Brazilian Futebol

News and opinion about Brazilian football (soccer).

Monday, July 31, 2006

Luck even with a loss

Sao Paulo's tactic of playing with a reserve side did not pay good dividends this weekend. The team lost for the first time at home, and was quite simply embarassed by Santos at the Morumbi Stadium, with a 4-0 loss. More worried about its Libertadores semifinal return leg against Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday, the team was able to rest its main players and still remain alone atop the standings in the Brazilian Serie A. Confirming the saying that good teams also need luck, Sao Paulo's loss was not so damaging, as Cruzeiro lost an away match to Vasco and Inter had its third straight scoreless draw, against Gremio. So now the defending Libertadores champions can concentrate on Chivas knowing that, no matter what, they are still the leaders in the Brazilian championship - and will remain so even after next week.

Inter's tactic of playing with a reserve side paid off better, in a match marked by violence in the stands and a vandalism act by Gremio's supporters where bathrooms were set on fire, forcing the match to be interrupted by 15 minutes in the second half.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Corinthians lost again, this time by a 1-0 score away to Santa Cruz. This game saw the largest crowd of the 14th round, with more than 40,000 people. Better for Santa, which left the relegation zone, where Corinthians remains - three points behind its nearest opponent. Fluminense could not overcome a weakened Botafogo side and tied 1-1 at the Rio derby, failing yet again to gain more ground on the leaders.

Brazilian Cup champions Flamengo did not recover from all celebrations in time and lost to Atletico Paranaense 1-0, falling into the relegation zone. And Goias lost a golden opportunity against Fortaleza, tying 1-1 at home and still struggling to find its form after the World Cup break. Fortaleza tied the game in the end, on a penalty kick, by which time Goias was already playing with nine men.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Palmeiras shows strength

Palmeiras may want the World Cup to be held more often. With a 4-2 win over Parana and a strong performance this Saturday in Sao Paulo, the team reached its fourth straight win in as many games since the World Cup break in the Brazilian Serie A. The result lifted the team away from the relegation zone, and confirmed its great form of late. Parana has not been playing so badly itself lately, and had won its last six games. With two hot teams, what fans in the stands witnessed was a wonderful match, especially in a five-goal second half.

Meanwhile, Sao Caetano and Ponte Preta only managed a cold, slow 1-1 tie in front of just over 1,500 people. Less than half the crowd in Caxias do Sul, where Juventude overcame the 2-degree Celsius temperature to beat Figueirense 1-0.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Brazilian Serie A - Round 14 preview

The 14th round of the 2006 Brazilian Serie A gets underway this Saturday with three games.

JUVENTUDE x FIGUEIRENSE - Figueirense has been playing very well in the current season, and is one of the positive surprises of the Serie A in 2006. Juventude, on the other hand, has been just regular. But playing at home may give the team a slight advantage.

SAO CAETANO x PONTE PRETA - Sao Caetano tries to build on the positive 2-2 draw it got last week against Fluminense in Rio. Ponte, meanwhile, must play better than what it showed in the loss to the Sao Paulo reserves at home last week. With new coach Leao slowly fitting the team to his style, Sao Caetano will probably prevail.

PALMEIRAS x PARANA - Palmeiras will try to win its fourth game in as many matches since the end of the World Cup to finally get out of the relegation zone. But to do that they must defeat Parana, which is itself running a 6-game winning streak. Tough one!

On Sunday, seven other games complete the 14th round:

ATLETICO PARANAENSE x FLAMENGO - The Brazilian Cup champions visit Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba. Sill trying to escape the danger of relegation, Flamengo may still feel the effects of a natural laydown after playing for a title on Wednesday. To make matters worse, historically it always has some trouple playing in Parana. Atletico is not playing that well, but should guarantee at least a point here.

VASCO x CRUZEIRO - Can Vasco recover from the loss to Flamento in time to face Cruzeiro. Likely not, especially since the team from Belo Horizonte will be trying to recover from two-game winless streak that removed the team from the lead in the standings.

SANTA CRUZ x CORINTHIANS - The game between the two bottom teams in the standings promises to be a dramatic one. Santa Cruz is riding a three-game winning streak and plays at home, while Corinthians just tries to escape the crisis that may see fan favourite Carlos Tevez leave for Europe in the next few days. The defending champions will have to play a lot better than they have recently if they want to save at least a point away from home.

SAO PAULO x SANTOS - Leaders Sao Paulo should field a reserve side for the second week in a row, trying to concentrate on the return leg of the Libertadores semifinal against Chivas Guadalajara, on Wednesday. After ending a four-game winless streak last Sunday, Santos should get at least a point here. But Sao Paulo's reserves hope to pull another surprising win, like the 3-1 away victory against Ponte Preta last week.

FLUMINENSE x BOTAFOGO - After watching crosstown rivals Flamengo and Vasco battle for the Brazilian Cup title during the middle of the week, Fluminense and Botafogo play another Rio derby at the Maracana Stadium. Fluminense must win to keep pace with the leaders, while Botafogo just tries to escape a return to the relegation zone.

INTERNACIONAL x GREMIO - Like Sao Paulo, Inter should field a reserve team in the Brazilian Serie A ahead of its return leg in the Libertadores against Libertad. A loss coupled with a Sao Paulo win could leave the team from Porto Alegre falling dangerously far from the top of the table, but right now their only worry should be the continental competition. Crosstown rivals Gremio should benefit from this and could get the three points here.

GOIAS x FORTALEZA - Goias tries to win for the first time since the World Cup and recover from last week's 3-1 home loss to Palmeiras. Fortaleza should be the perfect opponent for this recovery, with the team from Ceara only managing two points in its last three games, which left the team tied for 18th in the standings, with Santa Cruz.

