Monday, 31 October 2011

Grêmio Enjoy Ronaldinho Revenge; Neymar Hits Four in Santos Stroll

With such an exciting title race taking shape, many (huge) clubs have been forced to content themselves with bit-part roles in the recent narrative of the Campeonato Brasileiro. This was the week that two of them reclaimed centre stage. On Saturday night, Santos (and one particular extravagantly-coiffured striker) hit the headlines thanks to an impressive win over Atlético Paranaense. Even they were eclipsed, however, by events in Porto Alegre...

Grêmio 4-2 Flamengo

"Don't throw coins at Ronaldinho: he'll only start collecting them," read one hand-made sign. Hundreds of others simply bore the words "crook" and "mercenary." Some pioneering fans even went to the effort of printing fake 100-real notes with a familiar buck-toothed face on them. For Grêmio fans, this was personal. For Ronaldinho Gaúcho, it was a weekend to forget.

Not a flattering portrayal.

Some of this anger, of course, has rested dormant since the playmaker's acrimonious departure from the club decade ago. Under the perennial influence of brother/agent/puppet master (delete as appropriate) Assis, Ronaldinho forced through a transfer to Paris St. Germain, despite having repeatedly stating his desire to stay at Grêmio. The intervening years took the edge off much of the ire directed at the player, meaning that the news that Ronaldinho was returning to Brazil was greeted with significant excitement among gremistas earlier this year. If he's coming back, they thought, he'll come back to us.

But he didn't.

Ronaldinho chose Flamengo. Ostensibly for their enormous fan base, but actually for the beaches, the night life, the glamour of Rio de Janeiro. This was a devastating snub; not just to Grêmio, but also to Rio Grande do Sul - one of the state's most famous sons had turned his back on his homeland in favour of the cidade maravilhosa. Gaúchos, renowned for their regional pride, must have wished to delete that suffix from Ronaldinho's monicker.

The 31-year-old, then, entered the Olímpico on Sunday fully aware that the crowd were baying for his blood. All the bluster in the stands would be in vain, however, unless Grêmio delivered on the pitch. Yet home side started poorly; Deivid and Thiago Silva fired the visitors into a commanding lead, whilst Ronaldinho himself rattled the crossbar with a free-kick. When André Lima snatched a goal just before the interval, Grêmio were delighted to even be in contention.

Public enemy; Ronaldinho soaks up the atmosphere at the Olímpico.

Things changed dramatically after the break. Grêmio came flying out of the blocks, and equalised in some style; André Lima nutmegged his marker before slamming home another effort from range. With Vandlerlei Luxemburgo apparently happy to settle for a draw, Fla dropped deeper and deeper, offering precious little going forward. The tactic wouldn't pay off. Grêmio playmaker Douglas curled home a delightful effort to put the hosts ahead, before Miralles wrapped things up in the final stages.

The win, of course, signifies precious little in the context of Grêmio's season - the Tricolor are mid-table mediocrity personified. It will, however, mean the world to the thousands of fans who felt betrayed by a certain globetrotting footballer. This was the day that the gaúchos got their revenge on their one-time idol.

Brasileirão Gameweek 32 Round-up
One craque at least had a rather more enjoyable weekend; Neymar bagged four goals as Santos brushed aside Atlético-PR at the Pacaembu, further boosting his already formidable reputation. The fourth - a trademark slalom run followed by a cool finish - will certainly grace a good few YouTube videos in the coming months. That win sent the Peixe into the top half of the table, just ahead of Coritiba, who picked up a routine win over doomed América Mineiro.

Beijo, me liga: Neymar was nigh-on unplayable against Atlético Paranaense.

At the top of the standings, Vasco's goalless draw with São Paulo allowed Corinthians to return to the summit. The Timão initially fell behind against Avaí, but snatched all three points thanks to goals from Emerson Sheik and Liédson. Botafogo stayed within touching distance with a narrow win over Cruzeiro (no prizes for guessing who scored for O Glorioso in that one), whilst Fluminense battled to a 2-1 victory away to Ceará. That second game was most notable for the nascent partnership between Fred and Rafael Sóbis, which seems to be developing very nicely indeed.

