, created the opening goal, bending in a delightful cross for Washington to tap home. Emerson slotted home a second for the Tricolor, before Marquinho completed the scoring in the final minutes. Another Rio team on an impeccable run is Botafogo, who beat Ceará 1-0 at the Engenhão. Deadly striker Jóbson got the goal for O Glorioso, beating the offside trap before dinking a finish over Ceará 'keeper Diego.

Braveheart strikes again; Flu striker Washington bagged his side's first.

Internacional travelled to Florianópolis to face Avaí, usually a tough proposition at home. The Colorado, however, managed to claim all three points, thanks to Índio's early header. Grêmio continue to flatter to deceive, throwing away a first half lead to go down 2-1 to Santos at the Olímpico. Borges put the home side ahead with a diving effort, but Neymar dragged the Peixe level from the penalty spot. The youngster's evening would prove a busy one; he later won and promptly missed a second spot-kick for his side, before contributing to the winning goal when his injury-time rebounded out for Rodriguinho to seal the comeback. The victory, however, was soured by the news that Paulo Henrique Ganso will be sidelined for up to six months with a cruciate ligament injury.

The attentive reader may have noticed that Belo Horizonte teams Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro currently seem to host games at different locations each week. This is due to some renovation work at the Mineirão (the stadium usually shared by the sides) in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. Having already made use of the Ipatingão and Arena do Jacaré, the roadshow rolled into the Parque do Sabiá (in Uberlândia) on Wednesday, where Cruzeiro hosted second-placed Corinthians. The Raposa have gained much more stability since the appointment of Cuca as coach, and battled to an impressive 1-0 win thanks to an early goal from Argentine midfielder Walter Montillo. Bruno César wasted the visitors' best chance to draw level, seeing his penalty saved by Cruzeiro goalkeeper Fábio.

Atlético-GO players congratulate Elias on his opening goal against Palmeiras.

Atlético Paranaense continued to put distance between themselves and the relegation zone, picking up a useful away win against Grêmio Prudente. Branquinho's stunning long-range strike was enough to secure the points for the Furacão, who now draw level on points with Palmeiras. The São Paulo giants slumped to a pathetic 3-0 home loss to lowly Atlético Goianiense, a result that could make life rather uncomfortable for Luiz Felipe Scolari. Elias was the hero for the Dragão, bagging a hattrick; an early penalty was followed by two classy left-footed finishes.

Flamengo, having scored only once in the previous five games, again failed to find the target, playing out a dull 0-0 draw with Atlético Mineiro at the Maracanã. Diogo, making his début for the Rubro-Negro since joining from Olympiakos, provided a hint of a silver lining with a promising performance. Guarani came from behind in Salvador to claim a 1-1 draw with Vitória. Júnior netted for the second consecutive match to put the Leão ahead, before Rômulo levelled from the penalty spot to earn the Bugre a point.

(Photo credits; (1) Tom Dib, (2) Carlos Costa, (3) Ricardo Nogueira/Folhapress.)

Monday, 23 August 2010

Past Masters and Future Stars; Internacional's Recipe for Stability and Success

My latest piece for In Bed With Maradona, on Inter's Libertadores victory, can be found here.

Corinthians Rout São Paulo in Clássico Paulista; Vasco Hold Fluminense

The Brasileirão, despite not yet reaching its halfway point, looks to be developing into a two horse race. Corinthians and Fluminense continue ahead of the chasing pack, despite the latter's draw to Vasco on Sunday. Elsewhere, Inter, Avaí, and Palmeiras suffered slumps following their midweek success in continental competition.

Corinthians 3-0 São Paulo

Those expecting a competitive derby at the Pacaembu were left bitterly disappointed, as Corinthians stormed to a convincing victory over city rivals São Paulo. Former coach Mano Menezes, in attendance in Sunday, will have been impressed with the performance of a number of players; in particular midfielders Elias, Bruno César, and Jucilei, all of whom are surely in his plans for the seleção.

Timão hero Elias celebrates his opening goal.

It was Elias that put the Timão ahead after 21 minutes, advancing from deep to fire a low drive into the corner of Rogério Ceni's goal. Up to that point, São Paulo had played reasonably well, and could even have taken the lead; Ricardo Oliveira, however, drilled wide when a cut-back to Fernandão looked the best option. The Tricolor tried to re-establish themselves in the game, and again went close from a Rogério free-kick, but would receive a knockout blow on the stroke of half time. Cléber Santana gifted possession to Bruno César, who slid a subtle pass for the onrushing Jorge Henrique. The winger's low cross picked out Elias, who smashed home from close range at the far post.

The second half saw chances aplenty for both sides. Youngster Marcelinho went close for the visitors with a rocket from distance, while Bruno César saw his spectacular volley draw a diving save from Rogério at the other end. From the resulting corner, Corinthians bagged their third, putting an end to São Paulo's resistance. Jorge Henrique's wicked cross was met by an unmarked Jucilei, whose header nestled in the corner of the net. The result sees Corinthians creep closer to Fluminense at the top of the table, after the Rio side could only draw against Vasco...

Vasco da Gama 2-2 Fluminense
In front of 80,000 fans at the Maracanã, Vasco held their in-form rivals to a draw in a hard-fought clássico Carioca. Flu had reason to be optimistic before kick-off; they were playing on their home turf despite technically being the away side (for local derbies, Vasco use the Maracanã instead of the cosy São Januário), and they had the quality of Deco available for the first time since signing him earlier in the month. The Portuguese playmaker, though, would start on the bench, as Muricy Ramalho kept faith with the players who have taken Flu to the top of Série A.

Things looked to be going as scripted, then, when the Tricolor took an early lead. Following a Darío Conca corner, centre-back Gum turned home from close range after seeing his initial header saved by Fernando Prass. The Vasco 'keeper, in superb form of late, would have to be at his best to deny Conca with a flying save just minutes later. It was an impressive start to the game from Flu, Vasco only remained in the game by the skins of their teeth.

Welcome to horrific Brazilian pitches, Deco.

Gradually, however, the Gigante da Colina began to awaken from its slumber. Vasco's attacking quartet of Felipe, Carlos Alberto, Zé Roberto, and Éder Luís, starting together for the first time, caused their opponents some problems with their skill and fluidity. Carlos Alberto, the club captain, ought to have scored the equaliser, but sliced wide with the goal at his mercy. The dreadlocked midfielder, though, would quickly atone for his error, threading a glorious through-ball into the path of Éder Luís, who coolly finished past Fluminense goalkeeper Fernando Henrique.

