Monday, 28 March 2011

SKP at the Emirates; Neymar Inspires Brazil to Victory Over Scotland

Man of the moment Neymar shot the seleção to a comfortable 2-0 win over Scotland yesterday, with SKP in attendance at the Emirates stadium. With the match gaining substantial press coverage in the UK, allow me to refrain from providing a regular match report. Instead, I shall review Brazil's performance with player ratings, in partial homage to one of my post-game pub-goers (of which more later). I might rate some other things too...

A very poor attempt at getting my Brazil flag in shot. Blame Mrs SKP.

Júlio César - 7/10

A watching brief for the Internazionale man.

Daniel Alves - 8/10
Outstanding energy. Always an outlet on the right side.

Lúcio - 7/10
A reassuring presence in defence, and burst forward to good effect a couple of times.

Thiago Silva - 7/10
Looked more composed alongside Lúcio than he has with David Luiz. Dealt well with the hard-running Kenny Miller.

André Santos - 8/10
Continues to impress; linked up well with Neymar, powered down the flank, and set up the opening goal. Marcelo might have to wait a while longer to earn a start.

Lucas Leiva - 6/10
Marshalled the defence reasonably well, but passing was fairly wayward.

Ramires - 6/10
Strong in the tackle and full of running, yet a lack of end-product. A case in point; his glorious surging run in the second half, which culminated in a terrible attempted pass to Neymar.

Elano - 7/10
Neat in possession, but not much creativity. Good dead-ball delivery.

Jádson - 4/10
A poor display from the Shakhtar Donetsk man; struggled to make any headway from starting spot on the right, and fared little better in the centre.

Leandro Damião - 7/10
A decent début from the youngster, who led the line with some aplomb. Hit the bar with a towering header, but should have done better with two second-half chances.

Neymar - 9/10
Brazil's standout performer; his tricks and pace provided a constant threat on the left of attack. Scored both goals, but should also be saluted for his contibution to the seleção's pressing game, particularly in the first half.

Substitutes - 6/10
A mixed bag. Young São Paulo flyer Lucas went on a couple of mesmerising runs, and would have picked up an assist if it wasn't for Jonas' lack of composure in the dying minutes. Elias and Renato Augusto didn't do much.

Cometh the hour... Neymar strokes home his second from the spot.

Mano Menezes - 7/10
The Brazil boss implemented a slight formation change in midfield; rather than having a two-player platform in front of the defence and one player in front (e.g. against the USA, Ganso played ahead of Lucas and Ramires), Menezes played two players - Elano and Ramires - in advance of Lucas. This, for the most part, helped Brazil commit numbers to the attack; Ramires was able to contribute down the left, with Elano doing a similar job on the right. The lack of a creative passer, however, remains a problem, and it seems doubtful whether the flipping of the midfield triangle will suit Paulo Henrique Ganso when he returns to the side.

In terms of personnel, there were positives and negatives. Leandro Damião proved an effective fixed point in attack, holding his position to create space for midfield runners and for Neymar. Alexandre Pato, although a more gifted player, cannot really be employed to that end. Lúcio and Elano enjoyed solid games on their return to the side, providing further evidence that Mano's reconciliation of old and new is bearing fruit. The selection of Jádson on the right, however, was problematic. A playmaker by trade, the 27-year-old offered little penetration, often simply passing back down the line to the more dynamic Daniel Alves. A temporary switch of positions with Elano merely replicated the problem. Menezes must wish to avoid the use of two out-and-out attackers on the flanks; otherwise, the selection of Porto winger Hulk on the right would be a no-brainer.

Pre-match entertainment - 9/10
Samba band thumping away on the concourse? Check. Video of all Ronaldo's World Cup goals? Check. Ronaldo actually coming onto the pitch to salute the crowd?! CHECK! The roar that greeted O Fenômeno was one of the best moments of the afternoon, and surely brought a lump to the throat of even the most hardened sceptics.

A bit of samba prior to kick-off never goes amiss.

