Friday, 28 January 2011

Rivaldo and Dagoberto Lift São Paulo; Gusmão Sacked Following Poor Start for Vasco

It was another busy, busy week in Brazil, with Copa Libertadores qualifiers and South American Youth Championship games jostling for space among two rounds of state championship action. In the Paulistão, Santos and Palmeiras continue to set the pace, but São Paulo sit just one point adrift after an inspired second half comeback against Americana. In Rio, Vasco da Gama continued their catastrophic start to 2011, slumping to two disheartening defeats against Nova Iguaçu and Boavista; results that today cost coach PC Gusmão his job. The other three big guns in the Carioca - Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo - maintained their 100% records. In continental competition, Grêmio and Corinthians both drew in the first legs of their Libertadores qualifiers.

Americana 3-4 São Paulo
São Paulo have become somewhat of a conundrum in Brazil over the past two years; theirs is a squad of undoubted quality, but one which has routinely underachieved both domestically and in the Libertadores. The problem, to some extent, is one of inflated expectations; the three consecutive Brasileirão titles that the club won between 2006 and 2008 under the stewardship of Muricy Ramalho represent - rightly or wrongly - the yardstick against which the Tricolor's achievements are bound to be judged. But even considered in isolation, São Paulo's ninth place finish in last year's Série A is hugely disappointing, especially once one glances at the players at their disposal; Dagoberto, Miranda, Fernandão, Ricardo Oliveira, Marlos and Jean would all find their way into most Brazilian sides.

Thumbs up for ludicrous transfers!

As well as undergoing some managerial turmoil (neither Ricardo Gomes and Sérgio Baresi even began to approach the kind of impact that Ramalho had at the Morumbi), São Paulo have suffered from the lack of a consistent tactical system; often switching between three and four defenders, shunting players (like Jean, Fernandinho and Fernandão) into a range of different positions, and failing to find a way of properly allying nippy forwards (Dagoberto, Marlos, Fernandinho) with beanpole giants like Fernandão and Washington. New boss Paulo César Carpeggiani, by his own admission, is still grappling with such issues, and spent the post-season break searching for, and moaning about his inability to locate, a bona fide No.10 for his side. That particular problem was solved this week by the sensational signing of Rivaldo, whose 38 years apparently proved no barrier to a return to the top table of Brazilian football. Whether this coup helps Carpeggiani to construct a stable system in his image remains to be seen.

Wednesday's clash with Americana, then, despite being São Paulo's fourth Paulistão game (they lost 1-0 to Ponte Preta four days earlier), still had a whiff of pre-season about it, with players staking their claim to a starting spot ahead of the real restructuring of the side. On the evidence of the first half, during which Americana earnt a deserved 2-1 lead, Carpeggiani needs to focus on his defence; Xandão, Alex Silva and the Atlético Madrid-bound Miranda were at sixes and sevens as Marcinho and Rafael struck for the hosts. The Tricolor required a slice of luck to even get on the scoresheet; Gercimar turned past his own goalkeeper after good wing play from Fernandinho.

São Paulo's two-goal hero Dagoberto.

São Paulo, though, inspired by the diminutive Dagoberto, took control in the second period. The man they call Dagol lofted a classy finish over the Americana 'keeper (and, according to the linesman, over the goal line) to get the visitors back on level terms, before bagging his second from Fernandão's cross. With 15 minutes remaining, Jean's long-range effort cannoned off the post and the unlucky Jaílson to put São Paulo 4-2 up. Fumagalli's injury time effort would prove no more than a consolation for the home side. A hard fought victory for São Paulo, then, who will hope for greater stability both on and off the pitch in the coming months.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
The state championships have claimed their first major victim; Vasco boss PC Gusmão was fired today following his side's abject start to the Carioca. Club president Roberto Dinamite actually promised on Thursday that Gusmão's position was safe, but after further talks with the club's directors, evidently decided to renege on that commitment. Talk is cheap in football, especially when one has (both metaphorically and, in Vasco's case, quite literally) a baying mob of fans to appease. Gusmão enjoyed a relatively succesful 2010, overachieving with Ceará before guiding Vasco to mid-table safety in Série A, but a run of three straight defeats brought his reign at the São Januário to a close.

I'm a PC; sacked Vasco boss Gusmão.