Carlos Alberto would go on to repeat the trick early in the second period, surging forward and picking out Fágner with a perfectly-weighted pass. The right wing-back kept his cool, directing a low finish into the far corner of the net to put Vasco ahead. It was a stunning comeback from Vasco, but all their good work would be undone with ten seconds of madness. Felipe, usually such a wily customer, attempted a ludicrous dribble in his own area, and was promptly dispossessed by Emerson, who scuffed a cross towards the penalty spot. Vasco had another chance to clear, but Zé Roberto's heavy touch allowed Júlio César to nip in and gleefully slot home. The game would finish 2-2, despite late chances for Carlos Alberto and Deco. The former drilled wide after a powerful run, and the former Barcelona man wasted his chance to gain instant legend status among the Flu fans, ballooning his shot high over the bar with just Fernando Prass to beat.

Gameweek 15 Round-up
Botafogo's good form continued on Saturday, when they beat visiting Avaí 1-0 at the Engenhão. In a tight game, centre-back Fábio Ferreira's first half header proved the difference between the two sides. Grêmio Prudente gained a valuable win on the road, beating Goiás 2-1 in front of a pathetic crowd of 1,493 at the Serra Dourada. Wanderley put the Abelha ahead with a nice individual effort, before Éverton Santos smashed home to level. Anderson Luís got the winner, volleying home from close range after some shoddy work by Goiás goalkeeper Harley. The home side should have equalised in the final moments, but Romerito's penalty was saved by Giovanni.

Goiás are joined in the bottom four by Grêmio, who were beaten 2-1 by Ceará. The Tricolor Gaúcho looked good for a point when Anderson's own goal cancelled out Ceará's opener (also an own goal, by Willian Magrão), but veteran Geraldo's late volley guaranteed all three points for the Vovô. Grêmio will have had plenty to think about on their 4000km return journey to Porto Alegre. Their local rivals Internacional suffered an entirely predictable comedown after their midweek Libertadores triumph, drawing 1-1 at home to lowly Atlético-GO. Victor Ferraz put the visitors ahead when his long-range effort decieved Renan, but Inter equalised through Leandro Damião, one of Wednesday night's heroes.

Staying put; Neymar demonstrates his feelings for Santos.

Cruzeiro and Flamengo, two teams with top four aspirations, both fell to disappointing 1-0 losses on Sunday. The former went down at home to Vitória; Júnior's strike from distance enough to seal a fifth win of the season for the Salvador club. Atlético Paranaense defeated a toothless Flamengo at the Arena da Baixada, claiming all three points thanks to Manoel's late header. The inclusion of new signings Deivid and Diogo can't come soon enough for the Rubro-Negro on this evidence; the strike partnership of Val Baiano and Leandro Amaral was utterly lacking in cutting edge.

Palmeiras, despite the return of magical Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who entered as a second-half substitute, toiled to a goalless draw against Guarani in Campinas. Santos shook off the disappointment of their Copa Sul-Americana elimination in midweek to stroll to a 2-0 win over Atlético Mineiro at the Vila Belmiro. The Peixe were awarded a penalty when Zezinho's cross cannoned off the arm of Werley, and Neymar coolly stroked home the spot kick. The 18 year-old phenomenon, fresh from announcing his decision to resist the overtures of Chelsea to remain with Santos, then turned provider. The forward skipped away from a weak challenge, before releasing Danilo, whose shot trickled in despite a touch from Galo 'keeper Aranha.

(Photo credits; (1) Miguel Schinchariol, (2) Gilvan de Souza, (3) Ivan Storti.)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Menezes Announces Squad for Brazil Training Camp

Seleção coach Mano Menezes today divulged a list of players that will meet for a week-long training camp in Barcelona at the start of September. The group consists only of players based in Europe, and still lacks many of those who played a part in the World Cup.

There was a first senior call-up for Internazionale new boy Philippe Coutinho.

The full list is as follows;

Heurelho Gomes (Tottenham Hotspur)
Diego Alves (Almería)

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Rafael da Silva (Manchester United)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
André Santos (Fenerbahçe)
Alex (Chelsea)
Henrique (Racing Santander)
David Luíz (Benfica)
Thiago Silva (Milan)

Lucas (Liverpool)
Hernanes (Lazio)
Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ramires (Chelsea)
Carlos Éduardo (Hoffenheim)
Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Philippe Coutinho (Internazionale)

André (Dynamo Kyiv)
Hulk (Porto)
Robinho (Manchester City)
Alexandre Pato (Milan)

Most striking, perhaps, is the inclusion of the Ukraine-based duo of Fernandinho and Douglas Costa. The latter is a skilful youngster who drew covetous glances from Manchester United during his time at Grêmio, and should prove quite a crowd-pleaser if he works his way into future squads. There is a first call-up too for Philippe Coutinho, the playmaker who has just joined Italian giants Inter from hometown club Vasco. The 18 year-old will surely benefit from the guidance of Menezes, who has a reputation for bringing out the best in young starlets (Lucas, Anderson, and Dentinho are good examples from his time in Brazilian club football). There were invites too for Almería's superb goalkeeper Diego Alves and Porto forward Hulk.

(Photo credit; Inter.it.)

Palmeiras and Avaí Through to Last 16 of Copa Sul-Americana

South America's secondary football competition slipped under the radar slightly this week, with the final of the Copa Libertadores understandably hogging the headlines. There were, however, two all-Brazilian second-leg clashes, from which Avaí and Palmeiras progressed to the round of sixteen.

Avaí 0-1 Santos (3-2 on aggregate)
Despite losing on the night to Santos, Avaí's impressive first leg performance proved to be enough to see them through to the next round. The Florianópolis side have rivalled Santos for attacking flair in recent weeks, and lined up at the Ressacada with their in-form attacking quartet of Davi, Robinho (formerly of Santos...no, not that Robinho), Vandinho and Caio. The Peixe, in the wake of the departures of Robinho (that Robinho), André, and Wesley, fielded what is now their strongest XI, hoping to stay in contention for their third title of 2010.

Avaí started with the bit between their teeth, and could twice have taken the lead through Patric and Rudinei. The opening goal, however, would go to Santos, and in some style. Marquinhos, regaining his starting spot (in my opinion, he's a far more useful player than Wesley, the midfielder who was keeping him out of the side) somehow produced an overhead-backheel-throughball (yes, you read that right), sending Zé Éduardo clear to slot past the goalkeeper. It looked as if a Santos comeback was on the cards, but the seasiders were frustrated for the rest of the tie, seeing chance after chance pass them by, and allowing Avaí to hold on for a narrow aggregate win.

Palmeiras fans salute goalkeeper Marcos on his 500th game for the club.