Stadium music selection - 3/10
The stadium PA blasted out a selection of music to inspire the Scotland fans; "We'll Be Coming Down the Road" and the Proclaimers' "500 miles" were greeted warmly by those from North of the border. Attempts to get the Brazil fans geared up were decidely less succesful. Note to staff at the Emirates; Ricky Martin is not, I repeat IS NOT, Brazilian.

Scotland fans - 8/10
Loud, proud, and be-kilted, the (supposed) away fans created a great atmosphere in the Emirates. When a small pocket of Brazil fans piped up with a chorus of "Eu sou Brasileiro..." where SKP was seated, the Scotland fans respectfully clapped along, before launching into a rousing (but utterly bemusing) rendition of "Do-Re-Mi" from The Sound of Music. Weird and wonderful.

The idiot who threw a banana at Neymar - 0/10
An idiot.

Post-match amusement - 10/10
After the game I enjoyed a few drinks with blogging royalty; Michael Cox (of Zonal Marking fame), Rupert Fryer (South American Football don), and Scott Johnston (who runs TheFootyBlog.net). Lovely guys one and all.

(Photo credits; (1) & (3) Writer's own, (2) Tom Jenkins.)

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Neymaravilha!

With Brazil playing Scotland at Arsenal's Emirates stadium on Sunday, the lovely folks at ITV Football invited me to write a profile of seleção starlet Neymar.

You can read the article here.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Papai Joel Leaves Botafogo; Deco Hands Fluminense Libertadores Lifeline

There was yet more managerial turmoil in Brazil this week, with the lovable Joel Santana parting company with Botafogo after thirteen months at the helm. Fluminense and Santos, meanwhile, both of whom are themselves without full-time coaches, spent the week chasing replacements. On the pitch, Corinthians moved to the top of the Paulistão, whilst Fluminense boosted their hopes of qualifying for the the knockout stages of the Libertadores with a win over Mexican side América.

Vasco da Gama 2-0 Botafogo
Fans of Botafogo should be careful what they wish for. The torrent of abuse aimed at coach Joel Santana (which reached its apex with a mass chorus of "Joel out!") during and after Sunday's clássico loss to Vasco prompted the 62-year-old to tender his resignation on Tuesday. When the blood of those Botafoguenses drops below boiling point, however, they will surely come to regret their conduct.

An emotional Joel Santana speaks to the press on Tuesday.

Santana, nicknamed Papai Joel in reference both to the Portuguese for Santa Claus and to his paternal management style, had, given the meagre resources at his disposal, done an admirable job at the Engenhão; victory in last year's Rio state championship was followed by a strong Série A campaign which very nearly culminated in Libertadores qualification. Although only managing to reach the semi-finals of the Taça Guanabara, Santana's side had started the segundo turno of the Carioca well, and top Group B despite the derby defeat. The grief-stricken tone of Joel's midweek press conference suggested that he had himself been shocked to witness the club's supporters turn on him.

The man charged with replacing Santana is Caio Júnior, who had been coaching Qatari club Al-Gharafa. Despite a previous spell as manager of Flamengo, Júnior is hardly a household name in Brazil, and will have his work cut out to fill the shoes vacated by Joel. Sunday's loss suggested that defensive stability should be his priority; Botafogo's backline was perforated too easily in the run-up to Diego Souza's opener, and lapsed again to allow Éder Luís to wrap up the points. Such frailties, though, exist largely in spite of Santana's stewardship, rather than because of it. It remains to be seen how Botafogo will fare in the coming months, but one thing seems clear; fans will regret the day they stopped believing in Papai Joel.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Fluminense began the week in terrible fashion, both in footballing and administrative terms. A 2-0 loss to Boavista on Saturday (a match which was graced by a stunning long-range free-kick from centreback Gustavo) preceded an undignified scramble for a permanent coach. The Tricolor initially annouced the appointment of Gilson Kleina, only for the 42-year-old to state intention to stay at Ponte Preta. Kleina was, embarrassingly, the fourth coach to turn down the job since Muricy Ramalho's exit; Cuca, Levir Culpi, and Adílson Batista had also received approaches from the Laranjeiras club. Finally, later in the week, a solution was reached; the experienced Abel Braga will assume command when his contract with Al-Jazira (the club, not the phonetically-similar news channel) expires later in the year. Enderson Moreira will be the caretaker manager until then.