The Gigante da Colina faced Nova Iguaçu on Sunday, and found themselves 2-0 down within twenty minutes, due to some laughable defending. Rômulo and Marcel dragged Vasco back into contention, but with time running out, Nova Iguaçu striker William waltzed into the box unchallenged to slot home the winner. Things went from bad to worse on Wednesday, when Boavista romped to a convincing 3-1 win over the Cruzmaltino. Vasco's supporters must be seriously apprehensive about the coming year.

There are no such concerns for Série A champions Fluminense, who have hit the ground running this term. There were two goals apiece for Fred, Marquinho and Rodriguinho in Sunday's 6-2 win over Olaria, which was followed by a comfortable 3-1 win over Macaé. Recent acquisition Souza got off the mark for the club with a brace in that second game. Flamengo also racked up two wins, against the similarly-named América and Americano. Thiago Neves made his début for the Rubro-Negro in the latter clash, but it was Wanderley who hogged the headlines with two tap-ins.

Despite some problems behind the scenes (star striker 'Loco' Abreu and coach Joel Santana don't appear to be singing from the same hymn-sheet), Botafogo continued to impress, picking up 5-0 and 4-1 wins against Cabofriense and Madureira respectively. Young forward Caio netted in both games, and must be close to securing the regular starting spot which has thus far eluded him, whilst new signing João Filipe has tightened up the Fogão backline. Spare a thought, though, for Cabofriense midfielder Goeber, who had to explain to his daughter that the two goals he managed to score on Sunday were both at the wrong end of the field, and hence didn't merit her congratulatory cheers.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
In the immortal (and awkwardly adapted) words of Crowded House; everywhere Santos go, they always take the goals with them. The net rippled no fewer than twelve times in the Peixe's two games this week, as the early pace-setters beat Grêmio Prudente 4-2 and drew 3-3 with São Caetano. Former Manchester City midfielder Elano stamped his mark on both games, dictating play from midfield and netting no fewer than four goals. There were also signs that Keirrison - that paradigm European transfer flop - is beginning to regain some of the form that brought him into the public eye in the first place; he scored in both games.

Palmeiras, so abject in their opening game last week, suddenly look a force to be reckoned with, and sit level on points with Santos at the head of the table. A hard-fought win over Oeste was followed by the impressive dismantling of Paulista, a game which marked the return of legendary goalkeeper Marcos from injury. Kléber fired home a sumptuous volley in a 3-1 win for the Verdão. Corinthians only had the one Paulistão game this week, due to their participation in the Libertadores; the Timão were held 1-1 by Noroeste.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
Both Grêmio and Corinthians were in action in the qualifying round for this year's Libertadores, which kicks off next month. Corinthians hosted Colombian side Tolima, hoping to build up an advantage ahead of next week's tricky-looking away leg. Tite's side, however, endured a frustrating evening at the Pacaembu, and were unable to break the deadlock. A nervy return tie beckons for the Timão. Grêmio will be far happier, having battled to a useful 2-2 draw in Montevideo against Liverpool. André Lima and Douglas grabbed the all-important away goals for the Tricolor.

South American Youth Championship
The Brazil U20 side secured safe passage into the competition's final stage, despite not producing the fireworks that lit up their opening games in the competition. First up for Ney Franco's side this week were Bolivia, who produced a spirited display to claim a 1-1 draw. The seleção never really got into their rhythm and were somewhat cluttered in the attacking third; Casemiro's powerful forward bursts and Neymar's willingness to drop deep meant that (nominal) No.10 Lucas had little space in which to make an impression. Strikers Henrique and Willian José are, for me at least, too similar, although the former did tuck away a smart finish in the first half.

Henrique celebrates his winner against Ecuador.

Henrique was on target again on Tuesday, scoring a fine goal which handed Brazil victory over Ecuador. Franco rested most of his first choice players for the match, preferring instead to hand run-outs to his squad players. Having won Group B, Brazil now enter the six-team final group, hoping to secure qualification for the 2012 Olympic competition.

Best of the Rest
Grêmio somehow also squeezed two Campeonato Gaúcho games into their schedule this week, and emerged with maximum points, following wins over Canoas and São José-RS. The latter game was significant for being Jonas' final match for the club; the striker has joined Spanish giants Valencia after his extraordinarily low €1.25million release clause was met. Internacional, who continue to field a team of reserve players, also picked up two wins. Avaí continued their woeful Campeonato Catarinense form with a fourth loss on the bounce, while a 3-0 win over Trindade extended Atlético-GO's lead in the Goiás state championship.

