Monday, 30 May 2011

Galo Go Top With Win Over Avaí; Palmeiras Hold Cruzeiro

It's been a funny old start to the season. Many of the putative title favourites have struggled in the opening two rounds - Cruzeiro, Santos, and Internacional have only accumulated three points between them - whilst Coritiba, a side who racked up 24 straight wins earlier in the year, are yet to get of the mark. The early pace-setters, meanwhile, are Atlético Mineiro, a side who spent last season battling against the drop...

Avaí 1-3 Atlético Mineiro
Hello, and welcome to the second (and hopefully final) edition of "Who Beat Avaí in Série A This Week?" Our loveable fall-guys hosted Atlético Mineiro on Saturday, hoping to banish the memory of last week's thrashing at the hands of Flamengo. They did exactly that, although hardly in the manner desired; a 3-1 defeat will only provoke a new set of nightmares this week.

It all started so well for the Leão da Ilha. With just seven minutes on the clock, they snatched the lead; Fábio Santos coolly slotting home after Rafael Coelho's cushioned header. The Ressacada burst into life, optimistic that the goal was a sign of things to come. It wasn't. Before the midway point of the half, Atlético were level; centreback Leonardo Silva profited from some lax marking to volley into the bottom corner. Things got even worse for the hosts after the break; Réver powered home a header, thereby instigating a game of "anything you can do..." with his defensive partner. Leonardo Silva, ever the competitor, responded in kind; nodding home his second, and his side's third. Avaí's backline was nowhere to be seen.

Atlético Mineiro midfielder Giovanni Augusto (left) in action against Avaí.

The result - their second win in two matches - puts Atlético joint top of Série A. Theirs is an impressive squad, boasting attacking riches - see Mancini, Guilherme, Magno Alves, Daniel Carvalho, Neto Berola - that must be the envy of many Brazilian clubs. Yet the Galo are often beset by instability; their revolving-door transfer policy has been a disrupting factor, one which makes life difficult for their coaches. Vanderlei Luxemburgo, for instance, one of the country's most respected técnicos, was unable to exert any great influence in Belo Horizonte last year. Early signs, however, suggest that Dorival Júnior is growing into the role, enlivened by the challenge it represents. If he can continue to coax performances like this from his side, Atlético could mount an unexpected title challenge.

Brasileirão Gameweek 2 Round-up
Corinthians and São Paulo, two sides from Brazil's largest city, also maintained their 100% records over the weekend. The former overcame Coritiba at the wonderfully-named Fonte Luminosa (Luminous Source) stadium, thanks to goals from midfielders Paulinho and Danilo. A stunning injury time goal from Lucas, meanwhile, gave the Tricolor all three points from their match against Figueirense.

São Paulo starlet Lucas lines up his match-winning strike.

The fourth side to have managed two victories thus far is Vasco da Gama; the Rio side dispatched América-MG with consummate ease, despite fielding a reserve side. Enrico scored the goal of the game for the Gigante da Colina, running onto Jéferson's impeccable through ball and finishing at the near post. Vasco's city rivals Botafogo also picked up a win on Sunday, beating a second-string Santos 1-0 thanks to Fábio Ferreira's strike.

Internacional continued their stuttering start to the Brasileirão, losing at home to unfancied Ceará. Ironically, the only goal of that match was scored by Iarley, a former idol at the Porto Alegre club. His muted celebration will have been appreciated at the Beira-Rio. Atlético Paranaense are another side without a win; the Furacão went down to Grêmio due in large part to a hilarious (or tragic, depending on your allegiances) own goal from Rafael Santos.

Reigning champions Fluminense got their first points of the season, beating Atlético Goianiense in a tightly-contested clash at the Serra Dourada. Leandro Euzébio, Flu's zagueiro artilheiro, was on target for Enderson Moreira's side. In Minas Gerais, Palmeiras picked up a useful point against Cruzeiro; a stunning strike from Luan put the Verdão into the lead, only for Anselmo Ramon to poach an equaliser at the death.

Making his point; Fluminense goalscorer Leandro Euzébio celebrates.