Rocket man; Boavista defender Gustavo (right) celebrates his wondergoal.

One almost expected Flamengo to conjure up some drama of their own to stay in the spotlight, but the week was a quiet one at Gávea. A side shorn of the suspended Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves could only manage a goalless draw with Cabofriense, and the club passed up the opportunity to sign a controversial former star...

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
That's where Corinthians come in. The Timão sealed the signing of Adriano on an 18-month contract, and are expected to unveil the striker officially next Tuesday; at the very sime time that São Paulo had scheduled the presentation of Luís Fabiano. This attempt at one-upmanship, though, seems misplaced; a case of "anything you can do, we can do worse," given the relative qualities (both psychological and physical) of the two players at this moment in time.

Corinthians did, however, manage to get one over on their neighbours this week, moving to the head of the Campeonato Paulista. Tite's side followed up a 1-0 victory over Americana with a more comfortable win over Oeste, a game in which Liédson scored his tenth goal in just nine appearances. Just how Levezinho will combine with the decidedly un-leve Adriano will be a crucial question for the Corinthians management to address. After gaining three points against Grêmio Prudente at the weekend, São Paulo lost ground on Wednesday night; the Tricolor fell to defeat against Paulista, despite Rogério Ceni's 99th career goal. The veteran goalkeeper will be hoping to seal his century in Sunday's derby against- yep, you guessed it - Corinthians.

Corinthians striker Dentinho celebrates his goal against Oeste.

Palmeiras moved up to second in midweek, thrashing Linense at the Arena Barueri. Patrik continued his impressive recent form, bagging two goals in that game. The Verdão remain two points adrift of Corinthians however, due to having dropped points against São Caetano at the weekend. Santos recovered from a loss to Bragantino with a Paulo Henrique Ganso-inspired win over Mogi Mirim, but were dealt a severe blow by that very player; Ganso looks destined to leave in the near future after stating his desire to play in Europe. Milan and Internazionale are believed to be the favourites for his signature.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
Fluminense, who have struggled in the Libertadores this term, were handed a lifeline on Wednesday; a late Deco goal gave them a scarcely-deserved victory over América at the Engenhão. Gum's header cancelled out Vicente Sánchez's opener in a tense first half, but an own-goal from Digão gave the Tricolor a mountain to climb. Araújo brough Flu level, however, before Deco sent fans into raptures. It was a rare goal from the former Portuguese international, who later admitted to having considered hanging up his boots last season.

Best of the Rest
Grêmio enjoyed a fine week in the Campeonato Gaúcho, racking up nine unanswered goals in games against Porto Alegre and Internacional-SM. Internacional could only draw with Novo Hamburgo on Saturday, but bounced back with victory over São José-RS. In Minas Gerais, Cruzeiro continued to impress with a 3-0 win over Funorte, whilst Atlético Mineiro picked up a win over Vila Nova. The latter also annouced the signing of striker Guilherme, a former Raposa favourite whose career in Europe failed to take off as many expected.

Selected results. Carioca; Vasco 2-0 Botafogo, Fluminense 0-2 Boavista, Cabofriense 0-0 Flamengo. Paulista; Bragantino 2-1 Santos, Corinthians 1-0 Americana, São Caetano 1-1 Palmeiras, Grêmio Prudente 0-1 São Paulo, Santos 3-1 Mogi Morim, Corinthians 3-0 Oeste, Palmeiras 3-0 Linense, Paulista 3-2 São Paulo. Libertadores; Fluminense 3-2 América.

(Photo credits; (1) Wagner Meier, (2) Cleber Mendes, (3) Tom Dib.)

Friday, 18 March 2011

Ramalho Exit Rocks Fluminense; Ganso Scores on Comeback

It's a testament to the unpredictability of Brazilian football that, just a couple of months into the season, two of the sides widely tipped for success this year - Fluminense and Santos - find themselves in turmoil. The latter, who still have no permanent coach in the wake of Adílson Batista's dismissal, are teetering on the brink of elimination from the Copa Libertadores after defeat against Colo Colo. The return of Paulo Henrique Ganso from injury does offer some solace, but the Peixe face an uphill battle to progress past the first stage of the continent's biggest competition. Things, though, could be worse, as the reigning Brazilian champions found out on Sunday...