In Florianópolis, Figueirense took another stride towards Libertadores qualification with victory over Bahia. Substitute Fernandes was the hero for the hosts in that one, rifling home two glorious second half efforts to secure the points. In the remaining games, Inter picked up a hard-fought win against Atlético-GO, whilst Atlético Mineiro pulled further away from the dropzone with victory over hapless Palmeiras. An honourable mention goes to Galo striker André, whose deft backheeled assist for Fillipe Soutto's goal was the weekend's best.

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

(Photo credits: (1) & (2) Ricardo Rimoli, (3) Tom Dib.)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Vasco Hit Eight to Progress in Sul-Americana; Fla, São Paulo and Botafogo All Eliminated

It wasn't a great week for Brazilian clubs in the Copa Sul-Americana; Flamengo, Botafogo and São Paulo were all eliminated, with barely a whimper of protest between them. Vasco, however, kept the flag flying in emphatic style...

Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
Vasco da Game welcomed Aurora to the São Januário, hoping to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg. They achieved that feat in the first half, flying into a 3-1 lead thanks to stunning Bernardo goal and a brace from Alecsandro. Things were looking good for the Gigante da Colina, but they about were to get a whole lot better. Vasco were nigh-on unplayable in the second period, adding five more goals (and conceded another couple), to record an 8-3 victory. Vasco will play Peruvian side Universitario in the quarter finals.

Dog day afternoon: surely the best reason for a game to be delayed.

The garra showed by Vasco was simply not matched by the remaining Brazilian sides, who were all soundly beaten. Emerson Leão's reign at São Paulo got off to a disappointing start, as the Tricolor lost 2-0 to Libertad. Luís Fabiano, who (re)opened his account for the club in last week's first leg, turned villain in Asunción, giving away a first half penalty with wild hack. Botafogo had an even tougher evening, getting thrashed by Santa Fé. Not even the sight of a canine pitch invader (who managed to evade capture for a good few minutes) was enough to raise Brazilian smiles in Colombia. Flamengo also ended their campaign without much of a fight, losing 1-0 to Universitario.

Copa Sul-Americana results: Vasco 8-3 Aurora (9-6 on aggregate), Libertad 2-0 São Paulo (2-1 on aggregate), Santa Fé 4-1 Botafogo (5-2 on aggregate), Universitario 1-0 Flamengo (5-0 on aggregate).

(Photo credit: Leonardo Muñoz.)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Kaká Recalled to Brazil Squad

An agonising wait for one of Brazil's most recognisable stars has come to an end today, with the news that Kaká has been recalled to the Brazil squad. After 15 months in the international wilderness, the Real Madrid schemer has been included in Mano Menezes' seleção for the forthcoming friendlies against Gabon (November 10th) and Egypt (November 14th). Interestingly, Menezes has refrained from picking domestically-based players, as the Brazilian league season reaches its final stages.


The full squad is as follows;

Neto (Fiorentina)
Diego Alves (Valencia)

Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
Fábio da Silva (Manchester United)
Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Alex Sandro (Porto)
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Luisão (Benfica)

Lucas (Liverpool)
Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich)
Sandro (Tottenham Hotspur)
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Elias (Sporting Lisbon)
Hernanes (Lazio)
Bruno César (Benfica)
Kaká (Real Madrid)
Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Dudu (Dynamo Kiev)

Hulk (Porto)
Jonas (Valencia)
Kléber (Porto)

With no Neymar, Ronaldinho, Leandro Damião or Fred, then, a number of attackers have earnt maiden call-ups. Willian, who has impressed in the Champions League with Shakhtar Donetsk, joins the squad for the first time, as does Bruno César. The former Corinthians man has been among the goals for Benfica of late. A couple of youngsters have also been selected by Menezes; leftback Alex Sandro (Porto) and livewire attacker Dudu (Dynamo Kiev) both make the step up to the full seleção having impressed at U20 level.

In goal, one of Diego Alves and the (relatively) inexperienced Neto will be handed the chance to impress, with Júlio César and Jefferson not selected on this occasion. It seems likely that Hulk will continue to lead the line in attack, unless Menezes springs a major surprise by starting with one of Jonas or Kléber. The headlines, though, will rightly be hogged by Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, the softly-spoken galã (heartthrob) of the Brazilian game. The whole country will be behind him as he dons the golden jersey for the 83rd time.