The most exciting tie of the weekend was arguably that between Bahia and Flamengo, at the former's Pituaçu ground. Lulinha (one of the many players in Série A who should be filed under "former wonderkid") and Jóbson both struck fine goals in the opening period, but Ronaldinho Gaúcho's tap-in kept the Rubro-Negro in contention. The visitors reacted well in the second period; Darío Bottinelli and Egídio both conjured up cultured finishes to put Fla in command. With the final seconds ticking down, Bahia looked to have run out of steam, but managed one final raid forward; Maranhão's delicate pass found the irrepressible Jóbson, who drilled past Felipe. A fine result for the Tricolor de Aço.

Série A results; Botafogo 1-0 Santos, Internacional 0-1 Ceará, Avaí 1-3 Atlético-MG, São Paulo 1-0 Figueirense, Corinthians 2-1 Coritiba, Bahia 3-3 Flamengo, Atlético-PR 0-1 Grêmio, Cruzeiro 1-1 Palmeiras, Vasco 3-0 América-MG.

(Photo credits; (1) Cristiano Andujar, (2) Miguel Schincariol, (3) Carlos Costa.)

Friday, 27 May 2011

Vasco and Coritiba Reach Cup Final; Santos Beat Cerro Porteño

This week provided plenty of cup drama in Brazilian football, with the semi-finals of both the Copa do Brasil and the Libertadores taking place. Vasco and Coritiba progressed domestically, whilst Santos established a first leg lead in the continental competition.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
Vasco travelled to Avaí's Ressacada stadium on Wednesday, hoping to build on their strong Série A display against Ceará at the weekend. Ricardo Gomes' side started the match in fine fashion, and led within five minutes; Avaí midfielder Revson could only flick Felipe's devilish free-kick into his own net. The Gigante da Colina would go on to double their advantage before the interval, and in some style; Alecsandro's delicate through-ball found Diego Souza, who effortlessly clipped a finish over the onrushing Renan. Vasco took their foot off the gas in the second period, but saw out the match with some comfort.

Vasco goalkeeper Fernando Prass celebrates his side's victory.

In the other semi, Coritiba snuck past Ceará to reach their first ever Copa do Brasil final. A tight match at the Couto Pereira was settled by a wonderful goal; Anderson Aquino wriggled past two defenders on the edge of the area, before curling a wonderful shot into the corner of the net. Marcelo Oliveira, who has already lead the Coxa to state championship glory this term, will be hoping to add to his haul in the two-legged final.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
In-form Santos welcomed Cerro Porteño to the Pacaembu on Wednesday, for the first leg of their Libertadores semi-final. The Peixe, eager to establish an advantage ahead of the return leg in Paraguay, started the stronger; both Léo and Elano went close in the opening stages. The breakthrough finally came just before halftime; Neymar (who else?) danced past a cluster off defenders, before lofting a cross to the far post. Santos centreback Edu Dracena could hardly believe his luck, and headed home via the crossbar. Cerro Porteño almost managed to grab an immediate equaliser, but Rafael pulled off a stunning save to deny Benítez.

Edu Dracena wheels away after giving Santos a crucial lead.

The hosts continued to impress in the second half, and had numerous chances to double their lead; Neymar brought a flying save from Barreto, and Maikon Leite (who came on for the woeful Zé Eduardo) blazed over from a good position. The best opportunity of all, however, arrived in injury time. Neymar's deflected cross landed at feet of Alan Patrick, but the youngster could only scuff his shot straight at the 'keeper from five yards. Muricy Ramalho will hope that his side's profligacy doesn't come back to haunt them in the second leg.

Results. Copa do Brasil; Avaí 0-2 Vasco (1-3 on aggregate), Coritiba 1-0 Ceará (1-0 on aggregate). Libertadores; Santos 1-0 Cerro Porteño.

(Photo credits; (1) Antonio Carlos Mafalda, (2) Ivan Storti.)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Brazilian Football Chat

I made an appearance on the ever-excellent Gib Football Show yesterday, to talk about all things Brazilian football. The topics covered included the start of the Série A season, the form of Ronaldinho, Brazil's preparations for the World Cup, and the connection between Brazil's youth and senior sides. Aside from myself, and host Andrew Gibney, the podcast also featured Brent Atema, who runs Global Football Today, and Scott Johnston, of TheFootyBlog.net.

