Monday, 29 August 2011

Corinthians Finish Primeiro Turno in Pole Despite Palmeiras Loss; Vasco Coach Gomes Suffers Stroke

The 2011 Brasileirão reached its halfway stage this weekend, just three months after it kicked off. The 19 rounds thus far have produced over 500 goals and plenty of excitement, and this weekend was no different. Corinthians managed to hang onto first place despite suffering defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Palmeiras, whilst Flamengo could only manage a goalless draw with Vasco da Gama. That latter game was overshadowed by concerns over the health of Vasco coach Ricardo Gomes, who was rushed to hospital following a stroke. He underwent successful surgery on Sunday night, but remains in critical condition at the time of writing. Força, Ricardo!

Palmeiras 2-1 Corinthians
Corinthians fans learnt an important lesson this week; he who laughs last, laughs longest. On Monday, the Gaviões da Fiel (the club's largest supporters' group) tried to cause a stir ahead of Sunday's clássico paulista, publishing a document which showed that Palmeiras star Kléber had signed up as a member of the torcida organizada at the age of 18. Given that neither the player nor the Gaviões had subsequently cancelled his membership, it was claimed (to much titillation) that Palmeiras were entering the derby with a fully signed-up Corinthians fanatic in attack.

Corinthians goalscorer Emerson (left) competes with Gabriel Silva of Palmeiras.

The joke, however, soon started to wear thin. First came Kléber's admirably deflationary "yeah I was, and so bloody what" response, which juxtaposed marvellously with the schoolboy giggles emanating from the Gaviões camp. That was followed by a pointed reminder that no team depends solely on one man. The 28-year-old had a quiet game at the Prudentão, but two of his fellow strikers settled the tie; Luan cancelled out Emerson Sheik's opener, before debutant Fernandão netted a glorious winner in the second period. Kléber would have been forgiven for flashing a knowing smile at his fellow Gaviões at the final whistle. Their devastation served as the week's cruel punchline.

Brasileirão Gameweek 19 Round-up
Flamengo spurned their chance to leapfrog the Timão, managing only a 0-0 draw with Rio neighbours Vasco da Gama. In truth, they were slightly lucky to earn a point; defender Welinton was dismissed before the interval, and Felipe was forced into a string of good saves. São Paulo also failed to take advantage of their rivals' slip-ups, drawing with Santos at the Vila Belmiro. That game was graced by two stunning goals from young Brazil stars; Lucas' deft individual effort was followed by a piledriver from Paulo Henrique Ganso. In Porto Alegre, Grêmio got one over on eternal enemies Internacional in the Grenal; a late penalty from playmaker Douglas settled gave Celso Roth's side all three points.

You are what you eat; Grêmio midfielder Douglas celebrates his winner against Inter.

Those results allowed in-form Botafogo to climb yet closer to the leading group. O Glorioso recorded a 2-1 victory over city rivals Fluminense (yes, this was unofficial clássico weekend in Brazil), thanks to two breakaway goals in the second half. Cruzeiro also secured a win against local opposition, beating Atlético Mineiro in Sete Logoas. Two goals from the irrepressible Walter Montillo - which sandwiched Felipe Souto's long range rocket - proved enough for the Raposa. Coritiba, meanwhile, who have enjoyed a fine primeiro turno on their return to Série A, drew with Atlético-PR on Saturday.

Things aren't looking quite so rosy for América-MG, another of the promoted sides. The Coelho remain rock bottom of the table, having lost at home to Atlético Goianiense this weekend. Fellow strugglers Avaí enjoyed some rare respite, however, overcoming Figueirense in a rollicking Florianópolis derby. Toninho Cecílio's side trailed twice at the Orlando Scarpelli stadium, but snatched three points thanks to goals from William (2) and former Galatasaray playmaker/troublemaker (delete as appropriate) Lincoln. The final game of the week produced the best assist of the round; Ceará striker Osvaldo (the "black-and-white Messi," in case you were interested) dribbled past a couple of Bahia defenders and ran half the length of the pitch before squaring for Felipe Azevedo to tap home. That goal was the second in 3-0 victory for the Vozão.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Ricardo Nogueira, (2) Ricardo Rimoli.)

Friday, 26 August 2011

Damião Fires Inter to Recopa Glory; Rio Clubs Progress in Sul-Americana

Roll up, roll up! Welcome to the Brazilian midweek football variety show! With no fewer than three competitions taking place, there was something for everyone this week; the second leg of the Recopa Sul-Americana between Internacional and Independiente, the return ties of the all-Brazilian Copa Sul-Americana qualifiers, and even a little morsel of Brasileirão action. On with the show!

Internacional 3-1 Independiente (4-3 on aggregate)
New Inter coach Dorival Júnior must be counting his blessings. Having spend the last few months slogging away at Atlético Mineiro (to precious little avail), his arrival in Porto Alegre instantly coincided with the Colorado's second super cup title; a triumph that reaffirms their status as continental heavyweights. In truth (and as Dorival humbly admitted in his post-match press conference), he had his new charges to thank. Internacional's is a relatively settled squad; players such as Andrés D'Alessandro, Pablo Guiñazú, Índio, and Bolívar have all remained loyal to the Beira-Rio side, and form an enviable spine. Wednesday's victory, however, belonged to a relative newcomer to the Inter scene.