(Photo credit; Dani Cardona/Reuters.)

Monday, 24 October 2011

Vasco Recapture Top Spot as Corinthians Falter; Ceará Slip into Relegation Zone

Things are (finally) starting to become a bit clearer at the top of Série A. Vasco da Gama moved into pole this weekend with a victory over Bahia, while Corinthians could only manage a point against Inter. Botafogo and Flamengo, neither of which won over the weekend, are now three points adrift of the leading pair, whilst Fluminense and São Paulo must now be regarded as outside bets at best. Things remain as fraught as ever at the wrong end of the table; Atlético-MG clawed themselves out of the relegation zone at the expense of Ceará.

Brasileirão Gameweek 31 Round-up
A delightful strike from midfielder Felipe sent Vasco on their way to a comfortable win over Bahia, a result that sent the Rio club back to the Série A summit. The veteran, who has spent much of the year in the shadow of teammate Diego Souza, picked the perfect time to make his mark, curling home early on to settle his side's nerves. Corinthians, meanwhile, were held to a 1-1 draw by resurgent Internacional. Things could have been far worse for the Timão, who were bailed out by a stunning late free-kick from Alex.

The old ones are the best: Felipe celebrates his goal for Vasco.

Botafogo, who have faltered somewhat recently, slipped to a 3-2 loss to Avaí on Saturday evening. That game was lit up by a wonderful goal from Cleverson, who netted an acrobatic volley for the Leão da Ilha. The rest of the top six also dropped points. A late header from Deivid salvaged a point for Flamengo against Santos, São Paulo played out a goalless stalemate with Coritiba, while Fluminense slipped to a disappointing defeat to Atlético Mineiro. The absence of both Fred and Rafael Moura left the Tricolor with precious little cutting edge in that latter match, allowing Daniel 'big bones' Carvalho to inspire the Galo to a much-needed win.

Figueirense, this season's loveable overachievers, stayed in the hunt for a Libertadores spot with a win over Palmeiras. That match was more one-sided than the 2-1 scoreline suggested, with Figueira (seriously, how cool a nickname is 'the fig tree'?!) impressing once more with their creativity in attack. In Sete Lagoas, Cruzeiro recorded what could prove a crucial win in their relegation battle. Vágner Mancini's side looked as fragile as ever against Atlético-GO, but clawed their way to a 3-2 win thanks to a second half brace from Anselmo Ramon. Atlético-PR also claimed a significant win over Ceará, whilst rock bottom América-MG picked up a point against Grêmio.

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

(Photo credit: Vasco.com.br)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Botafogo Waste Chance to Go Top of Brasileirão; Flamengo Thrashed by Universidad de Chile

There were three midweek games involving Brazilian clubs this week, two of them in the Copa Sul-Americana. The other, a postponed Brasileirão game, could prove more significant in the long-run...

Santos 2-0 Botafogo
Breathe a sigh of relief. At times it looked as though they'd never make it, but Santos' Big Catch-up™ is over. Having had what seems like half of their league fixtures this year postponed for one reason or another (Libertadores, international matches), the Peixe are finally on an even footing with their Brasileirão competitors. Although a Série A challenge has passed the seasiders by, they can still have a big say in the eventual destination of the title, as demonstrated on Wednesday evening.

Hair today, gone tomorrow: Neymar salutes the Santos faithful.

Santos turned in an excellent display at the Vila, beating in-form Botafogo thanks to two goaks before the interval. Neymar, who has added a peroxide tint to his already extravagant barnet, scored the opener, prodding into the far corner after some typically skilful approach play. The lead was swiftly doubled, courtesy of Borges' 22nd Brasileirão goal of the season. The striker could hardly be more different in style to Neymar, as evidenced by his strike - a primitive hammer blow that fizzed passed the blameless Jefferson. Botafogo showed signs of recovery in the second period, but could not manage to reduce the arrears. They remain two points behind Corinthians and Vasco.