You can download or listen to the podcast here.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Ronaldinho Inspires Fla to Opening Day Win; São Paulo Overcome Reigning Champions Fluminense

The 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro got underway at the weekend, just over five months since the conclusion of the previous edition. With many of the supposed favourites for the title fluffing their opening lines, it was Flamengo who made the biggest splash; the Rubro-Negro thrashed Avaí in this week's featured game.

Flamengo 4-0 Avaí
Patience, they say, is a virtue. Not that Flamengo would know; the power-brokers at the Rio club have become infamous in recent times for their rash decisions and short-term thinking. (The sacking of Andrade just weeks after he guided them to the 2009 Série A title provides a telling case in point.) There are signs, however, that the Rubro-Negro may finally be learning the value of playing the long game.

Despite the marquee signing of Ronaldinho, Flamengo's Campeonato Carioca victory was achieved largely thanks to the pragmatism of coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo; the former Real Madrid man formed a robust unit which ground down opponents, rather than blowing them away. Previously, such (occasionally insipid) displays may have drawn the ire of Fla's hierarchy and fans, desperate for a stylish, all-conquering team. Any talk of a "bedding-in" period would have been given short shrift at Gávea; this is usually a club that wants it all, and wanted it yesterday.

Ronaldinho celebrates his goal with Egídio.

Thankfully, Luxa has been granted more time than some of his predecessors; a strategy that started to pay off on Saturday. Hosting Avaí in Macaé (a seaside town located nearly 200km from Rio itself), Flamengo turned in an attacking display full of movement, skill, and nuance, one which proved more than sufficient to see off the Leão da Ilha. Particularly impressive was Ronaldinho, who looked twice the player that had slumbered through the state championships. The buck-toothed forward played an instrumental role, scoring Fla's second with a curling effort, and setting up Diego Maurício for the fourth.

Also effective were Darío Bottinelli and Thiago Neves, both of whom also got their names on the scoresheet; the former finished with ease from close range, and the latter rounded off a fine break involving young striker Wanderley. The scoreline may have flattered Fla slightly - Avaí certainly provided a threat in the first half, and were unlucky not to score through Rafael Coelho - but the home fans will be buoyant; it appears that the wait for their side to produce exciting attacking football may be over.

Brasileirão Gameweek 1 Round-up
Saturday evening also saw good wins of Atlético Mineiro and Vasco da Gama, who overcame Atlético-PR and Ceará respectively. Those games were graced by braces from players at either end of the age spectrum; veteran Magno Alves struck twice for the Galo, and 21-year-old Bernardo matched that feat for Vasco. In Saturday's late kick-off, a Santos side shorn of its star players battled to a 1-1 draw with Internacional.

Palmeiras got their season off to a good start with victory over Botafogo; a lone Kléber strike proved sufficient at the Benedito Teixeira. Two of the country's form teams, meanwhile, both slipped to surprising defeats; Coritiba were beaten by Atlético Goianiense and Cruzeiro went home empty-handed from their trip to play newly-promoted Figueirense. América Mineiro also picked up a win on their return to the division; a late Alessandro goal gave them a win over Bahia. In Porto Alegre, Liédson's acrobatic finish handed Corinthians maximum points from their game with Grêmio.

Levitate me; Liédson volleys home for Corinthians.

Reigning champions Fluminense hosted São Paulo at the São Januário, hoping to start the campaign on the front foot. The visitors had other ideas, however, and took the lead through Dagoberto; the diminutive striker blasted a shot into the roof of the net following Casemiro's excellent pass. Short on inspiration, Flu conceded another just after the interval; Lucas skipped free on the left, before cutting inside and firing past Ricardo Berna. The result will provoke some concern at Laranjeiras, but will serve as a huge boost for São Paulo boss Paulo César Carpegiani; he was sacked last week, but reinstated when club directors realised that they couldn't identify a viable alternative. It seems odd to say this, given the long-standing reputations of the two clubs, but maybe São Paulo should take a leaf out of Flamengo's book.