É campeão! Inter captain Bolívar lifts the Recopa trophy.

Leandro Damião has been in majestic form this year; the striker has built on the promise of last season, racking up over 30 goals for the Colorado in 2011. He added two more to his tally against Independiente, and in some style too. His first was a wonderful individual effort; Damião picked the ball up near the corner flag, sashayed between two bewildered defenders, before poking a shot into the far corner. The second - a well-struck left-footed volley - was less flashy, but provided ample evidence of the 22-year-old's superb technique. Not bad for a player who, just four years ago, was playing at semi-professional level in the São Paulo region.

To their credit, Independiente rallied in the second period; Maxi Velázquez fired past Muriel immediately after the interval to raise Argentine hopes. This, though, was to be Inter's night. With the final whistle approaching, former Manchester City striker Jô was fouled in the area, giving referee Jorge Larrionda no option but to award a penalty. Experienced left-back Kléber swept home from the spot, sending the Beira-Rio into raptures. One worry, though, will linger in the minds of the Inter faithful. The club's last Recopa victory, in 2007, preceded the sale of Alexandre Pato to Milan. The departure of Leandro Damião - which looks probable in January, if not now - would complete a bitter symmetry.

Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
It was a great week for the carioca sides in the Sul-Americana; all three of Rio's representatives secured safe passage to the last 16 of the competition. Botafogo - who did most of the hard work in the first leg - saw off Atlético Mineiro at the Engenhão, thanks largely to one of the worst penalty decisions of the year so far. Galo defender Leonardo Silva was rugby-tackled by Herrera, and looked on in utter horror as he proceeded to be penalised and booked. Herrera himself held back the giggles to convert the resultant spot kick. Vasco also reached the next round, despite being beaten 3-1 by Palmeiras on Thursday night. Former Verdão midfielder Jumar netted the all-important away goal for Vasco, blasting home from range.

Parado na área; Ronaldinho celebrates his goal with Guilherme Negueba.

São Paulo made short work of their qualifier, easing past Ceará at the Morumbi. Brazil startlet Lucas was on fine form, drilling home a fine effort before turning provider for Dagoberto. Flamengo also had a relatively comfortable evening; the Rubro-Negro struck late to seal a 2-0 aggregate victory over Atlético-PR. Ronaldinho bagged the goal for Fla with a simple header, but received considerably more attention for his celebration; a send-up of the dance from the song Parado na Esquina. Anything other than the João Sorrisão celebration is fine by me.

Brasileirão Round-up
Santos played the second of their three games in hand on Wednesday night, hosting Fluminense at the Vila. Neymar celebrated the birth of his first son Davi Lucca with some playground magic, but it would be Série A top scorer Borges who shot the Peixe to victory; he struck twice in the first half to render Rafael Moura's goal irrelevant. Finally, here were signs that Santos are reawakening after their post-Libertadores slumber; unfortunately, they're now fully sixteen points off the pace.

Results. Recopa Sul-Americana; Internacional 3-1 Independiente (4-3 on aggregate). Copa Sul-Americana; Atlético-PR 0-1 Flamengo (0-2 on aggregate), Botafogo 1-0 Atlético-MG (3-1 on aggregate), São Paulo 3-0 Ceará (4-2 on aggregate), Palmeiras 3-1 Vasco (3-3 on aggregate; Vasco progress on away goals). Série A; Santos 2-1 Fluminense.

(Photo credits; (1) Neco Varella, (2) Felipe Gabriel.)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Kids Are Alright; U20 Success Points to Bright Future for Brazil

With all of the doom and gloom surrounding the senior seleção, Brazil's U20 side provided some welcome relief this month. Ney Franco's charges saw off Portugal 3-2 on Saturday, sealing a fifth World Cup title in the process. In my latest article for In Bed With Maradona, I argue that the performances of players such as Oscar, Henrique, and Danilo point to a brighter future for the senior side.

The article can be accessed by clicking here.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Botafogo Edge Back into Contention as Leaders Wobble; Santos Earn Long-Awaited Victory

I know it's early doors, but I have to ask; does anybody actually want to win this thing?! The charitable mood that has enveloped the upper echelons of the Brasileirão was again in evidence this weekend, as the top four failed to record a victory between them. That collective stumble allowed Botafogo - comfortable winners against Atlético Mineiro - to claw their way back into the reckoning. Elsewhere, South American champions Santos pulled out of the relegation zone with a long overdue victory. Yes, you did read that correctly. Leave logic at the door, and step inside the mysterious world of Série A...

Brasileirão Gameweek 18 Round-up
Let's start at the top. On Saturday evening, Corinthians hosted Figueirense - the surprise package of the season thus far. Despite dominating play at the Pacaembu, the home side would eventually come unstuck; Wellington Nem and Wilson Pittoni bagged breakaway goals for the Furacão do Estreito. Tite's side - which looked so solid earlier in the campaign - will need to regroup ahead of the clássico against Palmeiras next week. The Verdão prepared for that clash by holding São Paulo to a 1-1 draw on Sunday. São Paulo striker Dagoberto opened the scoring in stunning fashion at the Morumbi, controlling Rivaldo's through-ball and dinking a delicate lob over Marcos.

Bicicleta trend-setter; Leandro Damião celebrates his goal against Flamengo.