Selected results. Carioca; America-RJ 1-3 Flamengo, Nova Iguaçu 2-3 Vasco, Fluminense 6-2 Olaria, Cabofriense 0-5 Botafogo, Flamengo 2-0 Americano, Boavista 3-1 Vasco, Fluminense 3-1 Macaé, Botafogo 4-1 Madureira. Paulista; São Paulo 0-1 Ponte Preta, Corinthians 1-1 Noroeste, Grêmio Prudente 2-4 Santos, Palmeiras 1-0 Oeste, Americana 3-4 São Paulo, Santos 3-3 São Caetano, Palmeiras 3-1 Paulista. Libertadores; Corinthians 0-0 Tolima, Liverpool 2-2 Grêmio. Other; Brazil U20 1-1 Bolivia U20, Brazil U20 1-0 Ecuador U20.

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Miguel Schincariol, (3) Marcelo Sadio, (4) EFE.)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Jádson and Renato Augusto Called Up to Seleção

Mano Menezes today announced the Brazil squad for the friendly against France on February 9th. There are maiden call-ups for Jádson, who has impressed in the Champions League with Shakhtar Donetsk, and for former Flamengo midfielder Renato Augusto, who now plays in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen.

First call-up; Jádson.

The full seleçao is as follows;

Júlio César (Internazionale)
Heurelho Gomes (Tottenham Hotspur)
Neto (Fiorentina)

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Rafael (Manchester United)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
André Santos (Fenerbahçe)
David Luiz (Benfica)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
Breno (Bayern Munich)
Luisão (Benfica)

Lucas (Liverpool)
Ramires (Chelsea)
Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Hernanes (Lazio)
Anderson (Manchester United)
Jádson (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Renato Augusto (Bayer Leverkusen)

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

There are high-profile recalls for Internazionale goalkeeper Júlio César, who hasn't appeared for the seleção since the World Cup, and for Anderson and Hernanes, whose form at club level (with Manchester United and Lazio respectively) has been rewarded. With Neymar playing for the Brazil U20 side, Hulk gains another chance to stake a claim up front, while Alexandre Pato makes the cut despite his recent injury woes at Milan. There is still no place, however, for more established names such as Luís Fabiano, Maicon, Lúcio, and Kaká, with Menezes keeping faith with young talents such as André, Rafael, Thiago Silva, and Ramires. Notably, however, and for the first time under the new regime, the squad doesn't include a single player who currently plies his trade in Brazil.

(Photo credit; Shakhtar.com)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Ronaldinho and the Beauty of Function

The wonderful football site GhostGoal is currently running a 'My Favourite Goal' series, which has already produced plenty of excellent articles. My contribution has now been published, and focuses on Ronaldinho's stunning goal against Chelsea in the 2004/2005 Champions League.


The finish, I argue, must be understood as a challenge to the notion that there is even such thing as a 'beautiful goal.' As such, it provides a perfect illustration of Dadá Maravilha's famous assertion that "there is no such thing as an ugly goal; ugly is not to score one." You can read the article here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

New Boys On Target for Fla; Leite Show Gives Santos Flying Start

Welcome, reader to the first of my weekly round-ups in 2011. It's been, for the most start, a fairly subdued start to the state championships, with many of the star attractions (such as Ronaldinho and Neymar) not in action. In the Paulistão, Santos' brilliant start suggests that they will again be the team to beat, whilst São Paulo have also claimed maximum points from the two rounds this week. In Rio, there were victories for three of the big guns, but Vasco already appear on the brink of meltdown after a home loss to Resende.

Flamengo 2-0 Volta Redonda

The signings of Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves, and the attendant media whirlwind, have hiked up the (never insignificant) sense of expectation at Flamengo in recent weeks. With the crushing disappointment of their 2010 campaign seemingly wiped from memory, many expect Fla to be the team to beat in the Rio state championship. Despite the absence of the aforementioned pair, the Rubro-Negro got their campaign got their campaign off to a good start on Wednesday, overcoming Volta Redonda 2-0 at the Engenhão.

Youngster Vander tries to claim the opening goal.

The early stages of the state championships, it must be noted, tend to favour the smaller teams, whose schedules allow them more time to prepare. Voltaço, for instance, who didn't compete in a national tournament in the second half of 2010, had been preparing for the Carioca for over a month, whereas Flamengo had undergone barely two weeks of pre-season training before this clash. The superior fitness level of the Volta players was visible in the early stages, and Fla 'keeper Felipe had to produce a fine save to prevent Lopes opening the scoring.