Copa Sul-Americana Round-up
When Vasco were roundly beaten by Aurora in the Sul-Americana a fortnight ago, they at least had the excuse of having fielded a reserve side. How Flamengo fans must wish Vanderlei Luxemburgo had done the same on Wednesday night. As it was, a strong Rubro-Negro side was humbled by Universidad de Chile; the visitors romped to a convincing 4-0 win
in Rio de Janeiro. Gustavo Lorenzetti scored the pick of the goals, bending home a low effort to round off a devastating second half counter attack. At the Morumbi, meanwhile, interim coach Milton Cruz guided São Paulo to a win over Libertad. Luís Fabiano scored his first goal since returning to the club with a well-taken volley, leaving the Tricolor in pole position to reach the quarter finals.

Results. Série A:
Santos 2-0 Botafogo. Sul-Americana: Flamengo 0-4 Universidad de Chile, São Paulo 1-0 Libertad.

(Photo credit; Miguel Schincariol.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

SKP on the BBC!

SKP was lucky enough to be invited onto BBC Radio 5 live this week, to talk about Brazilian football. Appearing on the new Booted feature alongside Gavin Stone of LesRosbifs, I spoke about Brazilian players returning home, the growing financial clout of Série A clubs, and a few other things besides.

The show is available on BBC iPlayer and iTunes. You can also access it by clicking here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Top Five All Record Victories; Adílson Sacked Following São Paulo Loss

This one's a little late, readers (SKP has had a busy week), so let's cut to the chase. The top five in Série A all recorded wins over the weekend, meaning things remain as tight as ever. São Paulo, meanwhile, who were in contention until recently, sacked coach Adílson Batista following an embarrassing loss at the hands of Atlético-GO.

Brasileirão Gameweek 30 Round-up
Corinthians remain top of the standings after a narrow win over Cruzeiro. Midfielder Paulinho proved his worth once again in that match, scoring his seventh goal of the campaign. Although occupying pole position, the Timão don't have much breathing space; Vasco stayed level on points with a routine triumph over Atlético-MG. At the Engenhão, Uruguayan striker Loco Abreu was again influential as Botafogo brushed aside a disappointing Atlético Paranaense outfit.

Heart and soul: Paulinho celebrates another important strike for Corinthians.

In Fortaleza, Flamengo finally exacted some revenge on their Copa do Brasil conquerors Ceará, sneaking a 1-0 win. Much-maligned frontman Deivid was the hero at the Presidente Vargas, nodding home to keep the Rubro-Negro within three points of the leaders. One point further back are in-form Fluminense, who beat Palmeiras thanks to two more goals from Fred. That wasn't the only brace of the weekend; Andrés D'Alessandro notched a couple in Internacional's comeback win over Avaí. That game also featured the Awkward Celebration of the Week™; Cleverson jumped over the advertising hoardings after brilliantly setting up Robinho's opener, and ran to the crowd. A quick glance over his shoulder suggested that he expected his teammates to have joined him. They hadn't. Not so clever, son.

Adílson Batista's reign as São Paulo manager came to an ignominious conclusion; he was sacked in the wake of the Tricolor's heavy loss to Atlético Goianiense. São Paulinos, many of whom never truly warmed to Adílson in the first place, will be wondering why it took the club's hierarchy so long to wield the axe. The ever-reliable Milton Cruz will takes over as caretaker boss. In the remaining games, there were victories for Grêmio (1-0 against Santos) and Figueirense (2-1 against América-MG), whilst Bahia held Coritiba at the Couto Pereira.

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

(Photo credit; Gil Leonardi.)

Friday, 14 October 2011

Cruzeiro Edge Closer to Relegation Zone; Top Three Falter

Things are getting unbearably polite at the top of the Brasileirão. "After you, Vasco." "No, I insist, after you," etc. None of the top three managed wins in the midweek round, allowing Botafogo to sneak back into contention. At the foot of the table, Cruzeiro edged ever closer to relegation peril.

Brasileirão Gameweek 29 Round-up
Flamengo followed their rousing derby win over Fluminense with a slightly disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Palmeiras. Thiago Neves' opener at the Engenhão was cancelled out by speedster Maikon Leite, who gave the Verdão something to smile about after a difficult week. Flu, meanwhile, recovered from their clássico disappointment with a fine win over Coritiba. Former Lyon striker Fred, who has been in fine fettle of late, bagged a hat-trick in that one, which included an impeccable overhead kick.