That strike would only be bettered once this weekend; Internacional forward Leandro Damião produced a heart-stopping overhead kick, as the Colorado battled to a 2-2 draw with Flamengo. Ronaldinho Gaúcho also bent home a free-kick in that match, taking his tally to 10 for the season. Some players are having rather less luck in front of goal; former Fenerbahçe hitman Deivid added to his burgeoning collection of amusing misses (about which Globo created this rather cruel funk video*) at the Beira-Rio. Santos, the wayward striker's former employers, finally returned to winning ways, beating Bahia in Salvador. The Peixe's winner came from Alan Kardec - who, quite brilliantly, is named after the 19th Century founder of Spiritism (don't ask).

With Vasco da Gama also dropping points (1-1 against Fluminense), Botafogo crept closer to the top four with a comfortable win over hapless Atlético-MG. The Benfica-owned Felipe Menezes bagged a smart brace for Caio Júnior's side, after Elkeson had nodded home the opener. That result left the Galo perilously close to the foot of the table; only Avaí and América Mineiro (who drew with Coritiba and Atlético-PR respectively) have fewer points. Further up the table, there were narrow victories for Cruzeiro (against Ceará) and Atlético Goianiense (who overcame Grêmio).

*In case you were wondering, the word "funk" in Brazil has precious little relation to the work of James Brown, George Clinton, et al.

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

(Photo credit; Ricardo Rimoli.)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Rampant Dragão Condemn Flamengo to First Defeat; Santos Drop into Bottom Four

I'm going to keep things brief this week reader; things to do, people to see, and all that. Normal service will resume on Monday.

Brasileirão Gameweek 17 Round-up
Flamengo's unbeaten Série A record was brought to an abrupt end by Atlético Goianiense on Sunday; the Dragão ran out 4-1 winners at the Engenhão. Diogo Campos netted the goal of the game, tapping home following a delightful Anselmo run. That result allowed Corinthians to consolidate first place in the table, thanks to a dramatic victory over Atlético-MG. Efforts from Dudu Cearense and Guilherme put the Galo in command at the interval, only for Tite's side to mount a spirited comeback in the second period. Emerson and Alex restored parity, before a late Liédson finish sealed all three points for the Timão.

Diogo Campos (left) celebrates his goal for Atlético-GO.

In Fortaleza, Ceará compounded Grêmio's recent misery; the Vozão put three unanswered goals past Victor, who had a night to forget in the visitors' goal. Celso Roth looks to have quite a job on his hands at the Olímpico. Fellow Porto Alegre giants Internacional, meanwhile, snuck a 1-0 win over high-flying Botafogo; Leandro Damião's 7th goal of the season separated the teams at the Beira-Rio. That victory allows the Colorado to leapfrog Figueirense in the standings; the Série A new boys were soundly beaten by reigning champions Fluminense. Rafael 'He-Man' Moura was instrumental in that match; he bagged himself two goals and an assist at the Engenhão.

Santos cannot buy a win for love nor money at the moment; they went down 3-2 to Coritiba on home soil. Brasileirão top scorer Borges twice put the Peixe ahead at the Vila, but then missed a penalty as Marcelo Oliveira's charges clawed their way back into contention. Léo Gago (Leo the Stutterer) slammed home the winning goal three minutes from time. Atlético Paranaense, meanwhile, have finally found their way out of the bottom four; a 2-1 win over Cruzeiro was the latest in a series of promising results for them. Elsewhere, Vasco cruised to 2-0 victory against Avaí, Bahia held Palmeiras at the Canindé, and São Paulo could only manage a point against last placed América-MG.

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

(Photo credit; Cleber Mendes.)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Ronaldinho Earns Brazil Recall

Mano Menezes today named his Brazil squad for the friendly against Ghana on September 5th. Ronaldinho Gaúcho - who has been in fine fettle for Flamengo of late - has earnt a recall, a decision that seems certain to please many fans of the seleção. Given the insipid recent form of Paulo Henrique Ganso, the former Barcelona star could even find himself restored to the starting lineup next month.

R10 has played himself back into Menezes' plans.

The full squad is as follows;

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

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Danilo (Santos)
Adriano (Barcelona)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Lúcio (Internazionale)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Dedé (Vasco da Gama)

Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Ralf (Corinthians)
Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich)
Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo)

Neymar (Santos)
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Robinho (Milan)
Hulk (Porto)
Leandro Damião (Internacional)

Menezes finally appears to have bowed to common sense (or public pressure) regarding the selection of two players who enjoyed excellent seasons in Europe; Marcelo is included for the first time since a well-documented row with the Brazil coach earlier in the year, and Hulk receives a long-overdue call-up. Leandro Damião, who was inexplicably dropped following an impressive début against Scotland, is back in the squad at the expense of Fred. Elsewhere, André Santos has been dropped in the wake of his horror-show against Germany, whilst Maicon is missing through injury. Young utility player Danilo, meanwhile, makes the step up from the Brazil U20 side.

(Photo credit; Felipe Dana.)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Vasco Close Gap as Leaders Stutter; Brazil U20s Reach World Cup Semi-Final

Série A went goal crazy this weekend, in a (probably doomed) attempt to draw attention away from the big kick-off in Europe; 34 strikes rattled in around Brazil, many of them absolute crackers. With Corinthians, Flamengo, and São Paulo all failing to win, Vasco da Gama closed the gap at the top with a narrow victory over Palmeiras. Further down the table, there were convincing wins for Coritiba and Cruzeiro, but Santos fell to yet another loss. Brazil were also in action in the U20 World Cup, sneaking past Spain to reach the semi-finals.