It was against the run of play, then, that Flamengo took the lead just before the break; Vander burst into the box, dribbled past his marker, and saw his cross canon in via the legs of Volta defender Padovani. The goal capped a fine evening for the 20-year-old, who has looked sharp since joining on loan from Bahia. The hosts' lead was doubled after the interval, when Léo Moura's delightful cross was headed home by another recent acquisition, Wanderley. His phonetic namesake, Fla coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, looked on contentedly for the remainder of the tie, as Fla secured maximum points.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Reigning Brasileirão champions Fluminense were without Darío Conca and Emerson for their opening fixture, and were frustrated for long periods by minnows Bangu. Souza, making his first competitive start for Flu since joining from Grêmio, had a bad day; getting himself sent off for two yellow card offences in quick succession. With five minutes remaining, former Lyon striker Fred settled the match, powering home a glorious header from Tartá's perfect cross. Botafogo, meanwhile, came from behind to record a 2-1 win over Duque de Caxias, with 'Loco' Abreu and Caio on the scoresheet.

Right said Fred; the Fluminense hitman is mobbed by teammates.

At the São Januário, Vasco were booed off by their own fans following a humbling loss to Resende. The visitors were on top throughout, and it took a fine performance from Vasco stopper Fernando Prass to keep them out until the 85th minute. Even Prass, however, was helpless to stop Resende's winning goal; some lax marking allowed Alexandro the space to slam a header into the far corner of the net. Vasco boss PC Gusmão has plenty of work to do on this evidence, and his task was further complicated on Thursday with the confirmation that Zé Roberto is joining Internacional. It could be a long season for the Gigante da Colina.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Ever keen to get one over on those lazy buggers in Rio, São Paulo crammed two rounds of state championship action into the opening week of the season. The early leaders are Santos, who enjoyed comfortable wins over Linense (4-1) and Mirassol (3-0). With Paulo Henrique Ganso still recovering from a knee injury, and Neymar at the South American Youth Championship (of which more later), the spotlight has fallen on electric attacking pair Zé Éduardo and Maikon Leite, who have bagged three goals apiece. The latter had agreed to join Palmeiras in June, but his exploits this week seem to have encouraged Santos to enter a legal battle for his services. Zé Éduardo, on the other hand, looks to be off to Italy in the near future, with Genoa believed to have had a bid accepted today. Meanwhile, in what nobody is calling "Big Name Player Back in Brazil Watch," Elano made his return to action, picking up an assist and generally impressing against Mirassol.

Santos forward Maikon Leite celebrates his goal against Linense.

Palmeiras and Corinthians, those most bitter of rivals, both managed four points from a possible six this week. The Verdão, whose performance in the 0-0 draw with Botafogo-SP was tepid (to put it politely), recovered some pride with the 4-1 routing of Ituano. Kléber, the budget Brazilian Carlos Tévez, was on target twice for Luiz Felipe Scolari's side. Corinthians ran out comfortable winners over Portuguesa on Sunday, but were held by a determined Bragantino side in midweek. The first game was lit up by a fantastic gol olímpico from Roberto Carlos, who continues to delight well into the twilight of his career.

Speaking of veterans, one of this week's most intriguing stories involves former Barcelona and seleção icon Rivaldo, he of the chiselled jawline and propensity for theatricality. The 38-year-old is currently president of Mogi Morim, and would have played against São Paulo on Sunday if not for the fact that his registration hadn't been cleared on time. Mogi suffered a 2-0 defeat in that game, and if rumours are to be believed, stand to lose plenty more besides. São Paulo, not content with taking three points from their opponents, are reported to be weighing up a transfer bid for Rivaldo himself. The player enjoyed a long reunion with former Brazil teammate (and São Paulo captain) Rogério Ceni after the game, and apparently impressed Tricolor officials with his physical condition (honestly, I'm not making this up). I await further news with bated breath. On the pitch, meanwhile, São Paulo notched up another win on Wednesday, beating São Bernardo thanks to goals from Dagoberto, Marlos, and Fernandinho.