Palmeiras 3-0 Vitória (3-2 on aggregate)
Luiz Felipe Scolari, after a frustrating start as Palmeiras coach, guided his side to a second straight win, one which sees the Verdão through to the last sixteen of the competition. Despite resting a number of his star players (Kléber, Ewerton, Lincoln), the home side turning in a strong performance to knock out visiting Vitória.

In front of a packed Pacaembu (due largely to it being the 500th game of goalkeeping legend Marcos), Palmeiras took the lead on the stroke of half time. Marcos Assunção found Tadeu with a terrific pass, and the forward's finish bounced into the net despite a touch from Viáfara in the visitors' goal. Tadeu would go on to grab his second just after the interval, drilling home after Márcio Araújo's skewed shot. The scoring was completed in the final seconds when deadball specialist Marcos Assunção bent home a glorious free-kick from thirty yards.

(Photo credit; Tom Dib.)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Inter Crowned Champions of South America

With a 2-1 lead from the first leg, Internacional were strong favourites to lift the Copa Libertadores for the second time in five years. Duly enough, in an exciting game at the Beira-Rio, the Colorado ran out 3-2 winners over Mexican side Chivas, sparking wild celebrations in Porto Alegre.

Joy for Inter captain Bolívar as he lifts the Libertadores trophy.

Internacional 3-2 Chivas (5-3 on aggregate)
Inter coach Celso Roth made two changes from last week's first leg; one tactical, one forced upon him. Alecsandro, still feeling the effects of a pulled muscle, was not fit enough to start, and young star Giuliano also dropped to the bench. Into the line-up came two veterans of the club's 2006 Libertadores victory; midfield dynamo Tinga and energetic forward Rafael Sobis. Both would prove decisive once again as Inter battled to victory.

The home side, understandably perhaps, started nervously; gone was the slick passing and conviction of the first leg, replaced by long balls and midfield scrapping. Full-backs Nei and Kléber, usually so influential in the attacking third, were pinned back by Chivas, as the Mexican side enjoyed the better start. Inter gradually worked their way into the tie, thanks in large part to the workrate and ferocity of Tinga, but created little in an attritional opening period. Just as the half was petering out, however, Chivas landed a sucker punch on their Brazilian opponents. A long ball was nodded down to Marco Fabián, the away side's standout performer on the night, who unleashed an acrobatic volley before Índio could put in a challange. It was a truly stunning finish, one which left Inter goalkeeper Renan in awe rooted to the spot. Just as in the first leg, Inter would have to react after the interval.

And react they certainly did. Roth moved Taison to the right wing, where his pace immediately caused problems for Chivas. The reshuffle also freed Kléber to bomb forward from left-back, the result of which was almost instantaneous. Released into space by Tinga, Kléber bent in a tempting low cross which was poked home gleefully by Rafael Sobis. The Beira-Rio went wild, yet the striker was oddly left by his teammates to celebrate alone; a strangely awkward moment.

Leandro Damião celebrates his decisive goal for Inter.

This was an evening during which Roth had the midas touch; Inter's win would be secured thanks to two second half substitutes. With 15 minutes left to play, and with Chivas looking increasingly dangerous, the home side netted a second on the counter-attack. Young striker Leandro Damião skipped clear of Héctor Reynoso and bore down on Chivas 'keeper Luís Michel. The Mexican got a hand to Damião's shot, but could not prevent it from sneaking in at the near post. The third would be added, almost inevitably, by Giuliano; the Colorado's lucky charm in this season's competition. As the game ticked into injury time, the midfielder burst between two tired challenges, before lifting a delightful chip over Michel and into the net.

Chivas, down to 10 men following Omar Arellano's dismissal, nicked a consolation in the dying seconds through Patricio Araujo, but it was a case of too little, too late. The final whistle sounded, and the Inter players celebrated wildly. The party atmosphere was interrupted briefly as a scuffle broke out among the players (classic South American football!), but order was soon restored. All that remained was for Inter captain Bolívar (a nickname that fittingly echoes the name of Símon Bolívar, one of the 'liberators' after which the competition is named) to receive the taça from Pelé (decked out in a dapper red suit) and raise it aloft. Congratulations to Internacional, bicampeão da América!!!

(Photo credits; (1) Antonio Lacerda/Efe, (2) Silvia Izquierdo/AP.)

Monday, 16 August 2010

First Away Win for Vasco; Flu, Fla, and Fogo Also Victorious

It was an enjoyable weekend in the Campeonato Brasileiro for the four Rio clubs, all of whom picked up wins and find themselves in the top half of the table. Fluminense extended their lead over Corinthians with an impressive victory over Internacional, whilst Flamengo and Botafogo also picked up maximum points. We start, though, at the Prudentão, where Grêmio Prudente hosted Vasco.

Grêmio Prudente 1-2 Vasco

Unbeaten since the World Cup break, Vasco continued their fine form to pick up a first away win of the campaign against Grêmio Prudente. The rejuvination of the Gigante da Colina in past weeks can largely be attributed to new coach PC Gusmão, who has done a wonderful job; turning a disorganised side in the bottom four into a solid mid-table prospect. His task has been made easier by a number of intelligent signings; in particular strikers Zé Roberto and Éder Luís, and veteran playmaker Felipe, all of whom made Sunday's starting line-up.

Vasco's Rafael Carioca (right) battles in midfield.

With just nine minutes on the clock, Éder Luís bagged his first goal for the visitors. Fágner's searching cross deceived the Prudente defence, allowing the former Benfica striker to smash home a half-volley from close range. Vasco dominated the remainder of the half, and would have doubled their lead but for some poor finishing. Gusmão, though, will have been pleased with his new attacking trio; the direct running of Zé Roberto looks the perfect fit for the more measured approach of Éder Luís and the cunning of Felipe.

Grêmio Prudente briefly rallied in the second period, and got back on level terms with a glorious effort. João Vítor found a metre of space outside the area before pinging a stunning effort in off the post. Fernando Prass in the Vasco goal barely saw it. The São Januário club, however, were not to be denied, and were awarded a penalty when left-back Max was blocked in the box. Nílton's saw his initial spot-kick saved by Abelha 'keeper Giovanni, but was on hand to smash home the rebound. The result sees Vasco creep up to ninth, while the home side hover above the relegation zone.

Gameweek 14 Round-up
Luiz Felipe Scolari finally claimed his first win as Palmeiras coach on Saturday, as his side soundly beat Atlético Paranaense at the Pacaembu. Danilo's header put the Verdão ahead, before Ewerton sealed the win; finishing emphatically after controlling Tinga's scooped pass. Flamengo finally ended their three game goal duck against Ceará at the Maracanã, thanks to a penalty from their talisman Petkovic. The Serbian coolly slotted home the only goal of the game after Willians had been felled in the box.