Flamengo 0-0 Fluminense
As parting shots go, this one was up there with the best. "There were even," claimed Muricy Ramalho, finishing off his rant at former employers Fluminense, "rats in the changing rooms." Thus ended a turbulent few days at Laranjeiras; a healthy dose of humiliation was mixed into an already-potent cocktail of confusion, disappointment, and despair. Sunday's game against Flamengo, normally one of the highlights of the Campeonato Carioca, turned out to be neither interesting nor particularly relevant to the major developments of the week.

Alarm bells were firstly raised on Saturday, when Flu's vice president Alcides Antunes was sacked. Antunes, for whom, despite rumours of a recent rift, Ramalho held a long-standing admiration, found out about his dismissal on the radio. One day later, after one of the dullest clássicos in recent memory, Muricy announced that he too would be leaving the club that he guided to the Brasileirão title just three months ago.

Flu jab; Ramalho contemplates his future during Sunday's game.

The decision to leave, claimed Ramalho, had actually been made before the weekend's events. The 55-year-old declared that he felt let-down by the Tricolor hierarchy, who reneged on promises to improve facilities at the club. Of particular concern was the club's training centre, which - rodents aside - is apparently vastly inferior to those of similarly prestigious clubs in the country. The abject state of the turf on the practice pitch, for example, is thought to have contributed to Fluminense's frequently lengthy injury list in recent months.

The situation at Laranjeiras, of course, must be unfavourably compared to that at São Paulo, a club that reaped the benefits of the widespread structural change instigated by Muricy during his time at the Morumbi. It seems likely that Ramalho's decision was one motivated by frustration at the intransigence of the Fluminense directors, who, despite the club's obvious improvement on the pitch, remained reluctant to surrender power to the coach. Only hindsight will reveal whether their strategy was a wise one.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
With Flamengo and Fluminense mustering precious little excitement, it was left to Vasco and Botafogo to provide some attacking intrigue this week. Thankfully, both stepped up to the plate, netting four goals apiece. Argentine striker Herrera has rediscovered his form of late, and netted a brace in Botafogo's victory over Americano. Emblematic forward Loco Abreu and defender João Felipe were also on target for O Glorioso.

Old man river; Vasco's Felipe (right) competes for a header.

Madureira certainly put up a fight against Vasco, twice equalising in the second period, but finally succumbed to two late strikes; Bernardo rounded off his hattrick with a brave header, before Felipe Bastos drilled home to secure the points. Significant for Vasco was the performance of veteran playmaker Felipe (not-Bastos), who set up the first two goals, and impressed with his passing. The Gigante da Colina arguably enjoyed an even better week off the pitch; wrapping up the signing of Internacional striker Alecsandro, and receiving the news that Juninho Pernambucano is keen on a return to the São Januário.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
All of the big guns in the São Paulo state championship recorded victories at the weekend, leaving them all tied on 28 points. São Paulo (FC) remain top thanks to a convincing 3-0 win over Santo André. Dagoberto nodded home the opener after some delightful wing play from Juan, before youngsters Lucas (with a stunning Paul Scholes-style volley) and Casemiro put the game to bed. With Luís Fabiano returning to the Morumbi, São Paulo look a good bet to challenge for honours this year.

Corinthians were without Liédson for their match against Mirassol, and needed a late Bruno César goal to ensure maximum points. Liédson's replacement, the young striker Willian, gave a good account of himself, finding the net with two predatory efforts. The Timão also had an administrative reshuffle this week, with former Arsenal midfielder Edu being appointed as the club's new director of football.

Back in action; Santos star Paulo Henrique Ganso.