Brasileirão Gameweek 16 Round-up
The ruthlessness that characterised Corinthians' start to the season has dissipated at astounding speed over the past few weeks. The Timão's crumbling defence was again at fault on Sunday, as Ceará twice came from behind to rescue a point at the Pacaembu; a lack of communication between Chicão and Leandro Castán allowed Osvaldo to cancel out Paulinho's opener, whilst Rudnei scrambled home a late equaliser amidst some lacklustre marking. The scoreline was harsh on Corinthians playmaker Alex, whose 25-yard piledriver was worthy of winning any match. Flamengo also contrived to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory; a brace from Deivid put them in control against Figueirense, only for Somália and Edson Silva to level things up in Florianópolis.

Listen up; Somália initiated Figueirense's fightback.

With glorious (three-way?) symmetry, third-placed São Paulo also drew 2-2; the Tricolor were held by the fast-improving Atlético Paranaense. In truth, Adílson Batista's side were slightly lucky to come away with a point; they needed a wondergoal from Ilsinho (who, incidentally, looks set to depart the club this week) and a last minute intervention from Rivaldo's crotch (true story) to gain parity. Those three results gave Vasco the chance to make up some ground on the leaders, an opportunity they gleefully accepted with a 1-0 win over Palmeiras. Young midfielder Bernardo has obviously been getting dead ball tips from Juninho Pernambucano; his impeccable free-kick would have graced even O Reizinho's highlights reel.

Joel Santana's inconsistent Cruzeiro outfit let off some steam on Saturday, thrashing Avaí 5-0 at the Parque do Sabiá. Argentine playmaker Walter Montillo was again at the heart of everything for the Raposa; he scored a penalty, missed another, and picked up two assists. Quicksilver striker Thiago Ribeiro, meanwhile, netted what is likely to be his last goal in royal blue; a move to Italian side Cagliari looks imminent. Cruzeiro are now level on points with Fluminense, who succumbed to Grêmio on Sunday night. A brace from journeyman midfielder Marquinhos ensured that Celso Roth's stewardship of the Porto Alegre side got off to a good start.

Foxtrot; Cruzeiro's Paraguayan forward José Ortigoza (right) protects the ball.

The post-Libertadores slump that has befallen Santos continued in full effect this week; the seasiders went down to Atlético-GO at the Serra Dourada. After soaking up pressure in the first half, the Dragão took advantage of some laughable Santos defending to bag two late goals and all three points. The loss leaves Muricy Ramalho's charges down in 16th position, only just above the hapless Atlético Mineiro. The Galo, whose permanent revolving door has been spinning even more frantically than usual of late, were well beaten by Coritiba on Sunday.

Botafogo's excellent recent form seemed to be coming to an abrupt end on Saturday; they found themselves two down to bottom club América Mineiro with just ten minutes on the clock. Caio Júnior's side produced a rousing comeback, however, to come away with a 4-2 victory. The pick of the goals came from Elkeson, who thumped an effort home via the underside of the crossbar. The win lifts O Glorioso up to fifth place. Internacional, meanwhile, who have finally appointed Dorival Júnior as permanent coach, could only manage a 1-1 draw with Bahia. The Colorado still have plenty of improving to do.

U20 World Cup Round-up
Brazil faced their stiffest challenge of the competition so far on Sunday night; the seleção came up against much-fancied Spain at the quarter-final stage. After 120 minutes of deadlock, Ney Franco's side would progress following a dramatic penalty shootout. In a nervy first half, it was Brazil who did enough to get their noses in front; Willian José tapped home from close range after Henrique's effort had clattered off the crossbar. Rodrigo's second half header, however, sent the match into extra time.

Brazil super sub Dudu celebrates his goal against Spain.

With both sides tiring, the seleção gained the lead for the second time; Dudu - Brazil's super sub in Colombia - swapped passes with Henrique before slotting joyously past Fernando Pacheco. Spain, though, reacted in style once more; Álvaro Vásquez turned home from Carles Planas' accurate cross. Cruzeiro goalkeeper Gabriel would turn out to be Brazil's penalty hero; he made two fine saves to dump Spain out of the tournament. Brazil now face Mexico, hoping to secure safe passage to Saturday's final.

Results. Série A; São Paulo 2-2 Atlético-PR, Cruzeiro 5-0 Avaí, Atlético-GO 2-0 Santos, Botafogo 4-2 América-MG, Corinthians 2-2 Ceará, Vasco 1-0 Palmeiras, Figueirense 2-2 Flamengo, Coritiba 3-0 Atlético-MG, Grêmio 2-1 Fluminense, Bahia 1-1 Internacional. U20 World Cup; Brazil 2-2 Spain (4-2 on penalties).

(Photo credits; (1) Cristiano Andujar, (2) Célio Messias, (3) Getty.)