Jóbson finishes into the empty net to seal three points for Botafogo.

Botafogo make their way up to fourth in the standings following a 2-0 away win against Atlético Goianiense. Somália's second goal in two games put O Glorioso ahead in the second half, before Jóbson rounded the goalkeeper late on to seal the win. Atlético Goianiense remain rooted to the foot of the table. Saturday's final game saw Atlético Mineiro finally get their Brasileirão campaign back on track, after five games without a win. A stunning second half display from the Galo saw them overwhelm Guarani at the Ipatingão, and ease to a 3-1 win. The main man for the home side was, as ever, Diego Tardelli; the striker netted a second half brace to put his side in the driving seat. Obina added a third, heading home from Diego Souza's delicate cross, before Mazola netted a late consolation for the Bugre.

Sunday's games saw Fluminense increase their lead over Corinthians at the head of the table with a 3-0 demolition of an under-strength Inter side. The Tricolor went ahead after 19 minutes; Mariano's effort flicked off the heels of Darío Conca, leaving Inter 'keeper Renan wrongfooted as the ball trickled into the net. The lead was quickly doubled, as Washington headed magnificently home from Conca's corner. The Argentine playmaker was again the provider for the home side's third; slipping a delightful pass through to Emerson (nicknamed Sheik after spells in Qatar and the Emirates), who found the net with a low finish. With Deco still to reinforce the side, Fluminense look unstoppable on current form.

Sheik, rattle, and roll; Emerson continued his fine form for Fluminense.

Corinthians, meanwhile, were beaten by Avaí in an exciting game at the Ressacada. The Leão da Ilha went ahead early on, when Davi deftly finished after Caio's through ball. Bruno César levelled for Corinthians, slotting home nonchalantly after a well-timed burst into the area, but Avaí soon took control of the game. A dangerous cross from right-back Patric forced Chicão to turn into his own net, before Rafael made it 3-1 to the home side. Bruno César grabbed his second to create a tense finalé, but Avaí held on for the three points. Grêmio avenged their midweek Copa Sul-Americana loss to Goiás by beating the Esmeraldino 2-0 at the Olímpico. Willian Magrão was twice on hand to benefit from the chaos caused by Douglas' wicked deadball delivery.

Revenge was also in the air in Salvador, where Vitória romped to a 4-2 win over their Copa do Brasil nemesis Santos. Henrique headed the home side into the lead, before Wallace doubled the lead, taking advantage of some hesitant goalkeeping by Santos' Felipe. Marcel bustled his way into the area and smashed home to reduce the arrears, but Henrique's second of the night gave Vitória a 3-1 lead going into the interval. Schwenk would later add a fourth from the penalty spot, but not before the Peixe had scored the goal of the game; Zé Éduardo volleying home from a tight angle after Madson's glorious pass. At the Morumbi, a late Ricardo Oliveira strike rescued a point for São Paulo against Cruzeiro. The home side had led through Casemiro's first half header, but the Raposa took control of the tie thanks to Wellington Paulista's tap-in and Thiago Ribeiro's cool finish. With just seconds remaining, however, Fernandinho wriggled free down the right, and crossed for Ricardo Oliveira to equalise.

(Photo credits; (1) Marcelo Sadio/Vasco.com.br, (2) Carlos Costa, (3) Cleber Mendes.)

Friday, 13 August 2010

Goiás and Atlético Mineiro Progress in Copa Sul-Americana

The confusingly-scheduled Copa Sul-Americana continued this week, with no fewer than four all-Brazilian clashes; half of which were decisive second legs. Goiás and Atlético Mineiro, despite their poor league positions, picked up wins to guarantee spots in the last sixteen, whilst Vitória and Avaí took control of their ties with impressive first leg victories.

Grêmio 0-2 Goiás

New Grêmio coach Renato Gaúcho started his reign in the worst possible fashion, seeing his team eliminated from continental competition at the once fortress-like Estádio Olímpico. A hero at the club due to his role in two state championship wins and an Intercontinental Cup title, Renato will need all the goodwill possible if he's to put an end to the Tricolor's recent woes. Despite the return from injury of attacking midfielder Souza, the home side turned in a sloppy performance and were deservedly beaten by Goiás.

New Grêmio boss Renato Gaúcho.

With just 8 minutes on the clock, the Esmeraldino snatched the lead. Wendel Santos, in acres of space on the right, curled in a delightful cross for Amaral to head emphatically home. Grêmio, with Jonas all alone up front, looked startlingly bereft of ideas; indeed Renato Gaúcho would take time after the game to emphasise the need for Douglas, the one true creator of the side, to return to form. Grêmio huffed and puffed in midfield, but rarely threatened before the break.

The second half saw a slight improvement; Jonas, Maylson, and Souza all tested Goiás 'keeper Harlei, and the introduction of Hugo and André Lima gave the team added attacking threat. As the seconds ticked by, however, it became increasingly apparent that this wasn't to be Grêmio's night. Indeed, in the final minute of the ninety, Goiás landed a knock-out blow; Everton Santos smashing home after dancing through some non-existant defence from the home side. Goiás progress, while Grêmio must focus on their Série A form.

Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
In the week's other second leg, Atlético Mineiro left it late to sneak into the last sixteen, defeating Grêmio Prudente 1-0 at the Ipatingão. It was Ricardinho who made the difference for the Galo, finishing sweetly at the near post after some slack defending. Atlético will meet Caracas, Santa Fé, or Deportivo Lara in the next round, and will undoubtedly be pleased to have something to take their minds of their abject league form.

Santos came down to earth with a bang from their Copa do Brasil triumph, soundly beaten 3-1 by Avaí in an exciting game at the Pacaembu. With Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso only on the bench after their exploits with the seleção, Dorival Júnior handed rare starts to Madson and Zé Éduardo in attack. It was Avaí, though, who came flying out of the blocks; Rudnei's powerful drive opened the scoring after some head tennis on the box. Despite creating countless chances in the remainder of the first half, Santos couldn't find an equaliser, and were left with a mountain to climb when the visitors doubled their lead after the break. Vandinho raced clear after some hesitant Peixe defending, and flighted the deftest of chips over Felipe, who had just come on as a substitute after an injury to Rafael. Golaço!

Avaí players congratulate Rudnei after his opening goal.

The introduction of Neymar and Ganso predictably injected some life into the seasiders, who promptly pulled a goal back; Zé Éduardo finishing powerfully into the roof of the net after Neymar's surging run. The last word, however, would go to Avaí. Caio, in an absurb amount of space after a calamitous Santos offside trap, unselfishly squared the ball to Vandinho who tucked away his second of the evening. The Peixe have it all to do in the return leg.