Aquele abraço: Fred celebrates his stunning goal against Coritiba.

Fredgol wasn't the only talismanic striker to make his mark this week; Loco Abreu inspired Botafogo to an important victory over Corinthians. The Uruguayan opened the scoring at the Pacaembu with a trademark header, before Maicosuel sealed the result with a deflected strike. With Vasco also failing to secure maximum points (2-2 against Atlético-PR), that result brought Caio Júnior's side back within two points of the lead. São Paulo, meanwhile, find their title challenge stuttering somewhat; the Tricolor could only manage a goalless draw at home to Inter.

Ceará and Cruzeiro continue to teeter above the relegation zone after disappointing results on Wednesday night. The Fortaleza outfit slipped to an embarrassing 4-1 loss at the hands of lanterna América-MG, whilst Cruzeiro were held by Bahia. Fans of both clubs will be having plenty of sleepless nights in the coming weeks. Figueirense, meanwhile, who were tipped by many to make a swift return to Série B, maintained their hopes of a Libertadores spot with a convincing win over Grêmio. In the remaining games, Atlético-MG beat Santos and Avaí drew 2-2 with Atlético-GO.

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

(Photo credit: Paulo Sergio.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Battling Seleção Beat Mexico in Torreón

Whisper it quietly, folks: an air of positivity seems to be slowly creeping back into the Brazilian national team set-up. It's hard not to smile, of course, when Ronaldinho whips home a trademark free-kick, but there were other positives to draw from Brazil's trip to Mexico. The seleção exhibited considerable willpower to recover from an early David Luiz own goal and Daniel Alves' red card, recording a win against a strong Mexican side.

Mexico 1-2 Brazil
With Júlio César and Fábio da Silva ruled out through injury, Mano Menezes handed starts to Botafogo goalkeeper Jefferson and Daniel Alves. Both would go on to have eventful evenings, albeit for wildly differing reasons. At leftback, Marcelo replaced Adriano, whilst there was a long-awaited start in attack for Hulk. The Porto star played more centrally than he tends to at club level, but gave a good account of himself in Torreón.

Rolling back the years: Ronaldinho celebrates his delightful goal.

Those familiar with Mano Menezes' seleção will know that they never do things the easy way. So it proved on Tuesday night; Brazil went behind within ten minutes, in tragicomic fashion. West Ham United flop Pablo Barrera advanced on the right before drilling in a low cross towards nobody in particular. David Luiz, assuming that an attacker was closing in, lunged clumsily for the ball, and watched in horror as it spun off his studs and into the net.

The goal seemed to wake Brazil up. Neymar and Hulk began to show glimpses of real quality, and linked up to good effect throughout the half. The latter set up the seleção's best chance with a deft backheel, only for Neymar to blast wastefully over. Just as Brazil found their rhythm, though, disaster struck for the second time; Daniel Alves, who had already been booked, received his marching orders after bundling Javier Hernández over in the area. Thankfully for the visitors, Andrés Guardado struck his penalty poorly, allowing Jefferson to make a diving save.

Menezes erred on the side of caution after the interval, replacing the relatively quiet Lucas with Adriano. The Barcelona man acted as makeshift rightback, meaning that Brazil were a man lighter in attack. It showed. Neymar and Hulk, so lively in the first half, were well marshalled by the Mexican defence, leaving Ronaldinho - who attempted to dictate the play from the middle of the pitch - with precious few passing options. With time ticking away, it looked like being another night of frustration for the seleção.

Call to arms: Marcelo showed his worth to the seleção.

Menezes' men, however, proved that they are made of sterner stuff. The equaliser came, somewhat predictably, from a dead ball. Ronaldinho - who has peppered opposition goalkeepers with free-kick efforts since returning to the national team set-up - slammed home a wonderful effort from 25 yards, beating Oswaldo Sánchez all ends up. It was the Flamengo star's first Brazil goal for four years, and was celebrated in the style of a man well aware that every strike at this level could be his last.