Paulo Henrique Ganso, making his first appearance since August, came off the bench to inspire Santos to a 2-1 win over Botafogo-SP. A visionary pass from youngster allowed Zé Éduardo to set up Elano for the opener, before Ganso himself got on the scoresheet with a tap-in. Palmeiras, meanwhile, kept up their challenge with a win over São Bernardo; Danilo and Patrik bagged the goals.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
Santos, despite the excitement generated by Ganso's return earlier in the week, fell to a 3-2 loss against Colo Colo; a result which leaves them with just two points at the halfway point of the group stage. Elano's long range free-kick and a glorious Neymar finish gave the seasiders hope in Chile, but goals from Paredes, Miralles, and Scotti ensured that the hosts emerged victorious. Santos, who are apparently keen on appointing the aforementioned Muricy Ramalho as permanent coach, have plenty of work to do to progress.

Grêmio picked up a useful draw away to Léon de Huánuco, thanks to a strike from Carlos Alberto. The former Porto man proceeded to celebrate in amusing style; imitating the "bum-bouncing" of TP Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba, who in December helped the African club defeat Grêmio's local rivals Internacional at the Club World Cup. I take my hat off to such ludicrously convoluted baiting.

Internacional and Cruzeiro, the two Brazilian clubs who have really impressed in the competition so far, maintained their fabulous records. The former beat Jorge Wilstermann 4-1, with young forward Leandro Damião impressive yet again. Cruzeiro, meanwhile, racked up no fewer than six goals against Tolima, taking their tournament total to 15 in just four matches. Mano Menezes was in attendance at the Arena do Jacaré, and will have been impressed with a number of players, including Wallyson, Roger, and recent seleção call-up Henrique.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
Four teams secured their place in the last sixteen of the Brazilian cup thanks to comfortable away wins. Flamengo, who remain unbeaten in 2011, brushed Fortaleza aside, while a Kléber-inspired Palmeiras routed minnows Uberaba 4-0. Náutico and Atlético Paranaense also advanced, beating Bangu and Paulista respectively.

Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 0-0 Fluminense, Botafogo 4-0 Americano, Madureira 2-4 Vasco. Paulista; Santos 2-1 Botafogo-SP, São Paulo 3-0 Santo André, Mirassol 2-3 Corinthians, Palmeiras 2-0 São Bernardo. Libertadores; Léon de Huánuco 1-1 Grêmio, Colo Colo 3-2 Santos, Cruzeiro 6-1 Tolima, Jorge Wilstermann 1-4 Internacional. Copa do Brasil; Fortaleza 0-3 Flamengo, Uberaba 0-4 Palmeiras.

(Photo credits; (1) Ivo Gonzalez, (2) Gilvan de Souza, (3) Miguel Schincariol.)

Friday, 11 March 2011

Big Four Rise to Summit of Paulistão; Vasco Continue to Struggle

Brazilian football's biggest stars were out in force this week, as the country enjoyed its annual carnaval celebrations. Ronaldinho was a busy boy, stepping out for no fewer than three samba schools, whilst other stars such as Neymar, Kléber, and Darío Conca soaked up the jovial atmosphere. Ronaldo, meanwhile, was photographed partying, inexplicably (to me at least), with Jude Law. The state championships, though, rolled on relentlessly, in spite of such social commitments.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Two rounds of action bookended the festivities in São Paulo, where the traditional 'big four' have all risen to the top of the Paulistão table. Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos, and São Paulo have all accumulated 25 points after twelve games, with the latter currently holding first place due to their superior number of victories. The Tricolor picked up 2-0 wins over São Caetano and Ituano this week, with midfielder-cum-rightback Jean scoring in both games.

Another strike from Liédson helped Corinthians to a comfortable win over Linense on Saturday, but the Timão tasted defeat in midweek; an early Éverton Santos goal meant that Ponte Preta left the Pacaembu with all three points. Palmeiras recovered from their goalless draw against Santo André with a Jorge Valdivia-inspired victory over Noroeste. There appear, however, to be storm clouds brewing for the Verdão; star striker Kléber yesterday hit out at coach Luiz Felipe Scolari for criticising his own players.

Neymarvellous; the young striker celebrates a strike against Portuguesa.