Luiz Felipe's winless (re)start at Palmeiras continued, as the Verdão went down 2-0 to Vitória in Salvador. Ramon put the Leão ahead with a trademark free-kick in the opening minute of the second half, before Neto Coruja's header made it two in the dying minutes. Palmeiras will hope that the return of Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia will provide the catalyst for a return to winning ways in the coming weeks.

(Photo credits; (1) Gremio.net, (2) Agência Estado.)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Win in Mexico Puts Inter in Libertadores Driving Seat

Internacional met Chivas in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores final last night, seeking to replicate the success of their 2006 win in the tournament. A 2-1 win on the night puts the Porto Alegre side in pole position to do just that in next week's return leg.

Chivas 1-2 Internacional
With midfield dynamo Tinga suspended after his semi-final expulsion, Celso Roth handed a start to Giuliano, the team's lucky charm in the competition so far. Having scored in both the quarter and semi-finals, the youngster would again prove decisive in Guadalajara, netting the goal that dragged Inter back on level terms. The Colorado, as ever, were set up to attack; with full-backs Kléber and Nei spending far more time in the opposition half than in their own.

Inter youngster Giuliano celebrates another Libertadores goal.

It was an approach which saw Inter dominate the early exchanges. Adapting swiftly to the artificial turf in the new Estádio Omnilife (!), the away side, inspired by the superb Andrés D'Alessandro, racked up over 70% of possession in the opening ten minutes, leaving Chivas chasing shadows. Chances however, were few and far between; Alecsandro was often isolated up front before being forced off with a thigh injury. As the interval loomed, it looked like both sides would settle for going into the break on level terms, but a sucker punch saw Chivas score with the last touch of the half. Adolfo Bautista (bizarrely wearing a Michael Jackson-esque single white glove), ran onto a searching cross before heading magnificently over Renan in the Inter goal.

It was Chivas who started the second half in better shape; Inter seemingly rattled by their late concession. It took some sturdy defending from Índio and Bolívar (as well as the imposing physical presence of Sandro in midfield) to stop the Mexican side doubling their advantage. The Colorado weathered the storm, however, and drew level when the Giuliano drifted unmarked into the box to head home Kléber's pinpoint cross. Just three minutes later, Inter were ahead. D'Alessandro's cross was intelligently headed back into the dangerzone by substitute Rafael Sobis, where a diving Bolívar glanced past Chivas 'keeper Michel. The players sprinted over to celebrate with Celso Roth and the substitutes, knowing that the goal puts them in the driving seat in this final. The tie would finish 2-1, leaving Chivas a mountain to climb in the South of Brazil.

(Photo credit; EFE.)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Hope Springs Eternal as Mano's New-Look Seleção Beats USA

Firstly, a caveat. Clearly one would be a fool to read too much into a friendly match, especially one from which many of Brazil's more senior players were excused. Such games are usually occasion for experimentation, and often serve as a poor watermark by which to judge a team's true progress.

With that out of the way, let me cut to the chase; BRAZIL WERE AWESOME YESTERDAY! Mano Menezes' young seleção turned in a fine performance against the USA, immediately banishing memories of Dunga's bureaucratic side to a locked drawer in the national psyche. This was an impeccably realised post-World Cup mission statement, borne of the desire for a return to creative, daring football. Brazil won 2-0, but the result was almost immaterial; the goals were merely cherries on the cake.

Plenty of new faces in the team photo.

Mano Menezes has spoken in recent days about his desire to implement the 4-2-3-1 formation so widespread in South Africa, but his side in New Jersey was closer to a 4-2-1-3, with Neymar in particular holding his position in attack alongside Alexandre Pato. The central midfield pairing of Lucas and Ramires dictated the pace of the game, allowing Paulo Henrique Ganso plenty of freedom to provide for the attacking trio. Robinho, starting on the right of the front three, also had the freedom to drift inside, and provided the focal point for much of Brazil's best play.

Despite a shaky start, in which the USA ought to have been awarded a penalty for Thiago Silva's foul on Landon Donovan, Brazil soon got into their rhythm. Pato dragged wide after some delightful control, and Neymar also brought a smart save from Tim Howard. With some neat passing, it looked only a matter of time before the away side scored, and so it proved. Robinho released André Santos on the left, and the full-back's wonderful cross (just one of countless he put in on the night) was nodded home by Neymar at the far post. Pato thought he'd made it two soon after, but his effort was correctly ruled out for a foul.

Duck tales; Alexandre Pato celebrates his goal.

As the half drew to a close, Howard had to be on his guard to deny both Robinho and Neymar; the latter a stinging effort after an intricate period of build-up play. Despite the best efforts of the 'keeper, though, Brazil would go into the break with a two-goal advantage. Ganso was presented with time and space to find Ramires, who in turn slipped a clever ball between defenders for Pato to run onto. The Milan forward kept his cool, rounding Howard and passing into the empty net.

Although Brazil wouldn't increase their lead in the second period, it was not through lack of trying. With the half barely 30 seconds old, the pace of the Brazilian attack again proved too much for the USA defence to handle; Pato, though, could only find the side-netting after Robinho's break. The seleção would continue to be frustrated, both by an excellent display from Brad Guzan and by the woodwork. It was the latter that foiled firstly Robinho, whose guided shot rebounded to safety, and then Ganso, who's rasping drive rattled off the post. Guzan saved from Neymar after some delightful footwork from the youngster, before producing a wonder-save when substitute Carlos Éduardo looked certain to score.

Mano looks on calmly during his first game in charge.

The USA looked to have pulled a goal back through Michael Bradley, but the midfielder's header was disallowed for offside. It was a rare moment of concern for the Brazilian defence, who were impressive throughout. Marshalled by the impressive Lucas, the centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luíz (somewhat of an unknown quantity in Brazil until now) gelled instantly; the latter's intelligent positioning and comfort on the ball was a fine match for the former's more physical presence. Grêmio 'keeper Victor had precious little to do throughout, but claimed one or two dangerous dead balls without difficulty.

The game, disrupted somewhat by a wave of substitutions, tailed off towards the end, but the message had already been engraved in the minds of the spectator; Brazil, the real Brazil, is back. The performance was a heady cocktail of revolution and restoration; a display which marked both a deep rupture with Dunga's seleção and a consonance with Brazilian football's glorious back-story. Yes, it was just a friendly, but I for one am full of hope for the next four years. Valeu, Mano!

(Photo credits; (1) & (3) Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images/AFP, (2) iG/AFP.)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Curtain Call for the Meninos da Vila

My new article for In Bed With Maradona, about the likely break-up of the current Santos team, can be found here.