South American Youth Championship
The Brazil U20 side got off to a flyer in Peru, overcoming Paraguay in a pulsating opening tie. The star of the show, predictably enough, was Neymar, who resembled a man among boys, and bagged all four goals in the seleção's 4-2 victory. The fourth goal was the pick of the bunch; a deft left-footed chip over the advancing Paraguay goalkeeper. It wasn't all plain sailing for Brazil; Zé Éduardo (the Parma player, not his Santos namesake) and Henrique were sent off, and coach Ney Franco was sent to the stands for moaning about a refereeing decision.

Hair raising; Neymar has excelled so far in Peru.

The U20s then made it two wins in two on Thursday, with a 3-1 win over Colombia. Despite the final two-goal margin, the Colombians provided a far stiffer challenge for Franco's side, and went into the halftime break on level pegging. Brazil, though, took control in the second period, thanks largely to three São Paulo youngsters; midfielder Casemiro nodded home the opener, and Lucas brilliantly set up Willian José for the second. Cardona tucked away a penalty to give Colombia hope, but Neymar wrapped up the scoring in emphatic style; beating his man and slamming home a shot at the near post.

Best of the Rest
The start of the Campeonato Gaúcho has been particularly muted, with both Grêmio and Internacional fielded weakened sides in the first week. Inter lost 1-0 to Cruzeiro-RS at the weekend, but recovered with a narrow victory over Porto Alegre on Wednesday; Ricardo Goulart bagged the only goal of that game. Perhaps more significant news for the Colorado was the surprising sale of youngster Giuliano, who joined Ukrainian side Dnipro in a €10million deal. Giuliano was one of Inter's best players last term, and many believed that a move to one of Europe's top clubs was well within his grasp. Grêmio, meanwhile, could only manage two draws; 2-2 against Lajaedense (thanks to goals from Jonas and Rafael Marques), and 1-1 against Ypiranga.

Série B champions Coritiba have made a strong start in the Paraná, winning both of their opening games. In the Campeonato Baiano, both Vitória and Bahia suffered opening day defeats, whilst in the Santa Catarina tournament, top flight Avaí sit bottom following consecutive losses. The Campeonato Mineiro, meanwhile, starts this week.

Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 2-0 Volta Redonda, Vasco 0-1 Resende, Botafogo 2-1 Duque de Caxias, Bangu 0-1 Fluminense. Paulista; Linense 1-4 Santos, Mogi Morim 0-2 São Paulo, Palmeiras 0-0 Botafogo-SP, Corinthians 2-0 Portuguesa, Santos 3-0 Mirassol, São Paulo 3-0 São Bernardo, Bragantino 1-1 Corinthians, Ituano 1-4 Palmeiras. Other; Brazil U20 4-2 Paraguay U20, Brazil U20 3-1 Colombia U20.

(Photo credits; (1) Gilvan de Souza, (2) Cleber Mendes, (3) Ivan Storti, (4) Mowa Press.)

Sunday, 16 January 2011

SKP State Championship Coverage

The new season is upon us, ladies and gentlemen, with state championships kicking off around Brazil this week. As always, my excitement at the return of futebol is tempered somewhat by the nature of such tournaments; the mix of larger sides and tiny provincial outfits generally ensures a surfeit of goals, but little in the way of genuine competition. Meanwhile, in Peru, the U20 seleção are set to start their South American Youth Championship campaign against Paraguay tomorrow.

With this hectic schedule (many of the state championships follow different formats, and some will have midweek fixtures) in mind, coverage on this site will, until the start of the Brasileirão in May, be organised into weekly round-ups. Every Friday, I will survey the events from the two biggest state championships (the Campeonato Carioca and the Paulistão), as well as picking out the best of rest from the Campeonato Gaúcho, the Campeonato Mineiro, and others. These round-ups will also include the U20 tournament, and the early rounds of the Copa do Brasil.

Muricy Ramalho; proof that organisation is good.

My hope is that by posting every Friday, the reader (and I) will be able to keep abreast of what can be a rather confusing and inpenetrable period in the Brazilian football calender. It does of course mean that coverage of a weekend's games will only arrive a few days later, but I think this is preferable to me posting a slew of posts (e.g. 'Paulistão Saturday round-up,' 'Carioca Tuesday evening round-up and two U20 matches' etc) throughout the week.