Friday, 12 August 2011

Advantage Independiente in Recopa; Rio Clubs Start Well in Copa Sul-Americana

A slightly different midweek round-up for you this time, reader. With the Brasileirão finally taking a breather from its relentless HERE'S TWENTY GAMES EVERY SEVEN DAYS, DEAL WITH IT rhetoric, some rather more unobtrusive competitions crawled into the spotlight. Firstly, there was the start of the Copa Sul-Americana (the South American equivalent of the Europa League, for all you Europhiles), which pitted a group of not-quite-the-best-but-certainly-not-the-worst-thank-you Brazilian clubs against one another. The first leg of the Recopa Sul-Americana (which involves last year's Libertadores winners facing their Sul-Americana equivalents) between Independiente and Internacional also took place. In Colombia, meanwhile, the Brazil U20 side continued their World Cup campaign. Oh, and for all you stick-in-the-muds, there was a single Série A game to tide us over until the weekend. Deep breath now...

Independiente 2-1 Internacional
Much water has passed under the bridge since Internacional won the Libertadores last year. Twelve months, one Club World Cup disaster and two coaches later, the Colorado travelled to Argentina, hoping to add the Recopa to their trophy cabinet. The hosts, who defeated Brazilian side Goiás to claim the continent's secondary prize in 2010, started strongly; Inter 'keeper Muriel was peppered with shots early on. On a rare foray forward, however, the Porto Alegre side snatched the lead; a cross from Nei was deflected into the path of Leandro Damião, who turned expertly home.

Inter orbit; Andrés D'Alessandro probes for an opening against Independiente.

Independiente quickly reestablished their dominance, equalising through Maxi Velázquez and laying siege to the Inter goal after the break. When Marco Pérez finally bagged the winner with a deflected free-kick, the Avellaneda sighed with relief; a draw would have flattered the visitors enormously. Caretaker boss Osmar Loss (or Dorival Júnior, the man likely to be taking over) will hope for better at the Beira-Rio.

Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
With his Flamengo side setting the pace in the Campeonato Brasileiro, Vanderlei Luxemburgo would be forgiven for taking continental competition with a pinch of salt this year. The 59-year-old duly rested some of his key players for Wednesday's clash with Atlético-PR; Thiago Neves and Renato Abreu were rested, whilst Diego Maurício earnt a rare start in attack. A tight match was eventually settled by Ronaldinho, who came off the bench to convert a late penalty. The Furacão must win the second leg to stand a chance of progressing. Botafogo also have one foot in the next round; goals from Herrera and Maicosuel helped them to a 2-1 win over Atlético Mineiro.

Higher power; Diego Souza (second left) celebrates his goal against Palmeiras.

In Fortaleza, an injury time strike from Marcelo Nicácio handed Ceará a narrow victory over São Paulo. The Tricolor, who had led the match thanks to Rivaldo's close range effort, have work to do at the Morumbi. Vasco, meanwhile, completed a good set of results for the Rio de Janeiro clubs, brushing aside Palmeiras at the São Januário. The Gigante da Colina went ahead in fortuitous fashion - Bernardo's corner kick ricocheted in off Diego Souza, who knew little about it - before a second half strike from Élton sealed the win. Vasco and Palmeiras will soon be sick of the sight of one another; they meet in Série A at the weekend, before squaring off again in the second leg.

U20 World Cup Round-up
Brazil sealed their place in the quarter finals of the U20 World Cup, beating Saudi Arabia with some ease on Wednesday night. After an evenly-matched first half, the seleção went ahead through Henrique, who ran onto Willian José's delightful flick and finished with aplomb. Palmeiras leftback Gabriel Silva - whose presence in the side owes much to the injury sustained by Alex Sandro earlier in the tournament - then made it two, sweeping home following another Willian assist. The icing on the cake came in the dying minutes; Oscar showed great vision to find substitute Dudu, whose finish crept under Abdullah Alsdairy in the Saudi Arabia goal. Ney Franco's men will play Spain in the last eight.

Brasileirão Round-up
Santos finally played one of their million games in hand, hosting rivals Corinthians at the Vila Belmiro. The result? A stale goalless draw, about which I shall say no more.

Results. Recopa Sul-Americana; Independiente 2-1 Internacional. Copa Sul-Americana; Atlético-MG 1-2 Botafogo, Flamengo 1-0 Atlético-PR, Ceará 2-1 São Paulo, Vasco 2-0 Palmeiras. U20 World Cup; Brazil 3-0 Saudi Arabia. Série A; Santos 0-0 Corinthians.

(Photo credits; (1) Alexandre Lops, (2) Cleber Mendes.)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Play It Again, Mano; Brazil Lose to Germany in Stuttgart

The failings of the current Brazil side have been (hopefully) well documented by yours truly over the past year. Too many jack-of-all-trade midfielders, a cluster of overly similar players in attack, the lack of a ball-player in front of the back four... and so on. You will forgive me then, for not producing an enormously detailed analysis of Brazil's loss to Germany on Wednesday night; this was, for the most part, a defeat borne of the very same mistakes that have characterised previous matches.

Germany 3-2 Brazil
With Lucas Leiva serving a one-match ban for the seleção, Mano Menezes handed a first start to Corinthians juggernaut Ralf, who has been in impressive form at club level. He lined up in midfield alongside Ramires and Fernandinho, who was surprisingly included at the expense of Paulo Henrique Ganso. That decision was ostensibly based on the fact that Ganso has yet to regain full fitness after injury, but also suggests that the playmaker's listless recent form hasn't gone unnoticed. The selection, however, meant that Brazil were not only deprived of a regista in the midfield platform, but also of a No.10. It was perhaps not insignificant that Neymar, rather than Fernandinho, was given the jersey usually assigned to Ganso; an oblique message of "hey fans, this lineup still has creative potential!" could be deciphered.