Santos steadied their ship after the dismissal of Adílson Batista, recording comfortable wins over Oeste and Portuguesa. Zé Éduardo (or, as he is increasingly (and toe-curlingly) known, Zé Love) netted a brace in the former match, and Neymar repeated the trick in the second. Marcelo Martelotte, the club's caretaker manager, looks to be doing a decent job thus far.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Ronaldinho prepared for the carnaval in the best possible fashion, scoring Flamengo's second in a tight 3-2 win over Olaria at the weekend. Thiago Neves also popped up with a brace for the Rubro-Negro, whose fans would have been forgiven for expecting a post-party slump against Bangu on Thursday. As it turned out, Fla recorded another victory, despite never really getting out of second gear. Ronaldinho rounded off his week with a goal from the penalty spot, and Diego Maurício headed home the winner in injury time.

Diego Maurício is congratulated by Ronaldinho after his goal against Bangu.

Fluminense have also started the Taça Rio in ruthless style. Araújo opened his account for the club in a narrow win over Resende, before a Darío Conca masterclass crushed América at the Engenhão. Young forward Alex scored his first professional goal for Botafogo on Sunday, as they strolled to a 4-2 victory over Volta Redonda. O Glorioso also claimed maximum points against Nova Iguaçu in midweek.

After performing terribly in the opening section of the Carioca, Vasco da Gama were hoping for a marked improvement in the second half of the campaign. Things got off to the worst possible start, however, with a 3-1 loss to Macaé at the weekend; new coach Ricardo Gomes could probably hear knives being sharpened at the away end. Luckily for him, the Gigante da Colina regained some pride with victory over Duque de Caxias on Wednesday evening, but it remains to be seen whether he can coax such performances from a modest squad on a frequent basis.

Best of the Rest
Excellent performances from youngsters Oscar and Leandro Damião propelled Internacional to a 4-0 win over Ypiranga in the Gauchão, a result that suggests that they'll be taking the second half of the competition somewhat more seriously than they did the first. In the Campeonato Paranaense, Atlético-PR needed a goal from Kléberson to rescue a point against Corinthians-PR.

In 'footballing icons debasing themselves for money' news, a team comprised of veteran seleção heroes (including Romário, Bebeto, and Cafu) played a Chechnya select side which included Ruud Gullit and Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the region. Brazil ran out 6-4 victors, but every goal was celebrated by the bleak grimace of men who really should know better.

Selected results. Paulista; São Caetano 0-2 São Paulo, Palmeiras 0-0 Santo André, Oeste 0-2 Santos, Linense 0-2 Corinthians, São Paulo 2-0 Ituano, Noroeste 1-2 Palmeiras, Santos 3-0 Portuguesa, Corinthians 0-1 Ponte Preta. Carioca; Macaé 3-1 Vasco, Botafogo 4-2 Volta Redonda, Flamengo 3-2 Olaria, Resende 1-2 Fluminense, Vasco 4-2 Duque de Caxias, Nova Iguaçu 0-1 Botafogo, Bangu 1-2 Flamengo, Fluminense 3-1 América.

(Photo credits; (1) Tom Dib, (2) Cleber Mendes.)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

SKP + World Football Daily

World Football Daily is an excellent radio show which operates out of the USA, providing news and views from around the globe. I was pleased to be invited onto Thursday's show to talk about Brazilian football; topics covered included the retirement of Ronaldo, the progress of Série A clubs in the Libertadores, and Brazil's South American Youth Championship victory.

Subscribers can access my segment on the show here.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Ronaldinho Fires Flamengo to Taça Guanabara Title; Santos Sack Batista

Greetings, reader, and welcome to another SKP weekly round-up! There is, as ever, plenty to get through, including Libertadores and Copa do Brasil games, but I'll start in the Rio state championship, where Flamengo gained their first silverware of the year...

Flamengo 1-0 Boavista
Sunday's Taça Guanabara final was a mismatch made in heaven. It pitted Flamengo, the best-supported team in Brazil, against minnows Boavista; a local outfit whose stadium holds just 6,000 people. True, the latter had dumped current Série A champions Fluminense out in the semi-finals, but that was just a fluke, right? Surely they couldn't repeat the trick ? Well no, as it turned out, they couldn't. But Boavista made a decent fist of the match at the Engenhão, ensuring that their fairytale run to the final ended honourably, if not gloriously.

