It's been another busy week in Brazilian football, with Copa do Brasil and continental games jostling for space with the usual state championship action. Internacional kick-started the defence of their Libertadores crown with a commanding victory over Mexican side Jaguares, a result that sent them to the top of Group 6. In Rio, meanwhile, Boavista, a small regional side, made it through to the final of the first stage of the Campeonato Carioca. With those stories and more, here's the SKP Friday round-up.
Internacional 4-0 Jaguares
Inter, despite being one of Brazil's most stable clubs, have undergone a difficult period since they romped to the 2010 Libertadores title. Their poor performance in the Club World Cup, coupled with the sale of a number of key players (Taison and Giuliano being the most obvious examples), had led to a sense of doom and gloom at the Beira-Rio. Manager Celso Roth - hardly universally adored to begin with - only just clung onto his job in the wake of the Abu Dhabi fiasco, and many fans feared that Argentine pair Pablo Guiñazú and Andrés D'Alessandro would depart the club.
Whether by luck or by judgement, however, the outlook one month on is much brighter for the Colorado. True, they have been far from impressive in the Campeonato Gaúcho thus far (admittedly without a host of first team players), but the signings of Zé Roberto (no, not the former Bayern Munich one), Fernando Cavenaghi, and, in particular, Mário Bolatti have really captured the imagination. All three started against Jaguares, as Inter sought to claim their first win in this year's tournament.
Bolatti, the former Porto and Fiorentina midfielder, enjoyed a fine début last week, scoring Inter's goal in the 1-1 draw with Emelec. He was even more influential on Wednesday night, bossing play from the centre of the park and netting a brace in the opening period. His first, a deflected volley, was trumped by the second; a crashing finish following a spot of head tennis in the Jaguares box. This hermano (Brazilian slang for Argentine/Spanish speaker) could well become the next to gain icon-status at the Beira-Rio.
Inter continued to dominate in the the second half, and extended their lead through Leandro Damião. The youngster, who seems to have leapfrogged Alecsandro in the Inter attacking pecking order, showed customary awareness to pounce after the ball came back off the post. The hosts cruised through the remainder of the game, until, with just seconds remaining, Oscar decided that the evening deserved to be rounded off in style. The Brazil U20 midfielder surged towards goal before rifling home a stunning low effort from thirty yards. As the final whistle blew, Roth sauntered contendedly back into the dressing room; the early signs suggest that his side could again go far in this competition.
Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Flamengo secured their place in the final of the Taça Guanabara, sneaking past Botafogo on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Ronaldo Angelim's early effort was cancelled out by Loco Abreu, who finished expertly after receiving a pass from fellow Argentine Egidio Arévalo. Goalkeeper Felipe was the penalty hero for Flamengo, saving from Éverton and Somália as the Rubro-Negro won the shoot-out.
Spot-kicks were also needed in the other semi-final, as underdogs Boavista snuck past Fluminense at the Engenhão. The sides traded golaços in the opening period; Marquinho's free-kick put the Tricolor ahead before a rocket from Tony gave Boavista parity. Fred then appeared to have put Flu in control with a simple header, only for some sleepy defending to allow André Luís to bag a second for their opponents. Boavista stopper Thiago proved his worth in the shoot-out, saving brilliantly from Conca and Rodriguinho. It was a historic day for the minnows, whose (snappily-named) Estádio Eucy Resende de Mendonça holds just 6,000 fans, and whose main claim to fame before Saturday had been a doomed attempt to lure Italian striker Christian Vieri out of retirement.
Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Corinthians hosted Santos at the Pacaembu on Sunday, with fans and pros alike paying tribute to Ronaldo, who waved farewell to fans prior to kickoff. The Timão supporters unfurled a banner reading "R9 ETERNALLY IN OUR HEARTS," while the home players' shirts were emblazened with "FENÔMENO FOREVER." Confusingly, Corinthians also abandoned their regular squad numbers in honour of Ronaldo; every play wore a jersey featuring the number nine (so Liédson was No.90, Alessandro used No.29, etc). With the wind of sentiment in their sails, Corinthians ran out comfortable winners. Fábio Santos, a former Peixe player, put the hosts ahead with a delightful free-kick, and later added another from the penalty spot. Elano gave Santos hope with a powerful effort, but Liédson sealed the win with a deft chipped finish.
São Paulo produced a scintillating attacking display on Saturday, putting four past hapless Bragantino at the Morumbi. Dagoberto set up goals for Miranda and Fernandinho, before the young guns took over in the second period; Lucas and Willian José both got on the scoresheet for the Tricolor. Palmeiras meanwhile... (sorry, I just fell asleep on my keyboard)... drew 0-0 with Mogi Morim.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
One thing that is certain to make any match (and especially one involving Palmeiras) more interesting is a medic who takes it upon himself to somersault repeatedly throughout the 90 minutes. Congratulations must go to Comercial-PI; firstly for taking their cup game with Palmeiras to a second leg (despite a 2-1 loss), but mainly for employing that lunatic. Avaí and Santa Cruz made it through to round two with resounding away wins over Vilhena-RO and Corinthians-RN respectively (in case you're wondering, the two letters after these names denote the states in which the clubs are located). Botafogo will have to come from behind in the return leg after losing 1-0 to River Plate-SE, but there were no such problems for resurgent Vasco who progressed with a 6-1 win over Comercial-MS.
Copa Libertadores Round-up
Fluminense seem determined to do things the hard way in this year's Libertadores; a goalless draw with Uruguayan side Nacional made it just two points from their opening two home games in the competition. With Fred out injured, Muricy Ramalho reshuffled his side side; lining up with three centrebacks and an array of midfielders behind lone striker Rafael Moura. The system provided defensive solidity (despite defender Digão's subsequent admission that he "couldn't describe the position in which [he] was playing") but left the Tricolor short of attacking threat. They now have it all to do, in what was always going to be a tricky group.
Despite taking the lead through Borges, Grêmio fell to a 2-1 loss against Junior Barranquilla. The Tricolor were guilty of some poor defending on the night, allowing Giovanni Hernández and Jhon Viáfara (remember him, Southampton and Portsmouth fans?!) to give the Colombians a narrow victory. Cruzeiro were far more ruthless, thrashing Guaraní 4-0 in Sete Lagoas. Wallyson bagged a brace for the Raposa, but it was Thiago Ribeiro who scored the pick of the goals, drilling home from the edge of the area.
Best of the Rest
That was actually Thiago's second golaço of the week; the first came in Cruzeiro's routine Campeonato Mineiro win over Ipatinga at the weekend. It's Atlético-MG that continue to lead the Minas Gerais championship, however; they maintained their fine attacking form to beat Guarani-MG 4-2. In Porto Alegre, meanwhile, Grêmio made it to the semi-finals of the first stage of the Gauchão with a 5-0 win over Ypiranga-RS. André Lima, who amusingly took it upon himself to come up with his own nickname ('immortal warrior'... egotistical much?), scored a brace for the Tricolor.
Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 1-1 Botafogo (3-1 on penalties), Fluminense 2-2 Boavista (2-4 on penalties). Paulista; São Paulo 4-0 Bragantino, Corinthians 3-1 Santos, Mogi Morim 0-0 Palmeiras. Libertadores; Fluminense 0-0 Nacional, Internacional 4-0 Jaguares, Junior Barranquilla 2-1 Grêmio, Cruzeiro 4-0 Guaraní. Copa do Brasil; Comercial-PI 1-2 Palmeiras, River Plate-SE 1-0 Botafogo, Comercial-MS 1-6 Vasco.
(Photo credits; (1) EFE, (2) Ricardo Ramos, (3) Tom Dib, (4) EFE.)