In his defence, Fernandinho enjoyed a decent début; his dynamism improved Brazil's saída de bola (the transfer of the ball between defensive and attacking sectors), the importance of which Menezes has repeatedly stressed. That his arrival in the side coincided with another limp performance from the seleção meant that he was unfairly criticised in some quarters following the match. Brazil's shortcomings, though, were to be found elsewhere.

Sturm und drang; Neymar battles for possession in Stuttgart.

In defence, the partnership formed by Lúcio and Thiago Silva - which appeared to be developing rather nicely earlier this year - now has major question marks over it. True, Germany's opener owed more to generous (read: laughable) refereeing than to any major error on Lúcio's part, but the extent to which Brazil's backline had been dragged apart in the build-up to the penalty was notable. Germany's second goal, tucked away by the effervescent Mario Götze, told a similar story; an inviting chasm opened up between the seleção centrebacks, and was duly exploited. The hosts' third goal, of course, must be put down to individual error; André Santos (of whom I have been so unbending in my support) provided his myriad detractors with plenty of ammunition.

Even going forward, Brazil were sloppy. With the midfield looking even more bereft of ideas than usual, Robinho and Neymar were called upon to provide some invention behind Alexandre Pato. They were largely unable to do so. Ganso's introduction in the second period emphasised the need for someone of his ilk on the park; he didn't misplace a single pass (thanks for that one, Opta), and initiated the move from which Neymar struck Brazil's second. In truth, the 3-2 scoreline was kind on the seleção; Robinho's opener came from a penalty award even more dubious than the one which preceded Schweinsteiger's goal.

The result means that, after 13 games in charge, Menezes has guided his charges to a mere 6 victories, none of which have come against purported top-rate opposition. Matches against Egypt, Argentina, and Costa Rica will provide further challenges over the next two months, but for many, the writing is already on the wall; Menezes simply cannot cut it at this level. One thing seems clear; the former Corinthians boss must find a way to avoid repeating the handful of tactical mistakes that have peppered his stewardship. A manager must be judged - at least in part - on his ability to react to changing circumstances on the pitch. By this metric, Menezes has an enormous amount of work to do.

(Photo credit; Kai Pfaffenbach.)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Vasco Derailed by Botafogo 'Locomotive'; Fla Go Top Following Corinthians Slip Up

I hope for your sake, dear reader, that you enjoy a good train metaphor. If you don't, I pray that you're at least the kind of person who can find it in their heart to forgive me for the following few paragraphs.

Botafogo 4-0 Vasco da Gama
Vasco - who, conveniently enough, were christened O Trem Bala da Colina ("The Bullet Train of the Hill") in the wake of some enormously repetitive conga-line celebrations earlier this year - have been building up quite a head of steam recently; convincing wins over São Paulo and Santos have helped lift them into the upper echelons of the Brasileirão, inspiring dreams of a glorious league/cup double. With a seemingly impregnable defence (build around recent Brazil call-up Dedé), and a midfield full of guile and experience, Ricardo Gomes' side has won over all doubters in the past few months. When you add the fact that club idols Felipe and Juninho Pernambucano are present in the first team, this has their air of a golden age for the São Januário club.

Botafogo, on the other hand, as so often, seem beset by instability; Caio Júnior has done a reasonable job of filling Joel Santana's sizeable managerial shoes (coming soon to a shop near you), but seems unable to stamp his personality on the club, whilst his side seems able to motivate itself only for the supposed big games. The club's league position (6th at the time of writing) says more about the shortcomings of some of Brazil's other clubs than it does about O Glorioso. Hope, however, springs eternal. Especially when it stems from the kind of derby-day rout that occured on Sunday.

Do the Locomotion! Abreu jumps for joy after scoring against Vasco.

Things started well for Bota; the club's zagueiro artilheiro Antônio Carlos headed home the opener from Renato's corner within ten minutes of kick-off. That would prove to be just the start of an impressive first half salvo. The hosts' second arrived 20 minutes later; enigmatic Uruguayan striker 'Loco' Abreu turned home after Fernando Prass had parried Germán Herrera's initial effort. Abreu pounced once more before the interval, sending both the home faithful and Brazil's headline writers into raptures. All aboard the Locomotive!

The second half brought rather less excitement; the hard-running Herrera wrapped up the win with a powerful strike, whilst Vasco's misery was further compounded by a red card for Diego Souza. He will now sit out next week's tricky clash with Palmeiras. Abreu aside, there were plenty of positives for Botafogo; Sevilla midfielder Renato dictated the pace in the centre of the park, and Elkeson continued to show glimpses of real quality. Perhaps the standout performer, however, was Bruno Cortês, who spent much of the game marauding from his putative position at left back. It was a classy display, particularly from a man who, just a few weeks ago, held his wedding reception in his local branch of Habib's, a chain of Arabic fast food restaurants. True story.

Brasileirão Gameweek 15 Round-up
Corinthians look a shadow of the team that set the early pace in Série A; they needed a penalty from former Spartak Moscow playmaker Alex to rescue a 1-1 draw with the resurgent Atlético Paranaense. That result allowed Flamengo to move to the top of the standings; the Rubro-Negro snuck a 1-0 win over Coritiba thanks to a goal from débutant striker Jael. A brace from Cícero, meanwhile, secured three points for São Paulo against Avaí.