Série A Results; Flamengo 4-0 Avaí, Ceará 1-3 Vasco, Atlético-MG 3-0 Atlético-PR, Santos 1-1 Internacional, Palmeiras 1-0 Botafogo, Grêmio 1-2 Corinthians, Coritiba 0-1 Atlético-GO, Figueirense 1-0 Cruzeiro, Fluminense 0-2 São Paulo, América-MG 2-1 Bahia.

(Photo credits; (1) Alexandre Vidal, (2) Ricardo Rimoli.)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Brasileirão Predictions

With the Campeonato Brasileiro set to get underway this evening, I've teamed up with some other Brazilian football fans to offer some predictions for the season ahead. Joining me on the (so-called) expert panel were Matthew Burgess (who has written extensively about Internacional and football in Rio), Jon Cotterill (Globo commentator and the brains behind Pitaco do Gringo), and Rupert Fryer, the founder of SouthAmericanFootball.co.uk.

The predictions have been posted at that latter site, and can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Santos Seal Paulistão Title; Inter and Cruzeiro Also Win State Championships

The state championships, after four months of mild predictability, are over. Local rivalries have been settled (or stoked), big clubs have asserted their dominance, and titles have been added to the tally charts of regional achievement. In the São Paulo championship, Santos sealed their second consecutive title, overcoming Corinthians. Elsewhere, Internacional, Cruzeiro, Santa Cruz, Atlético Goianiense, and Ceará all won their local competitions. In the Libertadores, Santos progressed to the final four thanks to a draw with Once Caldas, whilst the Copa do Brasil semi-finals got underway. Without further ado, then...

Santos 2-1 Corinthians
After last week's tense first leg, Santos and Corinthians reconvened at the former's Vila Belmiro stadium in order to decide the winner of the 2011 Campeonato Paulista. Santos, chasing their second state title in as many years, had been marginally the better side at the Pacaembu, and were confident of victory despite the absences of Paulo Henrique Ganso (injured) and Danilo (suspended). Corinthians manager Tite, who has struggled to coax much attacking flair from his side lately, kept faith with Dentinho up front, despite fans' clamour for the inclusion of Willian.

Arouca celebrates his goal for Santos.

To the delight of the home fans, it was Santos who got off to the better start; Léo blasted just over the crossbar in the opening minutes, before Zé Eduardo had a goal chalked off for offside. The Peixe's dominance, however, would not go unrewarded. Some smart build-up from Léo and Zé Eduardo allowed midfield dynamo Arouca (who is reportedly attracting interest from a number of Italian clubs) to pounce from close range in the sixteenth minute. The Santos No.5 came close to doubling his haul later in the half, but saw his volley clatter back off the post.

Tite altered his side at half time, withdrawing the woeful Dentinho. The striker was reported to be in tears on the bench; with a bid from Shakhtar Donetsk on the table, this was probably his last game for Corinthians. Willian, his replacement, almost made an immediate impact, testing Rafael with a powerful effort. Santos, though, continued to threaten, and extended their lead through Neymar. The youngster created some space for himself on the left, before poking an effort towards the far corner. Timão 'keeper Júlio César looked to have it covered, but inexplicably allowed the ball to dribble through his hands.

On the shoulders of giants; Neymar soaks up the applause.

Corinthians rallied late on with a goal from Morais, but couldn't find an equaliser. As the final whistle blew, the Vila erupted into vivid celebration. Neymar, the side's main protagonist this term, was held aloft by fans, before club captain Edu Dracena lifted the trophy. This year's Paulistão victory may not have been quite as exhilarating as their last, but most santistas won't care one bit; the Peixe have cemented their status as the dominant force in the São Paulo state. Parabéns Santos; bicampeão paulista!

Copa Libertadores Round-up
The good news didn't stop there for Santos; they progressed to the semi-finals of the Libertadores with a 1-1 draw against Once Caldas on Wednesday night. Starting the game with a narrow advantage from the away leg, the Peixe quickly took command of the tie; Neymar broke the deadlock with an impeccable strike from range. The Colombian side fought back, however, and grabbed a crucial away goal through Rentería.