Look out, then, for the first of these round-ups in Friday 21st, which will include coverage of the opening rounds of the Paulistão and Carioca, as well as reaction from the Brazil U20 squad's first two fixtures. Até lá!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Olympic Hopes and Menezes in Tow; Franco's Kids Set for Sub-20 Test

The South American Youth Championship kicks off in Peru on Sunday, and will pack 35 games into its four week duration. The tournament, known in Brazil simply as the Sub-20, has long been viewed as the continent's premier showcase for young footballing talents, and has introduced stars such as Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez, and Adriano to the world in recent years. As such, the championship constitutes a month-long wet dream for scouts the globe over.

The competition, though, has another function; it serves as the qualifying round for both the FIFA U-20 World Cup (which will take place in Colombia later this year) and the London 2012 Olympic football tournement. Whilst there are four places available for the former, the latter is rather more exclusive; only the top two in Peru will be making their way to the UK. The potential Olympic payoff will of course provide added motivation for all of the competing countries, but few would doubt that it tickles the fancy of Brazil in particular.

The seleção, despite a World Cup record that has occasionally threatened to border on the hegemonic, have never managed to earn an Olympic title, despite appearing in no fewer than eleven such tournaments. Admittedly, the competition has rarely been a priority for Brazil, but there is still a feeling that a haul of two silver and two bronze medals constitutes significant underachievement by the nation's own standards. Such a sentiment was echoed in Dunga's seleção for the 2008 Beijing games, a list that contained established names such as Ronaldinho and Diego alongside the usual array of emerging talents. Despite watching his charges sail through the group stages, Dunga was left bitterly disappointed by his side's semi-final capitulation at the hands of Argentina. Qualification for the London tournament, then, is viewed as paramount for the U-20 side.

Brazil U-20 boss Ney Franco.

Guiding Brazil in Peru is Ney Franco, a talented coach with vast experience of player development. Franco spent a total of 14 years as youth coach in Belo Horizonte; initially for Atlético Mineiro and then for their local rivals Cruzeiro. Since his first step into management with Ipatinga, Franco has enjoyed successful (if relatively brief) spells at some of Brazil's most traditional sides, including Flamengo, Botafogo, and Atlético Paranaense. After guiding Coritiba to the 2010 Série B title, the 44 year-old was appointed to his current position. One of Franco's first tasks as U-20 boss was to select the squad for the upcoming tournament. The full seleção is as follows;

Gabriel (Cruzeiro)
Alex (Avaí)

Danilo (Santos)
Rafael Galhardo (Flamengo)
Alex Sandro (Santos)
Gabriel Silva (Palmeiras)
Bruno Uvini (São Paulo)
Juan (Internacional)
Romário (Internacional)
Saimon (Grêmio)

Alan Patrick (Santos)
Casemiro (São Paulo)
Fernando (Grêmio)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Oscar (Internacional)
Zé Éduardo (Parma)

Neymar (Santos)
Diego Maurício (Flamengo)
Henrique (Vitória)
Willian José (Grêmio Prudente)

The squad includes four Santos players who have all impressed in the past year. Neymar, of whom I'm sure the reader must now be aware, is joined by exciting left-back Alex Sandro, the versatile Danilo, and Alan Patrick, a wiry attacking midfielder. A muscle injury to Internazionale starlet Philippe Coutinho means that the creative duties are likely to fall on the shoulders of Lucas (formerly known as Marcelinho, keep up at the back), who was a revelation for São Paulo last term. It is striking, indeed, just how many of these youngsters have accrued substantial first team experience; as well as those already mentioned, Diego Maurício, Willian José, Casemiro, and Gabriel Silva have all made an impact in the Brasileirão in recent months.

São Paulo starlet Lucas; the artist formerly known as Marcelinho.

The squad - who share group B with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Paraguay - will be accompanied on their trip by Mano Menezes, the coach of the senior Brazil side. Menezes has often spoken about the need for greater continuity between the country's youth set-up and the full seleção, in order to ensure that youngsters with potential are properly groomed for an international career. In this context, his decision to travel with the group is surely an excellent one; he will be able to start building relationships with players who will form the spine of his future side. The youngsters, meanwhile, will be motivated by his presence; if the U-20 side is a stepping stone to the senior squad, strong performances could see them work their way into Menezes' plans.

The decision is yet another instance of the common sense thinking which has endeared Menezes to the footballing public. Given the kind of stubborness that defined Dunga's stint in charge of the seleção, such transparency at the heart of the Brazilian game has been greeted as a breath of fresh air. The world may be watching Franco's players, then, but the man they will really want to impress will probably be sharing their team coach.
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