Points win prizes; América-MG striker Alessandro celebrates his goal against Flu.

Convincing wins over Ceará and Inter last week had seemed to announce a turning point in Fluminense's season. Football, however, is rarely so straightforward; the Tricolor were thrashed 3-0 by bottom club América Mineiro on Sunday. With Fred again absent from the squad (his tangles with Flu supporters could even see him leave the club), Abel Braga's men turned in an awful performance at the Arena do Jacaré. The defeat saw them leapfrogged in the table by Figueirense, who overcame Atlético-MG thanks to Elias' double. The Atlético board chose to axe coach Dorival Júnior after that one.

In Porto Alegre, Internacional came from behind to pick up a 3-2 win over Cruzeiro. Leandro Damião scored the pick of the goals at the Beira-Rio, heading powerfully home to seal victory for the Colorado. The consequences of that game could be far-reaching for Cruzeiro; star striker Wallyson fractured a bone in his ankle, and seems likely to miss the remainder of the season. Elsewhere this weekend, there were wins for Bahia and Santos, and Palmeiras played out a goaless draw with Grêmio.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Bruno de Lima, (2) Gil Leonardi.)

Friday, 5 August 2011

'Dedéckenbauer' Halts Santos; Brazil U20s Hit Stride at World Cup

The action continues to flow thick and fast in Brazil; another round this week brought the Série A season one step closer to its halfway point. Corinthians recovered from their two-match blip with victory over hapless América-MG, but Flamengo, São Paulo, and Vasco da Gama all remain hot on their heels. At the bottom, Avaí and Atlético Paranaense continue to show signs of life. Over in Colombia, meanwhile, the Brazil U20 side looks to be finding their rhythm; they picked up two convincing wins since my last post.

Brasileirão Gameweek 14 Round-up
Following two consecutive losses, Corinthians were keen to get their house back in order against América Mineiro on Wednesday night. They enjoyed the perfect start at the Pacaembu; Jorge Henrique put them ahead after just 22 seconds, before the visitors had even touched the ball. The Coelho reacted well with a goal from Kempes, but a second half Paulinho effort handed Tite's side a much-needed victory. Flamengo maintained the pressure at the top, beating Cruzeiro in Sete Lagoas. Ronaldinho was again instrumental for Fla; his pirouette and pass allowed Deivid to net the only goal of the game.

Jorge Henrique celebrates his early goal for Corinthians.

São Paulo finally turned in a decent performance at the Morumbi, beating Bahia 3-0 to remain in third position. The ageless Rogério Ceni broke the deadlock in the opening period with an emphatic penalty kick, before Dagoberto and Lucas sealed the win with breakaway goals. Palmeiras, however, dropped points on the leaders, managing only a 1-1 draw with Coritiba. In truth, the Verdão were likely happy with a point, having had Thiago Heleno dismissed in the second period.

"Dedérminator!" punned Globo. "Dedéckenbauer!" ventured a friend of SKP. Yes, Wednesday evening's clash between Vasco and Santos belonged to one man alone. Up against the considerable collective talent of Neymar, Borges, and Paulo Henrique Ganso, cruzmaltino centreback Dedé turned in a fantastic performance, halting everything the Peixe threw at him and popping up with a goal at the other other end. An honourable mention also goes to Diego Souza, whose glorious opener would have been headline material in any other match. The 2-0 win leaves the Gigante da Colina sitting pretty in fourth place. Santos, however, remain entrenched in the relegation zone.

Dedé cool; the Vasco defender was imperious against Santos.

Fluminense continued their climb up the table, beating Internacional on Thursday evening. With Fred mysteriously missing from the squad (it later emerged that he wasn't in the right state of mind to play... whatever that means), Rafael Moura took full advantage of his moment in the spotlight; contributing to Souza's opener, and tucking away a late penalty. Things are looking up for Abel Braga's side. The same cannot be said for Grêmio; their 2-2 draw at home to Atlético-MG cost coach Julinho Camargo his job, just 33 days after he took the reigns at the Olímpico. New boss Celso Roth, whose CV is already peppered with spells in charge of the Tricolor, has quite a job on his hands.

At the bottom of the Brasileirão, both Avaí and Atlético-PR followed their promising weekend victories in fine style, picking up 3-0 away wins against Ceará and Atlético-GO respectively. Those matches were marked by impressive long-range strikes from near-namesakes Cleverson (for Avaí) and Kléberson (for the Furacão). Things are starting to get very interesting at the foot of the table. One club that continues to defy expectations of a relegation battle, though, is Figueirense; they're back in the top half, following a comfortable victory over Botafogo.

U20 World Cup Round-up
Having started their campaign with a disappointing draw against Egypt, the Brazil U20 side were eager to stamp their mark on the second week of the U20 World Cup. They did just that, picking up two convincing wins over the last few days. Ney Franco's side made short work of Austria on Monday night, securing a 3-0 win in Barranquilla. São Paulo strikers Henrique and Willian José were both on target for the seleção, whilst Philippe Coutinho capped his impressive display with a goal from the penalty spot.

Back in the spotlight; Philippe Coutinho has impressed for Brazil U20s.

