On-pitch events took a back seat in Brazil this week, with the football world rocked by Ronaldo's retirement at the age of 34. Fans of Cruzeiro and Corinthians (the only two Brazilian clubs for whom O Fenômeno featured) would have been particularly upset, but both sides were boosted in midweek; Cruzeiro romped to a historic victory over Estudiantes in the Libertadores, while the Timão appear to have found a new talisman in Liédson, the scorer of both goals in their win over Mogi Mirim.
Cruzeiro 5-0 Estudiantes
There has been precious little fanfare over Cruzeiro since the end of the Brasileirão, which may seem somewhat curious given their excellent performance in that competition (the Raposa finished in second position). However, while a host of Brazilian sides attracted countless new players (and significant media attention) in the offseason, Cruzeiro endured a relatively frustrating month; Leandro Guerreiro and Mauricio Victorino were the only significant signings, whilst star rightback Jonathan was sold to Santos. When you throw in their slow start to the Campeonato Mineiro (which itself starts slowly compared to other state championships), one can understand why expectations were not particularly high ahead of their Libertadores opener. Estudiantes, one of the continent's most consistent teams in recent years (and the side that beat Cruzeiro in the 2009 final) would, in the eyes of most pundits, provide a stern test for Cuca's men.
Revenge, however, can be an effective motivator. Cruzeiro, spurred on by a raucous crowd at the Arena do Jacaré (which translates, wonderfully, as Alligator Arena) flew out of the blocks, taking the lead within the first minute. Wallyson, whose selection over Thiago Ribeiro raised a few eyebrows prior to kick-off, released an effort which ballooned into the net via the leg of an unlucky Estudiantes defender. The visitors looked stunned, but their nightmare was only just beginning. Just fifteen minutes later, Walter Montillo released Roger, who dribbled past Juan Sebastián Verón before slotting home. Roger soon returned the favour, allowing Montillo to round Agustín Orión and net the third.
The interval brought some brief respite for Estudiantes, but their ruthless hosts were soon rubbing salt into their wounds. Montillo, himself an Argentine, was the tormentor in chief; dominating play in midfield and grabbing his second of the night with a wonderful volley from thirty yards. By the time Wallyson bundled home the fifth in the final minutes, the tie was over as a contest, and Cruzeiro fans were already beginning to plot their side's course through the group stage.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Raposa can produce this kind of performance on a frequent basis, but Wednesday night's performance will certainly have made the continent sit up and take notice. In many ways, this victory stood as testament to the fact that planning and stability can be just as effective as the kind of explosive transfer market activity which is the norm in Brazil. Sometimes it pays to go under the radar.
Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Flamengo claimed an impressive seventh consecutive win, overcoming Resende thanks to a goal from former Fenerbahçe striker Deivid. Fla will face Botafogo in the semi-final of the Taça Guanabara (the first stage of the Rio state championship), after the latter slipped to a draw against Macaé on Sunday. The other semi will be contested by Fluminense (for whom Rafael Moura scored his fifth goal in three games against Madureira) and minnows Boavista, who beat Nova Iguaçu 5-3.
Vasco, who didn't manage to qualify for the knockout stage, at last gave their fans something to cheer about, racking up no fewer than nine goals against América. Both Ramon and Enrico netted braces, and there was a long-awaited goal from veteran playmaker Felipe, who had recently joked that the Romário statue at Vasco's São Januário stadium was more likely to score than he was. Knowing old Baixinho, he'd probably add any such goal to his running total.
Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Palmeiras continued their hegemony of dull victories, beating Americana (yep, you guessed it) 1-0 to maintain their position at the head of the Paulistão. The Verdão fans handed goalscorer Kléber a Brazil shirt after the final whistle as a display of appreciation, but it's the defence that deserves recognition; Palmeiras have conceded just three goals in eight rounds so far. Santos have let in three times that many, but remain just a point behind after a 2-0 win over Noroeste. Genoa-bound Zé Éduardo was on target once more for the Peixe, tucking home coolly after sprinting clear.
Rogério Ceni scored his 98th career goal (for those who haven't been paying attention, Rogério is a goalkeeper), bending home a free-kick which helped São Paulo scrape past Portuguesa. There was also a début strike for Rhodolfo, a recent acquisition from Atlético Paranaense who looks like Kaká's troubled older brother. The result sent São Paulo up to fifth in the table.
Corinthians, rocked by the departures of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos (who could yet be joined at Anzhi Makhachkala by midfielder Jucilei), started the week in predictably subdued fashion, toiling to a 0-0 draw with Paulista on Sunday. Things improved last night, however, as new signing Liédson fired them past a stubborn Mogi Mirim side at the Pacaembu. The former Sporting Lisbon striker pounced on a rebound to put the Timão ahead, before displaying even greater opportunism for his second; nipping in to score after Mogi 'keeper João Paulo dallied. These are early days yet, but Corinthians may just have found the man to help them through their current crisis.
Copa Libertadores Round-up
Santos, among the favourites for this season's Libertadores, endured a frustrating start to their campaign, drawing 0-0 with Deportivo Táchira in Venezuela. The Peixe shaded the first half, but were thoroughly outplayed in the second, and likely felt slightly fortunate to even claim one point from the game. Their fans will hope that coach Adílson Batista refrains from resting in-form attackers Maikon Leite and Zé Éduardo in their next game against Cerro Porteño. Reigning champions Internacional were also held away from home; Mário Bolatti's début strike was cancelled out in injury time by Emelec's Fernando Giménez.
At the Olímpico, Grêmio had much more joy; brushing aside Bolivian side Oriente Petrolero to take command of Group 2. Douglas put the Tricolor ahead from the penalty spot after the referee laughably adjudged Diego Terrezas to have handled in the area; the ball had actually struck him in the face. Gílson scrambled home a second for the hosts, before Douglas tucked home to seal the win.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
Flamengo progressed to the second round without recourse to a second match (Brazilian Cup games are decided over two legs, unless the away side wins the first leg by two goals or more), beating Murici 3-0 in the Rei Pelé stadium. Ronaldinho bagged his second goal for the Rubro-Negro, heading home a Léo Moura cross from close range. São Paulo welcomed Brazil U20 star Lucas (who has just renewed his contract with the club) back into their starting lineup for their meeting with Treze, and booked their place in round two thanks to goals from Dagoberto (2) and Fernandinho. Goiás, Uberaba, and Caxias also secured safe passage into the next round.
Best of the Rest
Internacional secured their spot in the knockout stages of the Taça Piratini (the first half of the Campeonato Gaúcho... keep up at the back), beating Pelotas thanks to a hattrick from young striker Leandro Damião. Grêmio, who had already qualified, slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Novo Hamburgo. Atlético Mineiro were victorious in a scintillating Belo Horizonte clássico; three goals from the talismanic Diego Tardelli and one from Neto Berola proved just enough to see off Cruzeiro 4-3.
Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 1-0 Resende, América 0-9 Vasco, Madureira 0-1 Fluminense, Botafogo 1-1 Macaé. Paulista; Paulista 0-0 Corinthians, Santos 2-0 Noroeste, Palmeiras 1-0 Americana, Portuguesa 2-3 São Paulo, Corinthians 2-0 Mogi Morim. Libertadores; Cruzeiro 5-0 Estudiantes, Grêmio 3-0 Oriente Petrolero, Emelec 1-1 Internacional, Deportivo Táchira 0-0 Santos. Copa do Brasil; Murici 0-3 Flamengo, Treze 0-3 São Paulo.
(Photo credits; (1) Gil Leonardi, (2) Paulo Sergio, (3) Miguel Schincariol.)