Santos had various opportunities to kill off the tie, but were afflicted by unusual profligacy. Neymar was the most guilty party, seeing his penalty saved after being tripped in the Once Caldas area. The home fans may have expected a nervy finish, but the seasiders held on with some comfort in the second half. Coach Muricy Ramalho, although occasionally maligned for his negative tactics, must be credited for making Santos more robust in such situations. Next up for the Brazilian side; Cerro Porteño.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
With four (relative) underdogs through to the semi-finals, the Copa do Brasil has a romantic look to it this year. Ceará, who conquered Flamengo in the previous round, were held to a goalless draw by Coritiba in the first leg of their tie. Defences came out on top in a packed Presidente Vargas stadium; Fernando Henrique in particular turned in a stellar display in the Ceará goal. There's all to play for at the Couto Pereira next week.

On the spot; Vasco goalscorer Diego Souza.

In Rio, Vasco hosted Avaí, who claimed the scalp of São Paulo in the quarter-final. A hard-fought game sprung into life in the 80th minute, when Julinho's low shot put Avaí in the driving seat. The Gigante da Colina looked beaten, but somehow managed an equaliser in injury time; Diego Souza tucked home from the spot after Élton took a tumble in the box. Wednesday's return leg should be a cracker.

Best of the Rest
Internacional won their 40th Campeonato Gaúcho on Sunday, beating Grêmio on penalties after a pulsating clash. 3-2 down after the first leg, Inter were given a mountain to climb when Lúcio stroked their opponents into an early lead. The Colorado, however, reacted in style; goals from Leandro Damião, Andrezinho, and Andrés D'Alessandro put them on the verge of victory. A howler from goalkeeper Renan, though, allowed Leandro to force a penalty shootout. Grêmio midfielder Adílson was the unlucky party; his miss from twelve yards handed Inter the title.

Inter celebrate their Gauchão title.

In the final of the Campeonato Mineiro, late goals from Wallyson and Gilberto gave Cruzeiro a 3-2 aggregate win over bitter rivals Atlético-MG. It was the Raposa's 36th state title. Santa Cruz won the Campeonato Pernambucano despite being beaten by Sport in the second leg, whilst Ceará sealed the Cearense with a comfortable victory over Guarani de Juazeiro. Atlético Goianiense and Bahia de Feira won the Campeonato Goiano and the Campeonato Baiano respectively.

Selected results. Paulista; Santos 2-1 Corinthians (aggregate 2-1). Libertadores; Santos 1-1 Once Caldas (aggregate 2-1). Copa do Brasil; Ceará 0-0 Coritiba, Vasco 1-1 Avaí.

Photo credits; (1) Moacyr Lopes Junior, (2) Danilo Verpa, (3) Cleber Mendes, (4) Alexandre Lops.)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Fred and Thiago Neves Recalled to Seleção

Mano Menezes named his Brazil squad today, ahead of the upcoming friendlies against Holland (4th June) and Romania (7th June). The main surprise is the inclusion of Fluminense striker Fred, who has not represented his country since returning to his homeland from Lyon. Thiago Neves, who has been in excellent form for Flamengo, is another new face under Menezes.

Right said Fred; the Fluminense striker is back in the Brazil squad.

The full squad is as follows;

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

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

Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Ramires (Chelsea)
Henrique (Cruzeiro)
Anderson (Manchester United)
Elano (Santos)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Thiago Neves (Flamengo)
Jádson (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Neymar (Santos)
Robinho (Milan)
Nilmar (Villarreal)
Leandro Damião (Internacional)
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Fred (Fluminense)

The core of Menezes' young squad, then, remains firmly in place; the likes of Lucas Leiva, Thiago Silva, Neymar, David Luiz, Ramires, Sandro, and Leandro Damião all look to have cemented their places in the seleção. Menezes has also kept faith with Jádson and Elias, despite their poor recent showings in the Brazil colours. In defence, Mano continues to favour André Santos at left-back, choosing to overlook the impressive form of Marcelo at Real Madrid. Other notable absentees include Hulk and Hernanes, both of whom have enjoyed excellent seasons at club level. Despite the absence of Paulo Henrique Ganso, there is no place either for Kaká.