Things got even better on Thursday; Brazil produced an excellent performance to brush aside Panama, a result that ensured top spot in Group E. After dominating the early exchanges, the seleçao came up with a double salvo just before the break; Henrique tucked home following a good run from Oscar, before Philippe Coutinho hit a neat second. The Internazionale midfielder went on to bag his third of the tournament in the second half, curling a low shot in at the far post after some bewitching footwork. With the three points safe, Brazil relaxed in the latter stages, but were still able to grab a fourth; Cruzeiro youngster Dudu finished with aplomb in the dying minutes. Ney Franco's side will face either Nigeria or Saudi Arabia in the next round.

Results. Série A; Corinthians 1-0 América-MG, Grêmio 2-2 Atlético-MG, Figueirense 2-0 Botafogo, Ceará 0-3 Avaí, Vasco 2-0 Santos, Cruzeiro 0-1 Flamengo, Coritiba 1-1 Palmeiras, São Paulo 3-0 Bahia, Fluminense 2-0 Internacional, Atlético-GO 0-3 Atlético-PR. U20 World Cup; Brazil 3-0 Austria, Brazil 4-0 Panama.

(Photo credits; (1) Eduardo Viana, (2) Paulo Sergio, (3) Vanderlei Almeida.)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Avaí and Furacão Beat Paulista Giants; Fluminense Thrash Ceará at the Engenhão

Just when you think you're getting to grips with Série A's runners and riders, things get complicated. Corinthians, the runaway league leaders, lost their second match on the bounce on Saturday, succumbing to lowly Avaí. São Paulo also continue to stutter; they went down to Vasco at the Morumbi. Cruzeiro and Santos, both widely tipped for glory this season, also tasted defeat over the weekend. In Colombia, meanwhile, Brazil's U20 side started their World Cup campaign against Egypt. So, without further delay...

Brasileirão Gameweek 13 Round-up
It's been a tough week for Renan. Since replacing the injured Júlio César in the Corinthians side, the young goalkeeper has let in five goals; the same number his side conceded in their first ten games of the campaign. To make matters worse, it was his former club Avaí that inflicted the damage on Sunday, storming to a 3-2 victory over the Timão. Rafael Coelho scored the pick of the goals at the Ressacada, bursting through a static Corinthians defence to finish with aplomb. That result allowed Flamengo to reduce the gap at the top to just one point; the Rubro-Negro cruised to a 2-0 victory over Grêmio. Ronaldinho was again the star of the show, scoring one and setting up another against his boyhood club.

Rampant rabbit; Rafael Coelho (right) celebrates his winning goal for Avaí.

São Paulo, meanwhile, wasted their chance to gain ground on their bitter rivals, losing to Vasco at the Morumbi. Ricardo Gomes got his tactics spot on against his former employers, selecting Jumar to man mark Lucas, and pushing Juninho Pernambucano into a more advanced position. Breakaway goals from Éder Luís and substitute Felipe ensured that the Gigante da Colina earnt the three points that their disciplined display deserved. Botafogo also battled to an impressive away win, beating Cruzeiro thanks to a powerful strike from returning hero 'Loco' Abreu.

Having thrown away a 3-0 lead against Flamengo during the week, Santos were keen to make amends against Atlético Paranaense. The Furação, however, had other ideas, and turned in an inspired performance on the waterlogged Arena da Baixada turf. Following lovely goals from Cléber Santana and Neymar, it was Marcinho who settled the match with a late header. The Peixe now find themselves in the relegation zone, albeit with three games in hand. Another big side struggling for form is Atlético-MG, who succumbed to Palmeiras at the Canindé. Under fire midfielder Marcos Assunção scored the goal of the game, bending home a trademark free kick from distance.

Pastures new; Rafael Sobis is enjoying life at new club Fluminense.

After weeks of frustration, Fluminense finally came up with a convincing display, brushing aside Ceará at the Engenhão. Rafael Sobis opened his account for the Tricolor with a smart left-footed strike, whilst Fred also bagged his first goal of the Brasileirão season. Internacional, Sobis' former club, could only manage a 0-0 draw with Atlético Goianiense. Maybe a mid-season trip to Germany wasn't such a great idea after all. Elsewhere, there were good wins for Bahia (against Figueirense) and Coritiba (who consigned América Mineiro to last place in the table).

U20 World Cup Round-up
Ney Franco's Brazil side endured a tricky start to their U20 World Cup campaign, battling to a 1-1 with Egypt. Recent Porto signing Danilo put the seleção ahead with a powerful header from a corner, but Egypt reacted immediately, restoring parity through Omar Gaber. With the likes of Casemiro and Oscar unable to recapture their recent club form, Brazil were second best for long spells in Barranquilla, and in the end will likely have been content with a point. Next up for the youngsters; Austria.

Results. Série A; Flamengo 2-0 Grêmio, Cruzeiro 0-1 Botafogo, Palmeiras 3-2 Atlético-MG, São Paulo 0-2 Vasco, Fluminense 4-0 Ceará, Internacional 0-0 Atlético-GO, Avaí 3-2 Corinthians, Atlético-PR 3-2 Santos, América-MG 1-3 Coritiba, Bahia 3-1 Figueirense. U20 World Cup; Brazil 1-1 Egypt.

(Photo credits; (1) Cristiano Andujar, (2) Paulo Sergio.)
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