(And for those who missed it, this was my first piece, discussing the decline of wingers in Brazilian domestic football.)

Monday, 9 August 2010

SKP at the Engenhão! (Plus Gameweek 13 Round-up)

I'm pleased to present a new feature on this page; a report from a game that I actually went to! Yes, dear reader, your humble SKP correspondent was in attendance at the Engenhão as Botafogo triumphed 3-0 over lowly Atlético Mineiro. I have already been to a few games over here, but as this was the first since I started this blog, I'll include some more anecdotal material about the day alongside the match report. Hopefully this will be of some interest to those who have yet to experience watching football in this country.

Moody black-and-white snapshot? Check.

Leaving home fully two hours before kick-off, we (my girlfriend and I) took two crowded buses from Recreio (in the South of Rio) to the Zona Norte; a huge, sprawling assortment of neighbourhoods on the other side of a ridge of mountains. Anyone in the UK who moans about public transport has simply not been here; riding a bus is like being inside a washing machine - all rattles, bumps, and gradually moistening clothes thanks to the humidity. Not knowing exactly how long the journey would last, we struck up conversation with a young Botafogo fan, travelling to the game with his friends. As ever in this country of good samaritans, he couldn't do enough to help us; advising us about the best seats in the stadium and directing us to the ticket office after we got off the bus.

The view from inside the Engenhão.

Actually, 'ticket office' may be a bit generous to the scrum that greeted us, but twenty minutes later we emerged with two student (half-price) tickets for the upper tier of the West stand. After a quick moment contemplating the statue of Garrincha, the club's biggest idol, we made our way slowly up a spiral walkway and to our seats. The stadium, built in 2007 for the Pan-American games, was stunning; all swooping curves and metallic detail. The pitch, bordered by a running track, seemed incredibly small; dwarfed by the height of the two main stands. The atmosphere, however, contrary to my expectations, was great; the Fogo fans were out in force, as our bus companion had confirmed, for three main reasons. Firstly, the likelihood of victory was high; the Alvinegro had won their last game, whereas Atlético have been in abject form. Fairweather fans, the Brazilians. Secondly, it promised to be the first post-World Cup appearance of 'Loco' Abreu, a cult figure at the Engenhão. Thirdly, the game marked Maicosuel's comeback at the ground, after a spell with Hoffenheim in Germany.

Flares and banners in the East stand.

The home fans would not be dissappointed; after 30 minutes, Maicosuel pounced on a rebound to send O Glorioso on their way to a commanding 3-0 victory. The man they call 'the magician' was in fine fettle throughout the opening period; combining particularly well with Jóbson, himself a revelation since his return from a doping ban. Botafogo looked assured of victory as soon as the first goal hit the back of the net, yet they would extend their lead only with the help of a huge slice of luck. Somália's low drive cannoned off the arm of Herrera, leaving Galo 'keeper Fábio Costa with no chance. The goal was allowed to stand despite the protests of the away side.

A rare full house looks on.

Botafogo took their foot off the gas somewhat in the second period, but still managed a third. Hard-working Argentine striker Herrera slotted confidently home from the penalty spot after Jóbson tumbled in the box. The contest was over, leaving the Fogo fans with little better to do than call for the introduction of 'Loco' Abreu. Their wish would be granted, with Joel Santana bringing off Maicosuel. As the cries of "OOOOO, EL LOCO!" subsided into a chorus of "OOOOOOOH, MAICOSUEL VOLTOU!" ('Maicosuel is back!'), the sense of optimism was palpable in the stadium. Chatting to another fan on the bumpy ride home, we agreed that if Botafogo produced such performances more frequently, a title challenge would not be out of their reach.

Gameweek 13 Round-up
Saturday's only other match (Santos vs Inter was postponed) saw Guarani romp to a 4-1 win over Avaí at the Brinco de Ouro. Renan's deflected effort put the Bugre ahead, before Ricardo Xavier benefitted from some hapless defending to net a second. Robinho's penalty gave the away side a glimmer of hope, but Guarani quickly snatched it away, extending their lead with volleys from Mazola and Fabão.

In Sunday's Clássico das Nações, Flamengo were beaten 1-0 by Corinthians at the Pacaembu. The Timão dominated the game, and will be delighted with the win, despite having only Elias' first half goal to show for their efforts. The result sees a gap opening up at the top of Série A; seven points now separate second-placed Corinthians with Ceará in third. At the summit, however, are Fluminense, who maintained their excellent recent form with a 2-1 win against Grêmio in Porto Alegre. Mariano's deflected free-kick handed the Tricolor a first-half lead, and Emerson quickly made it two; rounding the goalkeeper after Darío Conca's brilliant pass. Former Flu striker André Lima pulled one back, but also drew howls of disgust as he missed a simple tap-in. The loss spelt the end of coach Silas' spell at the Olímpico; he was dismissed after the game.

Vasco captain Carlos Alberto removes his armband after seeing red.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras looked to have claimed all three points against Goiás, but were pegged back late on at the Serra Dourada. Ewerton smashed the Verdão into the lead, but Marcos Assunção's own goal ensured the points were shared. São Paulo, under the temporary command of Milton Cruz (following the departure of Ricardo Gomes), also surrendered a lead on the road; Cléber Santana's scuffed opener at the Arena da Baixada was cancelled out by Atlético Paranaense's Maikon Leite.

Vasco continue to work their way up the Brasileirão table following a narrow victory over Vitória at the São Januário. Zé Roberto's cute finish, his first goal for the club, was enough to secure a 1-0 win for the Gigante da Colina. Captain Carlos Alberto, making his first start after a period on the sidelines, was sent off for the home side. Sunday's remaining two games finished goalless; Grêmio Prudente and Atlético Goianiense picked up creditable away draws against Cruzeiro and Ceará respectively.

(Photo credits; (1), (2), (3) & (4) Writer's own, (5) Pedro Kirolos.)

Friday, 6 August 2010

Inter Scrape Past São Paulo to Reach Libertadores Final

Perhaps Brazil's most successful club in recent continental campaigns, Internacional yesterday booked their place in the final of the Copa Libertadores, South American football's premier competition. Despite losing the second-leg of their semi-final with São Paulo, Inter progressed on away goals to set up a meeting with Mexican side Chivas. The win also ensures the Colorado a place in the next Club World Cup, a tournament Chivas are ineligible for.