The huge 28-man squad will, in fact, gain one more member for the Romania game; Ronaldo Fenômeno is scheduled to make one final appearance for Brazil at the Pacaembu. He is likely, however, to be handed only a cameo role; Menezes has stated that he views the game as important preparation for the Copa América in July.

(Photo credit; Cleber Mendes.)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Santos Establish Libertadores Advantage; Avaí Shock São Paulo in Copa do Brasil

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to my weekly round-up. It was a relatively quiet week in Brazil, with the first legs of state championship finals in São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul proving predictably inconclusive. The most meaningful action came in the Copa do Brasil, where Avaí and Ceará produced upsets, knocking out São Paulo and Flamengo respectively. In the Libertadores, Santos picked up a crucial advantage against Once Caldas...

Copa Libertadores Round-up
As the phrase (nearly) goes; Once Caldas, twice shy. The Colombian side, who dispatched Cruzeiro in the last round, were thoroughly outplayed by Santos, who picked up a useful 1-0 win in the away leg of their quarter-final. As ever, it was Neymar at the centre of the action; the forward reportedly overcame fatigue to turn in an inspirational performance for the Peixe. The 19-year-old set up the only goal of the match, clipping a perceptive pass to Alan Patrick, who coolly slotted into the corner. More of the same at the Vila Belmiro should be enough for Santos to progress.

Santos goalscorer Alan Patrick battles for possession in Colombia.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Santos were also in domestic action this week; they faced Corinthians in the first leg of their Paulistão final. A closely-fought match finished goalless at the Pacaembu, leaving all to play for in the second leg. Both sides came close to breaking the deadlock; Neymar struck the post following a mesmerising run, and Liédson saw his left-footed drive brush the upright. The sides meet again on Sunday.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
Flamengo, who had suffered a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their quarter-final with Ceará, travelled to Fortaleza hoping to turn the tide. Initially, it seemed that they would do just that; Thiago Neves' brace put them in the driving seat within the first half hour. Ceará, however, had other ideas, and two quickfire goals from Washington ensured that the Rubro-Negro went home disappointed. Vasco, meanwhile, who had home advantage against Atlético Paranaense, did just enough; Élton's header put them through on away goals.

Ceará striker Washington (left) celebrates scoring against Flamengo.

Underdogs Avaí turned in a fabulous performance at the Ressacada, beating São Paulo 3-1 to reach the final four. Casemiro actually put the Tricolor ahead early on, but strikes from William, Bruno Silva, and Marquinhos Gabriel gave Silas' side an unexpected victory. São Paulo boss Paulo César Carpegiani paid heavily for the defeat; he was sacked today. Palmeiras, who had been trounced by Coritiba in the first leg of their semi-final, at least restored some pride in the return; the Verdão won 2-0 at the Pacaembu.

Best of the Rest
Grêmio gained the upper hand in the Campeonato Gaúcho final, beating bitter rivals Internacional 3-2 at the Beira-Rio. Young forward Júnior Viçosa was the star of the show, netting twice for the Imortal Tricolor. Paulo Roberto Falcão's side will have their work cut out the the Olímpico. In the Campeonato Mineiro, first blood went to Atlético-MG, who beat Cruzeiro 2-1. Former Roma winger Mancini scored the pick of the goals for the Galo, curling in a free-kick from an acute angle. Santa Cruz (about whom this superb blog is written) lead Sport in the Pernambuco final, whilst Goiás and Atlético-GO drew 1-1 in the first leg of the Campeonato Goiano playoff.

Selected results. Paulista; Corinthians 0-0 Santos. Libertadores; Once Caldas 0-1 Santos. Copa do Brasil; Palmeiras 2-0 Coritiba (2-6 on aggregate), Vasco 1-1 Atlético-PR (3-3 on aggregate, Vasco win on away goals), Avaí 3-1 São Paulo (3-2 on aggregate), Ceará 2-2 Flamengo (4-3 on aggregate).

(Photo credits; (1) Mauricio Dueñas, (2) LC Moreira.)