With the wind in their sails, the visitors pressed on in search of an improbable winner. It arrived in improbably glorious fashion. Just minutes remained when Marcelo darted in from the left flank, swapped passes with Neymar, and glanced up. With no Brazil player in the area, the Real Madrid player decided to go it alone, nipping between two defenders before crashing an emphatic drive into the roof of the net. His celebration - an impassioned hug with Menezes - suggested that their rocky relationship may have bloomed into something altogether more amicable. If Marcelo can translate his club form to the international arena on a frequent basis, he'll remain in Mano's good books for a while longer yet.

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) AP.)

Monday, 10 October 2011

'El Pollo' Settles Electrifying Fla-Flu; Corinthians Go Top

Three clássicos, 29 goals, and a new leader. All in a round's work for the Campeonato Brasileiro, which edged into its final quarter over the weekend. With Vasco coming unstuck (and how!) against Internacional, it was Corinthians who nipped into pole position with a convincing win over Atlético-GO. Those matches, though, were not nearly as exciting as that which took place at the Engenhão...

Flamengo 3-2 Fluminense
Sometimes, only the most hackneyed of clichés will do. (And far be it for SKP to resist the inevitable.) Sunday's Fla-Flu was a game of two halves. The first was - whisper it - not very good. Fluminense, whose play managed to be both silky and ponderous (adjectives which also apply to Deco, who was recalled to the starting XI for this one), were slightly on top before the interval, against a Rubro-Negro side deprived of four of its best players. Only the positively-not-deadly Deivid and the slightly undead-looking Rafael Moura came within five miles of breaking the deadlock during the opening 45 minutes.

Things changed after the break. Firstly, there were goals. Rafael Sóbis nodded the Tricolor ahead after some heartwarming midfield scrapping from Marquinho, only for Thiago Neves to square things up with a close range finish. Argentine playmaker Manuel Lanzini, who had come on in place of Deco, then restored Flu's lead with a well-timed header.

Things also heated up in the disciplinary department. Souza was dismissed for a full-blooded tackle, whilst the feud between Renato Abreu and Rafael Moura (which involved both a stray elbow from the former and some Frank Rijkaard-style spitting by the latter) continued to simmer. This was clearly not a match for the faint-hearted.

Chicken tonight; Bottinelli (right) celebrates his stunning equaliser.

It was, however, a game for chickens. Or rather, for The Chicken. With just five minutes left on the clock, and his side seemingly heading for defeat, Darío 'El Pollo' Bottinelli wrote his name into Flamengo folklore with a stunning equaliser. Firstly, he must be credited for breaking Renato Abreu's self-initiated free-kick hegemony; not an easy task in itself. The goal itself, though, was truly special, curled from fully 25 yards into the top corner.

Bottinelli wasn't finished there, though. Injury time loomed as he picked the ball up in a similar position, dropped a shoulder to fool an onrushing defender, and steadied himself for a shot. The diminutive midfielder threw everything into the effort, which arrowed unerringly into the bottom corner of Diego Cavalieri's net. The Engenhão (well, half of it) exploded into lunatic celebration; Fla had consolidated their local bragging rights for the foreseeable future.

Brasileirão Gameweek 28 Round-up
Not many games will top that one, but Cruzeiro and São Paulo certainly gave it a try back on Wednesday night; the Raposa twice came from behind to rescue a 3-3 draw at the Arena do Jacaré (literally 'Alligator Arena'). Predictably in a game of so many goals, it was the strikers who hogged the headlines; Keirrison opened his account for Cruzeiro, Dagoberto scored another lovely goal for São Paulo, and Luís Fabiano contrived to miss a penalty. It was all very different to the week's other game in Sete Lagoas, which pitted Atlético-MG against local rivals América. That one, which was attended by only 752 paying spectators (seriously), finished goalless.

Adriano controls the ball during his Corinthians début.

Vasco da Gama relinquished their grip at the top of the table, succumbing to Internacional at the Beira-Rio. With Dedé away on Brazil duty, Vasco's defence was torn to shreds by the Colorado, who racked up three second half goals. That result allowed Corinthians - who saw off Atlético-GO thanks to goals from Leandro Castán, Willian and Alex - to return to the top of the table after a month-long absence. Adriano - who, of course, has had to endure a significantly longer lay-off - made a 12-minute cameo performance for the Timão in that game. It would be imprudent to rush to conclusions based on such a short début, but O Imperador looks a good few kilos away from full fitness just yet.