São Paulo 2-1 Internacional (2-2 on aggregate; Inter win on away goals)
In a pulsating game at the Morumbi, it was Inter who did just enough to guarantee their progress in the competition, thanks to Alecsandro's second half effort. São Paulo were almost unrecognisable from the first leg; their negative tactics were replaced by a more daring style, aided by a flexible trio of front men. Ricardo Oliveira maintained his place in the starting XI after his impressive (re)début at the weekend, and lined up alongside the established strike duo of Fernandão and Dagoberto. Inter, though, are rarely shrinking violets in attack; any worry that the Porto Alegre side would be set up to defend were dispelled with a line-up including both Tinga and Andrés D'Alessandro behind frontmen Taison and Alecsandro.

Playmakers of the world, unite!

The first period saw the sides trade blows; Rogério Ceni was called into action to thwart both Alecsandro and Tinga, while the Tricolor themselves threatened from dead balls and shots from distance. The opener, though, would come via a simple goalkeeping error. Hernanes' free-kick from the right was spilled by Inter stopper Renan (given the nod recently over the even more erratic Pato Abbondanzieri), allowing Alex Silva to head home from a tight angle. The goal was exactly what the game needed, and set up an intriguing second half.

Soon after the break, the Colorado equalised. Rogério Ceni could only watch in disbelief as D'Alessandro's free-kick was diverted into the bottom corner (purposefully?...maybe if we're being generous) by Alecsandro. Cue wild celebrations from the crazed puppy wily Argentine playmaker. The goal left São Paulo with a mountain to climb, but they were offered hope by the swiftness of their reply; just two minutes after conceding, their lead on the night was restored. Cléber Santana's volleyed attempt reached Ricardo Oliveira, who found himself onside thanks to a sleepy Colorado offside trap. The former Milan forward had ample time to control the ball and drill low past Renan.

Midfield wizard; Hernanes (centre) competes with Taison and Tinga.

The home side, buoyed by the introduction of Marlos, frantically sought a third, and tested Renan from distance on a number of occasions. Their cause was helped by the expulsion of Tinga, harshly given a second yellow for a foul on Júnior César. The winning goal, however, would evade the Tricolor. As the Inter players celebrated on the pitch, the home fans trudged out of the stadium, worried perhaps about what the near future might bring; Hernanes, their star player, looks set to seal a transfer to Europe this week, and it would surprise few if coach Ricardo Gomes' head rolled after this defeat.

Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
You would hardly know it from the coverage in today's papers, but last night also saw the first legs of two all-Brazilian Copa Sul-americana ties. Atlético Mineiro travelled to São Paulo state to face Grêmio Prudente, and claimed a creditable goalless draw at the Prudentão. Goiás hosted Grêmio at the Serra Dourada, and came from behind to snatch a draw. Hugo put the Tricolor ahead following some fancy build-up from Douglas and Adílson, but Rafael Moura's late penalty for the Esmeraldino leaves the tie evenly balance ahead of the second leg.

(Photo credits; (1) Eduardo Viana, (2) Daniel Marenco/Folhapress.)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Santos Win Copa do Brasil

Despite losing on the evening to a brave Vitória side, Santos were last night crowned Copa do Brasil champions for the first time in their history. Celebrations in Salvador were tinged with melancholy, however; this was probably the curtain call for the current crop of Meninos da Vila.


Vitória 2-1 Santos (2-3 on aggregate)
Santos travelled to Salvador with a two goal advantage from the first leg, but any complacency on their part would have evapourated with a quick glance at the pitch at the Barradão. Resembling a bog in a couple of areas, the turf was always likely to favour Vitória's more direct approach; the Leão, with both Schwenk and Júnior (remember him, Walsall/Derby fans?!) in attack, were set up to bombard Santos with long-balls and crosses into the area. The Peixe, on the other hand, normally so devastating on the break, had some problems finding their rhythm.

The first chance of the game fell to Vitória; Schwenk crossed from the right for Júnior, who really should have done better with a free header. Soon after, Schwenk had a chance of his own, but couldn't find a way past Santos goalkeeper Rafael. The home side would be made to regret their profligacy, as Santos gained control of the game towards the end of the half. Spurred on by the ever-excellent Arouca, the seasiders began to have some joy with attacks down the flanks; Alex Sandro and Neymar doubled up down the left, and Pará and Robinho did likewise on the right. It was from a dead ball, however, that Santos would open the scoring. Neymar's free-kick was initially blocked, but the youngster took advantage of a kind rebound to curl a delightful cross into the area. Centre-back Edu Dracena, in a yard of space, glanced the ball in off the near post.

Edu Dracena celebrates his crucial goal.

Returning from their half-time break, Vitória needed no fewer than four goals to turn the tie around. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, but to their credit they made a game of it in the second period. The equaliser came from defender Wallace, who volleyed home with some aplomb after a knock-down by veteran Rámon. Further chances came and went for the Leão; Júnior again missed his header when it looked easier to score, and substitute Renato saw his effort come back off the bar. At the other end, the introduction of Marquinhos gave Santos more cutting edge, but the seasiders couldn't find a way past Julián Viáfara. Just when it looked like the game was petering out, Vitória snatched a second. Júnior, fed by the impressive Elkeson, finally found the net; lifting a sumptuous chip over Rafael to give the home side the lead. The goal would prove to be too little, too late; Santos held on for a 3-2 aggregate win.

As the celebrations ensued, all questions about disharmony in the Santos camp (in wake of an amusing story about a Twitter webcast that went rather awry) were dispelled; Dorival Júnior and his men looked the picture of unity as they lifted their second title in six months. There was, however, a undercurrent of mourning to the proceedings; the days of this group of Meninos da Vila look numbered. This week, André will jet off to the Ukraine to join up with Dynamo Kiev, and with interest in Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso ever-growing, the fans of the Peixe could see their team decimated before the midway point of the Brasileirão. The prize of a place in next year's Libertadores, while substantial, will surely arrive far too late for many of the current side.

Robinho and Neymar are raised aloft by club staff.

A message of hope, though, was offered by Robinho. The forward, who has now won the Brasileirão, the Campeonato Paulista, and the Copa do Brasil with Santos, promised to do all in his power to return to the club on a permanent basis. While acknowledging his contractual obligation with Manchester City, the seleção star affirmed that his heart remains at the Vila Belmiro.

(Photo credits; (1)& (3) Marcos Ribolli/Globoesporte.com, (2) Tom Dib.)

Monday, 2 August 2010

São Paulo End Winless Run; All Square in Clássico Paulista

This Sunday in the Brasileirão had received plenty of hype during the previous week, with no fewer than four local derbies taking place around the country. Unfortunately, the day was rather a damp squib, with only three goals in those four matches. Fluminense were the only side in the top four to win, a result which sees them regain first position.