Flamengo, although arousing plenty of excitement with their recent transfer dealings, haven't been playing particularly well; defensive solidity has masked a lack of tactical clarity in attack, whilst Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves have hardly been firing on all cylinders since joining the club. Sunday saw coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo shuffle his pack a little; Ronaldinho played as a nominal striker, with Neves, Renato Abreu, and Darío Bottinelli all providing support from advanced midfield roles.

The experiment didn't really work; Fla struggled to create chances, and flying rightback Léo Moura was, once again, their best attacking outlet. A frustrating first half prompted Luxemburgo to throw on a more orthodox striker after the interval; youngster Guilherme Negueba was preferred to Deivid, who has struggled to impress since arriving from Fenerbahçe last year. The change improved things somewhat, yet Flamengo would ultimately require some dead ball magic to break the deadlock. With 70 minutes played, a foul on Thiago Neves gave Fla a free-kick twenty-five yards from goal. Ronaldinho, seizing the chance to stamp his name on the match, set the ball down before dispatching a glorious effort which nestled into the corner of the net.

Ronaldinho and Willians with the Taça Guanabara trophy.

It would be the last meaningful action of the game, with Boavista unable to pose a real attacking threat, and Fla happy to run down the clock. The final whistle predictably brought crazed celebration from the Rubro-Negro players, who have claimed their first silverware of the season without getting out of second gear. The real winners in all of this, though, one could argue, were the losers; Boavista's first final appearance will likely live long in the memory of their modest fanbase.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
The weekend's derby game between São Paulo and Palmeiras produced some extraordinary feats of commitment... amongst fans in the stands. Heavy rainfall meant that kick-off was delayed by an hour, but supporters kept themselves busy by splashing and swimming (yes, you did read that correctly) in the flooded upper tiers of the Morumbi stadium. The game, when it finally got underway, was a scrappy one, with both sides guilty of some cynical fouling in the opening period. São Paulo went ahead through Fernandinho's rocket, before the game was delayed once more due to floodlight failure. Palmeiras, who gained a numerical advantage when Alex Silva was sent off for the Tricolor, grabbed a late equaliser through Adriano.

Swimming in the rain; São Paulo fans make the most of a flooded Morumbi.

Corinthians picked up their third successive win, brushing aside Grêmio Prudente at the Pacaembu. There were two more goals in that match for Liédson, who is enjoying a fine start to his his second stint with the Timão. Santos, meanwhile, could only manage a 1-1 draw with São Bernardo, a result that proved to be the final nail in coach Adílson Batista's coffin. The 42-year-old was only in charge of the seasiders for eleven competitive games, yet alienated fans with recent team selections; his decision to leave out form strikers Maikon Leite and Zé Éduardo for two important games (against Táchira and Corinthians) came in for particular criticism. Marcelo Martelotte will act as caretaker boss until a permanent replacement is found.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
It wasn't a great week for Brazilian clubs in continental competition; four of the country's representatives were in action, but only one managed a win. That side was Grêmio, who overcame Léon de Huánuco thanks to goals from André Lima and Borges. Renato Gaúcho's men now lead Group 2, but have played one game more than Junior Baranquilla, who have an equal number of points.

André Lima, the self-styled 'immortal warrior' celebrates his goal for Grêmio.

Santos looked to have got their first win at home to Cerro Porteño, but an injury time Roberto Nanni strike cancelled out Elano's opener. Cruzeiro also drew, but a point on the road against Tolima represents a fairly good result. Both the Peixe and the Raposa will be fairly confident of progress from their respective groups. The same cannot be said, however, of Fluminense; the Rio giants were defeated 1-0 by América at the Azteca stadium, and sit four points adrift of second place after three games. With tricky ties in Argentina and Uruguay yet to come, Flu could well be in trouble.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
Botafogo scraped into the second round of the Brazilian cup, beating minnows River Plate-SE on penalties after drawing 1-1 on aggregate. They were joined on Wednesday by Palmeiras, who thrashed Comercial-PI thanks to four goals from Adriano, a man who goes by the nickname Michael Jackson, due to a (supposed) likeness to the (supposed) king of pop. Atlético Mineiro booked their place in round two with an enormous 8-1 win over Iape-MA, and partial namesakes Atlético Paranaense and Atlético Goianiense also went through. Perhaps the biggest team to get eliminated were Sport Recife, who lost on away goals to Sampaio Corrêa.