Botafogo's title challenge appears to be fading slightly; they have now gone three games without a win after Saturday's draw at home to Bahia. Morale remains high, however, at least if goal celebrations are anything to go by - Caio's strike at the São Januário was followed by an amusing (if slightly disturbing) choreographed dance routine. Bahia remain in 14th place in the standings, just ahead of Ceará, who drew with Figueirense. Elsewhere, there were wins for Coritiba, Avaí and Santos.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Cleber Mendes, (2) Ari Ferreira.)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Vasco Reserves Beaten by Aurora; Santos Succumb to Grêmio

A short (and belated) midweek round-up for you, dear reader, with one match apiece from the Copa Sul-Americana and the Brasileirão. Without further ado, then...

Aurora 3-1 Vasco
With the Copa do Brasil title (and a spot in the 2012 Libertadores) already in the bag, and their domestic title challenge developing nicely, it's fair to say that Vasco da Gama aren't too fussed about the Copa Sul-Americana this year. The Gigante da Colina sent a reserve side to face Aurora on Wednesday night and were soundly beaten by the Bolivian outfit.

Vasco actually took the lead in the 40th minute, and in comical style; Bernardo tapped home after a long ball from Fágner (one of only two first choice players on display for the Rio de Janeiro side) bounced over the head of Aurora goalkeeper Pablo Lanz. The hosts reacted well, however, and took the lead through strikes from Aquilino Villalba and Augusto Andeveris. With time ticking down, Jair Reinoso sealed the victory with an emphatic volley. Vasco, then, have it all to do, but probably won't be too concerned about doing it.

Santos midfielder Ibson (right) competes for possession against Grêmio.

Grêmio 1-0 Santos
Santos continued The Great Catch-up (coming soon to a cinema near you) at the Olímpico, losing to Grêmio in a match originally scheduled for gameweek 11 of the Campeonato Brasileiro. Much was made in the build-up to the game of Borges' return to Porto Alegre (the Peixe frontman counts Grêmio among his former clubs), but the spotlight was to be stolen by an altogether less celebrated striker. Brandão, who has struggled to readapt to Brazilian football since returning from a spell in Europe, nodded home the only goal of the game in the 9th minute.

NB - Cruzeiro and São Paulo also played on Wednesday night. That match, however, was part of gameweek 28, and so shall be included in Monday's round-up rather than here.

Results. Copa Sul-Americana: Aurora 3-1 Vasco. Série A: Grêmio 1-0 Santos.

(Photo credit: Ricardo Rímoli.)

Neymar Strike Hands Brazil Victory Over Costa Rica

A goal from Neymar was enough to hand Brazil a narrow win over Costa Rica on Friday evening, in the latest of the Never-ending Friendlies™. The seleção certainly didn't have it all their own way in San José (I'm sorry, Dionne Warwick), leaving Mano Menezes with plenty to ponder ahead of the clash with Mexico.

Costa Rica 0-1 Brazil
With Daniel Alves and Marcelo rested ahead of Tuesday's match, there was a chance for two other candidates to impress in the fullback roles. Manchester United youngster Fábio was handed his first start on the right, whilst Adriano got the nod on the left. Luiz Gustavo - who remains somewhat of an unknown quantity in his homeland - was drafted into the midfield, and Fred was recalled in the target man role.

Fábio da Silva battles for possession in San José.

In a first half of precious little attacking quality, Brazil's best chance fell to Fred. With just three minutes on the clock, the Fluminense striker ran onto Neymar's (possibly accidental) through ball, before curling his finish just over the bar. With the seleção struggling to create further opportunities, Mano Menezes was visibly irritated on the touchline, stalking up and down, and barking orders at his charges.

Costa Rica, too, were in unforgiving mood;
Álvaro Saborío's crunching challenge on Ronaldinho Gaúcho was just one instantiation of the hosts' physical approach. Speaking after the match, Neymar ruefully admitted that he hoped not to "get smacked around so much" against Mexico. Ironically, though, Brazil's most worrying injury was self-inflicted. Thiago Silva and David Luiz clattered into each other whilst seeking space in the box, leaving the former requiring lengthy attention from medical staff.