São Paulo 2-1 Ceará
Without a win since the 6th of June, the pressure was mounting on São Paulo coach Ricardo Gomes ahead of Saturday's tie with Ceará. With the all-important second leg of their Libertadores semi-final coming up on Thursday, there were suggestions that a loss here could spur the club's directors to dismiss Gomes and turn to another manager to motivate the team. This result, then, while potentially only a momentary moment of calm before the storm (should São Paulo lose to Inter), ought to steady the ship somewhat.

Ricardo Oliveira hurdles Diego after his delicate finish.

Gomes, usually a proponent of a 3-5-2 system, decided to alter the shape of his side, shifting Xandão to the right of a back four and moving Jean into midfield. The tactic worked early on; the midfield axis of Jean and Cléber Santana allowed Hernanes and the excellent Marlos more freedom to provide support to Fernandinho and débutant Ricardo Oliveira, the former Betis and Milan striker. The Tricolor looked lively and created a number of chances early on; only some wasteful finishing and some alert goalkeeping from Ceará's Diego kept the teams level.

The home side would have to wait until the second period to get the goal their play deserved. After 65 minutes, half time substitute Fernandão leapt in fine style to head home Hernanes' outswinging corner to send the Morumbi into raptures. Within three minutes, the lead was doubled. After the breakdown of a move in midfield, Ceará were left exposed as Dagoberto's precise through-ball released Ricardo Oliveira. The forward kept his nerve; clipping a fabulous finish over the 'keeper and into the net. The Vovô set a up a nervy climax to the game thanks to Erick Flores' well-taken finish, but São Paulo held on for a deserved win.

Palmeiras 1-1 Corinthians
Still looking for his first win on the Palmeiras bench (he watched Gameweek 8's victory over Santos from the stands), Luiz Felipe Scolari may harbour some regrets when he looks back on Sunday's clássico. Having recovered from a shaky start, the Verdão looked in good shape to snatch a victory in the second half, but had to settle for a point after some oddly negative substitutions disrupted their rhythm.

Corinthians, coached for the first time by Adílson Batista (an old cohort of Felipão's), took control early on, thanks largely to strong performances from Jucilei, Ralf, and Elias in midfield. Bruno César took up a more advanced role, charged with supporting Jorge Henrique and Iarley (the Brazilian Paul Dickov) in attack. That trio combined brilliantly to open the scoring after 20 minutes; Iarley played Bruno César into space down the right, and the No.10's low cross was flicked impudently home by Jorge Henrique. Replays showed the winger to have been marginally offside when Bruno delivered the cross.

Palmeiras' Kléber (left) holds off a challenge from Corinthians captain William.

Palmeiras, however, started to get a foothold in the tie. Playmaker Lincoln provided a headache for the Timão defenders, drifting into space and combining intelligently with Kléber in attack. On 33 minutes, Lincoln wriggled free of his marker and found Danilo on the right. The defender's tempting cross was powerfully met by Kléber, who brought a diving save from Júlio César in the Corinthians goal. The ball, however, fell kindly for Edinho, who smashed the ball home from close range.

For the remainder of the first period and the start of the second, Palmeiras looked by far the more likely to claim all three points; Ewerton twice had goals chalked off after straying offside. Strangely, though, Scolari decided to replace Lincoln, easily the Verdão's best performer, with youngster Tinga. Ewerton too was brought off minutes later. Surely enough, Palmeiras' threat (as well as the excitement of spectacle as a whole) was diminished, and the scoreline finished 1-1.

Gameweek 12 Round-up
Fluminense profitted from the Corinthians result to return to the top of Série A, beating Atlético-PR 3-1 at the Maracanã. Washington, making his second début for the club, netted a brace; two easy finishes after assists from the superb Darío Conca. The player they call Coração Valente (braveheart - the big forward overcame a heart problem to continue his career) then turned provider, playing in Emerson to smash home. Bruno Mineiro headed in a late consolation for the Furacão. In Saturday's final game, Guarani held Atlético-GO at the Serra Dourada. Rodrigo Tiuí put Atlético ahead with a diving header, but Mazola levelled with a fine individual effort.

Sunday, then; three more derbies, and only one more goal. Vasco earnt a creditable 0-0 draw with Flamengo at the Maracanã largely due to a sensational goalkeeping display from Fernando Prass. In one particular sequence towards the end of the game, the stopper managed to deny Vinícius Pacheco, Cristian Borja, and Juan, all of whom looked set to score. The draw maintains PC Gusmão's unbeaten record in this Brasileiro (both with Vasco and Ceará). In the Gre-Nal clássico in Porto Alegre, an Inter side lacking a number of titulares (rested ahead of the Libertadores clash with São Paulo) was held to a goalless draw by Grêmio at the Beira-Rio. In Sete Lagoas, it was Cruzeiro who scraped a 1-0 win over Atlético-MG in the Minas Gerais derby. Wellington Paulista's stunning long-range strike leaves the Galo languishing in 19th place.

Wellington shoots; the Cruzeiro striker (left) celebrates his winner.

In anticipation of Wednesday's Copa do Brasil final second leg, both Santos and Vitória lined up with weakened sides in their matches, against Grêmio Prudente and Botafogo respectively. Santos rode their luck to beat the Abelha 2-1 at the Prudentão. Midfielders Danilo and Rodriguinho both netted glorious efforts from distance to put the seasiders in the driving seat, but Róbson pulled one back for Prudente. The home side then had ample opportunity to get something from the game, but contrived to miss two penalties in the last five minutes. On a shocking Barradão surface, Vitória and Botafogo looked to be heading towards a goalless draw, but a crazy three minute period late on produced no fewer than three goals. After good work from Maicosuel (newly returned to the Engenhão club after a spell in Germany with Hoffenheim), Edno put the Glorioso ahead with a deadly volley. Júnior headed home an equaliser for Vitória, but Jóbson deftly turned home Marcelo Mattos' cross to restore Botafogo's lead. The win was secured in injury time, when Jóbson bagged his second of the match; smashing home despite the attentions of three defenders.

In the last of Sunday's games, Avaí continued their impressive progress up the table with a convincing 4-1 win over Goiás. Émerson headed the Leão da Ilha a ninth minute lead, before Davi benefitted from a botched clearance (which smashed into the face of an unlucky Goiás midfielder) to double the advantage just a minute later. The Goiás defenders were in a generous mood; Rafael Tolói gifted possession to Davi who rifled home the third. Bernardo pulled one back for the Esmeraldino with a delightful strike, but Robinho Signorini, a clever little player on loan from Santos, rounded off the scoring from close range.

(Photo credits; (1) Miguel Schincariol, (2) Eduardo Viana, (3) Ramon Bitencourt.)
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