Monday, 28 January 2013

The week(end) that was - #1

Welcome to a new feature! Once a week or so, I will reflect on some of the interesting stories that have developed in Brazilian football over the last few days (either over the weekend or during the week, hence the hopelessly non-comittal title). I'll be keeping it relatively short and sweet; brevity, after all, is man's best friend. Enjoy!



Tough times for Ganso

Paulo Henrique Ganso scored his first goal for São Paulo in their 2-1 win over Atlético Sorocaba but has a real fight on his hands to even establish himself in Ney Franco's first XI. The coach told Trivela's Luís Augusto Simon that the playmaker will have to compete with Jádson for a single spot in his preferred 4-3-3 formation, given that (a) Wellington and Denílson look like nailed-on starters and (b) neither Jádson nor Ganso is adept at playing wide. Ganso is certainly capable of higher highs than Jádson, but the latter is, in Brazilian parlance, far more regular – and sometimes consistency counts for a lot.

Elias and Renato Augusto start off on the right foot

Two of the bigger imports to Brazilian football made promising starts over the weekend. For newly austere Flamengo, former Sporting midfielder Elias roamed around nicely, managing to complete all 33 passes he attempted against Volta Redonda – no mean feat given his main attributes lie elsewhere. Renato Augusto, meanwhile, set up the winner for Corinthians against Mirassol (not a Cypriot town, despite its name), before awarding himself a modest six out of ten in the post-match press conference. More will be expected of both in the coming months, but a solid start never goes amiss.

Seedorf key for Botafogo

Veteran midfielder-cum-crooner Clarence Seedorf came off the bench for Botafogo and helped them rescue a point in the clássico against Fluminense. It was doubtful whether he'd even be in the matchday squad at all – his grandmother having died in Surinam recently – but his classy assist for Bolívar's equalising goal underlined once more how crucial he is for O Glorioso.


The countdown continues

The World Cup is now just 500 days away. While celebrations have been put on hold due to the tragic events in Santa Maria, a significant milestone was reached at the weekend: for the first time football was played in a (renovated) World Cup stadium. The Castelão (above) drew a modest (read: disappointing) crowd for the Copa do Nordeste match between Ceará and Bahia, for whom former Brazil midfielder Kléberson netted the winning goal. With works on the Mineirão also completed, eyes now turn to the remaining ten host cities. Sadly, a last-minute rush is all but guaranteed.

Neymar the willing provocateur

Neymar scored his fourth goal of 2013 for Santos against Bragantino. More notable, however, was the rugged treatment he received from opposition defenders: the seleção forward was fouled 12 times (of a total of 24 against the Peixe), with four Bragantino players getting booked for their challenges. Now the Neymar of two years ago would have moaned to the referee about such abuse, but an internal sea change appears to have occurred. "I don't care anymore," Neymar deadpanned afterwards; "One of them comes [and fouls me] and he gets a yellow card. The next guy tries, he gets one too."

His tricks against Botafogo-SP last week had led some to claim that Neymar aims to "humiliate" defenders, and that this somehow justifies rough challenges. (Corinthians coach Tite (in)famously asserted last year that Neymar is a "bad example" to young players for this very reason.) This is nonsense, of course; a player has the right to do whatever aids his team – and pleases fans – within the laws of the game. Angering opponents to the extent that they behave rashly is a legitimate tactic, albeit a dangerous one. It might be hypocritical, of course, to wind players up and then moan when you get fouled, but Neymar's comments suggest that he's not going to fall foul (ahem) of that dilemma anymore.


A version of this round-up was published by The Guardian here.

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