Love at first sight; Neymar celebrates his goal with Fred.

The second half brought changes aplenty for Brazil. Fábio and Júlio César were forced off with injuries, and there were deserved outings for Oscar, Hernanes and Hulk in attack. Rather than disrupt the side, these alterations appeared to spur the seleção on; Menezes' side turned in a markedly better performance after the break. Daniel Alves was particularly influential off the bench, curling over a delightful cross from which Neymar broke the deadlock. The Santos forward almost added another soon after, but saw his long range effort rebound off the crossbar.

That would prove to be the last meaningful attack of the game. There was still time, however, for Costa Rica to confirm their status as the pantomime villains of the evening; Heiner Mora launched himself into the unfortunate Jonas, and was promptly dismissed by referee Walter López. Whilst Los Ticos provided Brazil with a sturdy challenge, then, Mano Menezes and his players will hope that future opponents are rather more familiar with the word 'friendly.'

(Photo credits; (1) Mowa Sports, (2) AP.)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Vasco Held by Timão; Time de Guerreiros Strikes Again

Six clubs, separated by just six points, with eleven games to play. Yes, the Brasileirão title race is taking shape nicely, with plenty of drama in store for the coming weeks. League leaders Vasco da Gama could have pulled away at the head of the table on Sunday, but could only manage a draw at home to Corinthians, whilst São Paulo and Botafogo both slipped to losses. At the other end of the table, Cruzeiro edge ever closer to relegation turmoil.

Brasileirão Gameweek 27 Round-up
It's been a funny old season for Danilo. The veteran playmaker was one of Corinthians' best players in the early stages of the campaign, only to lose his spot in the side with the arrival of Alex from Spartak Moscow. He was recalled to the starting lineup on Sunday against Vasco, and immediately set about showing Timão coach Tite what he had been missing. Danilo had a hand in both of his side's goals, setting up Alex with a beautifully weighted pass, before steering home a header late on. His contribution allowed Corinthians to leave the São Januário with a scarcely deserved point; Vasco had twice led through Dedé and Fagner.

Rain man; Luís Fabiano finally returned to action for São Paulo.

The award for party poopers of the weekend goes to... (drum roll please)... Flamengo. The Rio giants ruined Luís Fabiano's long-awaited return to action for São Paulo with a ruthless 2-1 win at the Morumbi. Dagoberto's long range effort was the pick of the goals in that one, but that will be of little consolation to the Tricolor. In Goiânia, a quickfire Felipe brace was enough to give Atlético-GO victory over an out-of-sorts Botafogo outfit. That result saw the Dragão climb above Coritiba and Figueirense in the standings, after that pair battled to a goalless draw on Sunday afternoon.

Fluminense's weekly get-out-of-jail rescue act would be getting boring by now if it wasn't so bloody exhilarating. Santos were the latest to fall prey to the Time de Guerreiros, succumbing to a header from Márcio Rosário in the 50th minute of the second period. It was a match that had everything; a Neymar strike followed by a heads, shoulders, knees and toes celebration (I kid you not), another rocket from Rafael Sóbis (again, why are you on the bench?!), and a goal from Colombian forward Wason Rentería on his Santos début. The Peixe probably thought they'd earnt a point with that 89th minute leveller, but one writes off Fluminense at one's own peril.

Fluminense players (and staff) celebrate their last gasp win over Santos.

At the Pituaçu, Bahia also came out on the right side of a 3-2 scoreline; late goals from Júnior and one-time wonderkid Lulinha secured a win for the Tricolor de Aço against Avaí. The latter look all but doomed this term; only América-MG (who managed a 1-1 draw with Palmeiras on Saturday) separate them from the foot of the table. The remaining members of the bottom four both picked up points this weekend; Atlético-MG drew 1-1 with nine-man Ceará, whilst Atlético-PR managed an impressive victory over Internacional. Those results leave Cruzeiro - who, recall, were tipped by many for the title - hovering just two points above the dropzone. The Raposa were soundly beaten by Grêmio at the Olímpico, and look to be in real trouble.

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

(Photo credits; (1) Ricardo Nogueira, (2) Alexandre Loureiro.)
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