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The SKP Guide to the Campeonato Brasileiro

The waiting is over, dear reader; the futebol season proper is upon us. Yes, the state championships have kept us going since the turn of the year, but now it's time for the real fun to start. The Campeonato Brasileiro, Brazil's premier club competition kicks off in just over a week, and is sure to fill your summer nights with a veritable smorgasbord of goals, drama, emerging talent, play-acting, and 35-year-old playmakers.


Acknowledging that not everybody visits GloboEsporte and reads Lance! quite as much as I do, I've put together a handy team-by-team guide for the novice. It's been published over at the new-look (but ever-excellent) In Bed With Maradona, and can be accessed by clicking here.

(And if that still doesn't quench your thirst for futebol, why not check out these excellent guides from Jon Cotterill, Rod Beilfuss, and the folks at SouthAmericanFootball.co.uk?)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

SKP on World Football Daily

I was delighted to be invited back onto World Football Daily today, to talk about football in Brazil. We covered a range of topics, including the collapse of the Brazilian clubs in the Copa Libertadores, the form of Elano, and the congested state championship schedule.

Subscribers can listen from the show's website, which can be found here.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Brazilian Clubs Implode in Libertadores; Flamengo Crowned Carioca Champions

Never, reader, count your chickens before they hatch. The media in Brazil had been waxing lyrical about the dominance of the country's clubs in the Copa Libertadores; a golden year, with no fewer than five clubs in the quarter finals... the thrilling prospect of e Gre-Nal clássico (that's Grêmio vs Internacional, for any stragglers) in the last eight... the near certainty of a Brazilian champion. The teams just needed to see off modest oppositi... sorry, what? Four of them? Eliminated? Yes, indeed; during one mad evening, the ground opened up and swallowed four fifths of the Brazilian Libertadores challenge in one large gulp. Elsewhere, Flamengo tied up the Rio state championship with victory over Vasco, and Coritiba annihilated Palmeiras in the Copa do Brasil.

Copa Libertadores Round-up
The week actually got off to a positive start; Santos battled to a goalless draw against América, a result which ensured their progress to the quarter finals. The Peixe had young goalkeeper Rafael to thank; an impressive display between the sticks frustrated the Mexican side, and meant that Paulo Henrique Ganso's first leg strike turned out to be the decisive goal.

Now for the bad news. The remaining four sides - Grêmio, Internacional, Fluminense, and Cruzeiro - all suffered defeat on Wednesday night, and were consequently knocked out of the competition. Grêmio, for whom progress was only an outside bet after a woeful first leg performance, lost 1-0 away at Universidad Católica; Milovan Mirosevic (has a Chilean EVER had a more Serbian name?!) bagged the only goal with a late header.

Fred remonstrates with the referee during Fluminense's loss to Libertad.

Fluminense contrived to throw away a comfortable lead against Libertad (the match at the Engenhão finished 3-1 in the Tricolor's favour), going down 3-0 in Paraguay. Some of the blame must be placed on goalkeeper Ricardo Berna, who let Rodrigo Rojas' speculative shot slip through his hands for the opener, but Flu were still in a winning position going into the final five minutes. Smart late strikes from Miguel Samudio and José Ariel Nuñez, however, condemned the visitors to defeat. It emerged after the match that former Chelsea man Deco had refused to come on as a late substitute, and could leave Laranjeiras as a consequence.

Reigning Libertadores champions Internacional, having claimed a useful 1-1 draw in the away leg, welcomed Peñarol to the Beira-Rio. A goal within the first two minutes from young midfielder Oscar settled the nerves of the home fans, but the Uruguayan side responded in style, taking control with a two-goal salvo just after the break. The Colorado huffed and puffed, but were unable to find a way back into the tie. Coach Paulo Roberto Falcão, who was only appointed two weeks ago, may find his popularity dipping from its imperious peak.