Best of the Rest
The final of the Taça Piratini (the first stage of the Campeonato Gaúcho) will see Grêmio face Caxias; the former coasted past Cruzeiro-RS, whilst the latter needed penalties to see off São José-RS. América-MG's 2-1 win over Atlético-MG allowed them to leapfrog the Galo into first place in the Campeonato Mineiro, whilst minnows Criciúma (who, incidentally, I once coached on Football Manager) beat Figueirense to win the first stage of the Santa Catarina state championship. There were also primeiro turno trophies for Coritiba (in the Campeonato Paranaense) and Ceará (in the Campeonato Cearense).

Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 1-0 Boavista. Paulista; São Paulo 1-1 Palmeiras, Corinthians 4-0 Grêmio Prudente, Santos 1-1 São Bernardo. Libertadores; América 1-0 Fluminense, Grêmio 2-0 Léon de Huánuco, Santos 1-1 Cerro Porteño, Tolima 0-0 Cruzeiro.

(Photo credits; (1) Bruno de Lima, (2) Fernando Pilatos/UOL, (3) EFE.)

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Menezes Names Squad for Scotland Friendly

Mano Menezes today announced the Brazil squad ahead of the the friendly with Scotland, which will take place at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on March 27th.

The full seleção is as follows;

Júlio César (Internazionale)
Jefferson (Botafogo)
Victor (Grêmio)

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Maicon (Internazionale)
André Santos (Fenerbahçe)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Lúcio (Internazionale)
Luisão (Benfica)

Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Lucas (Liverpool)
Ramires (Chelsea)
Henrique (Cruzeiro)
Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Renato Augusto (Bayer Leverkusen)
Jádson (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Elano (Santos)

Neymar (Santos)
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Nilmar (Villarreal)
Jonas (Valencia)

Slowly but surely, the old guard are shuffling their way back in from the cold; Lúcio, Maicon, and Elano return to the squad for the first time since Brazil's World Cup disappointment. The former pair have benefitted from the man management of countryman Leonardo at Internazionale, whilst Elano has been in electric form since returning to Santos. Rafael, Breno, and Anderson all drop out to make room.

First call-up; Cruzeiro midfielder Henrique.

Valencia new boy Jonas, the top-scorer in last season's Brasileirão with Grêmio, earns his first call-up, as does Henrique, a consistently impressive performer for Cruzeiro. Perhaps more exciting, however, is the selection of Lucas, the São Paulo attacking midfielder who has shot to stardom in recent months. The 18-year-old, who impressed for Brazil's U20 side in the South American Youth Championship, will hope to take the step up to the senior side in his stride.

In midfield, there are further chances for Jádson and Renato Augusto, and Menezes favourites Elias, Lucas, Ramires, and Sandro all retain their places. Lazio midfielder Hernanes, who was sent off against France, misses out this time, as does Hulk; I, for what it's worth, would certainly have selected that particular pair. Other players to miss out are André (who recently joined Bordeaux on loan from Dynamo Kyiv) and Robinho, who, according to Menezes, will benefit from a rest.

SKP will be in attendance at the Emirates, so allow me to suggest my preferred starting XI (in Menezes' preferred 4-2-1-3 formation) from the above 24 (I hope you're reading this, Mano!): Júlio César; Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, André Santos; Lucas, Elano; Lucas; Nilmar, Pato, Neymar. Ridiculously attacking, but come on, it's Brazil! (And perhaps more pertinently, it's Scotland.*) Stay tuned for my match report later this month.

* This is a JOKE.

(Photo credit; Beto Oliveira.)
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