Finally, and for me, most surprisingly, Cruzeiro were knocked out by Once Caldas. The Raposa had managed a 2-1 win in Colombia, having been almost unplayable in the group stage, were confident ahead of the return leg at the Arena do Jacaré (the impeccably-named Alligator Arena). Things, however, didn't exactly go to plan. With their usual passing game seemingly rocked by nerves, Cruzeiro invited pressure from the visitors, and only managed to get to the interval on level terms thanks to a stellar display from goalkeeper Fábio. A red card for Roger, however, was followed by two Once Caldas goals; a powerful header from Amaya and Dayro Moreno's simple finish. The Belo Horizonte side pushed forward in search of a goal, but none was forthcoming. There was, though, still time for one last blot on their copybook; coach Cuca sneakily elbowed an opposing striker on the touchline.

Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Flamengo secured their 32nd state championship title on Sunday, overcoming Vasco da Gama on penalty kicks. After ninety somewhat tedious minutes without a goal, it was the Rubro-Negro who came out on top, largely due to Vasco's profligacy from the spot; Bernardo, Felipe Bastos, and Élton all contrived to miss from twelve yards. It was former Fluminense player Thiago Neves who dispatched the winning kick, sending Fla fans into delirium. The players, led by Ronaldinho (who has been rather more instrumental in instigating goal celebrations than attacks recently), proceeded to act out their popular Bonde do Mengão routine, to the delight of half of those at the Engenhão. Parabéns Flamengo, Campeão Carioca de 2011!

Patrícia Amorim and Ronaldinho lead the Flamengo celebrations.

Campeonato Paulista Round-up
An impressive performance from Paulo Henrique Ganso helped Santos to a 2-0 win over São Paulo in their state championship semi-final. Ganso set up Elano's opener with a delicate cross, before adding one of his own; a cool finish following Neymar's swift break. São Paulo are now left to concentrate on the Copa do Brasil, and prepare for the Brasileirão.

Santos will meet Corinthians in the final, after the Timão overcame Palmeiras on penalties. Leandro Amaro and Willian traded goals during the ninety minutes, which were followed by an impeccable series of spot kicks in the shootout. After eleven successful efforts, the unlucky party was Verdão midfielder João Vitor, who was thwarted by Júlio César. The match was also notable for an injury to Palmeiras' Chilean playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who pulled up with an injury as a result of one of his now infamous 'air-shot' dribbles. He, as you might expect, has been the object of substantial mockery in the days since.

Copa do Brasil Round-up
As if to prove that their recent run (23 straight wins heading into Thursday's game) wasn't merely attributable to the standard of opponents in the Campeonato Paranaense, Coritiba put six goals past Palmeiras in the first leg of their cup quarter final. The pick of the bunch came from Anderson Aquino; the forward danced his way past some tired looking defenders to prod home in injury time. On this form, the Coxa will be no pushovers in Série A this year. The three remaining ties, meanwhile, are all in the balance; Flamengo suffered a narrow defeat to Ceará, São Paulo beat Avaí 1-0, and Vasco held Atlético-PR at the Baixada.

Coritiba striker Bill (!) celebrates his goal against Palmeiras.

Best of the Rest
Internacional won the second stage of the Campeonato Gaúcho, seeing off bitter rivals Grêmio on penalties. The two will meet again in the final playoff, however, because Grêmio were victorious in the primeiro turno. Cruzeiro and Atlético-MG sealed places in the final of the Minas Gerais state competition, racking up comfortable aggregate wins over América-TO and América-MG respectively.

Selected results. Carioca; Flamengo 0-0 Vasco (3-1 on pens). Paulista; Santos 2-0 São Paulo, Corinthians 1-1 Palmeiras (6-5 on pens). Libertadores; Cruzeiro 0-2 Once Caldas (2-3 on aggregate), América 0-0 Santos (0-1 on aggregate), Universidad Católica 1-0 Grêmio (3-1 on aggregate), Internacional 1-2 Peñarol (2-3 on aggregate), Libertad 3-0 Fluminense (4-3 on aggregate). Copa do Brasil; Flamengo 1-2 Ceará, Coritiba 6-0 Palmeiras, Atlético-PR 2-2 Vasco, São Paulo 1-0 Avaí.

(Photo credits; (1) Diego Benítez, (2) Gilvan de Souza, (3) Felipe Gabriel.)
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