Inter moves closer to final

Internacional moved closer to its second Libertadores Cup final ever on Thursday, after travelling to Paraguay and drawing nil-nil with Libertad, in Asuncion. Despite dominating most of the match, the Brazilian side was still lucky in two opportunities that saw the locals hit the post in the first half and the crossbar with just a few minutes left in regulation.

On the return leg in Porto Alegre on Thursday, a simple win should guarantee Inter a place against the winner of the Sao Paulo and Chivas Guadalajara affair. Colorado fans hope the team will not follow the path of the 1989 Inter team that also faced a Paraguayan team in the semifinal and was eliminated - after a 1-0 away win in the first leg in Asuncion and a loss in regulation and penalty kicks to Olimpia in the return leg in Porto Alegre.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Flamengo wins Brazilian Cup

Flamengo defeated Vasco 1-0 yesterday and won the Brazilian Cup for the second time in its history - the first being in 1990. On a wonderful night at the classic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the most popular club in the country defeated its crosstown archrivals to build a 3-0 aggregate win in the finals of the tournament. With a goal scored by Juan in the first half, the team only had to waste time to see its first title in four tries at the Cup's final (it had lost the last three finals it had played on, in 1997, 2003 and 2004). With the title, Flamengo is the first Brazilian team guaranteed in the 2007 Libertadores Cup.

Speaking of the South American continental competition, defending champions Sao Paulo recorded a huge win last night, travelling to Mexico and defeating Chivas Guadalajara 1-0, thanks to a penalty kick scored by goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni. The Brazilian side dominated most of the first half, but Chivas had managed to pull even and later dominate the second half of the game. Just before the penalty kick, Chivas had a great chance and hit the crossbar. Both teams will play again in Sao Paulo next week, and the Brazilians need only a draw to advance to the final for the second year in a row. The other semifinal starts today, with Brazilian Internacional visiting Paraguay's Libertad.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trouble for Corinthians

The ill-fated partnership between Brazilian defending champions, Corinthians, and investment fund MSI seems close to an end. This month the club had to pay debts and salaries that should have been paid by its partner, only adding to the series of behind-the-scenes fighting regarding the club's soccer team, something that has been going on since the partnership was created. With the brief exception of the 2005 National title, club and partner have never seemed to agree how to handle the extremely popular team based in Sao Paulo. With the recent poor results that see the team in last place in the Brazilian Serie A, the fight only became more open. Now, even fan favourite Carlos Tevez - who played for Argentina in the 2006 World Cup - is threatening to jump ship, after being criticized in the team's last game, a 2-2 tie at home against fellow relegation candidates Fortaleza.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is Dunga the answer?

Brazil announced this week that former midfielder Dunga will replace Carlos Alberto Parreira as the coach of the National football team. The main reason for the choice of the former player, without any kind of coaching experience, is the hope he will take to the team his motivation.

Known for his ability to encourage players by constantly shouting and orienting the team, Dunga could bring to the team one of the ingredients that was missing during the World Cup in Germany: a winning attitude and clear desire to play to win. After all, during the last World Cup the Brazilian team arrived as the main favourite but never lived up to that favouritism, showing very little and bowing out of the tournament in a 1-0 loss to France in the quarterfinals.

However, it still remains to be seen if Dunga will be the answer the team needs to return to its winning ways. For his style he can be considered a poor man's Scolari - who has renewed his contract to keep coaching Portugal at least until 2008. And many believe he may be ahead of Brazil only until 2008, when Scolari could then return and prepare the team for the 2010 World Cup.

Only time will tell if Dunga was the right choice for Brazil. He can either follow the steps of other former players with no former - or extensive - coaching experience such as Germany's Klinsmann (in 2006) and Voeller (in 2002), or even Holland's van Basten this year. Or rather, he could also follow the path of another former Brazilian midfielder with no coaching experience taking command of the team after a frustrating World Cup: in 1990, Paulo Roberto Falcao took control after the disappointing loss to Argentina in the second round in Italy, but only lasted 10 months ahead of the team.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

More than a failure, a disappointment

Brazil was unable to defend its title in Germany, but the reasons for the poor form shown in Europe are only now beginning to surface. Prior to the tournament, the team was considered by many experts as one of the top sides ever fielded by the country, and even compared to teams such as the ones from 1958, 1970 and 1982 - the latter did not win the World Cup but thrilled fans worldwide with an offensive display of football. Seldom has a team arrived at the World Cup with such a favouritism.

After being knocked out in the quarterfinals by virtue of a 1-0 loss to France, these same experts are asking how could they have been so wrong about the team. Brazil never seemed to find its game during the competition, even in the four wins before the loss to the French. The team's best performance came in the third match of the first stage, a 4-1 win against a weak Japan side that manage only one point in the competition thanks to a scoreless draw against Croatia. In that game, several reserves were fielded and seemed to bring some emotion and willingness to perform to the team.

In the other matches, the team was never more than a collection of individual stars that never seemed to work together, and seldom showed any poise or desire to climb an extra level to perform at their best. Filled with aging veterans which were part of the winning 2002 side, the team seemed to feel like it could win any match it wanted, anytime it wanted. Because of this approach, players lacked any motivation in the early matches, and were still successful in beating Croatia and Australia in the group stages and Ghana in the round-of-16.
When they met France in the quarterfinals, though, Brazil could not do anything during the entire game, and ended up paying with a loss that eliminated the team from the tournament.

Even though the team was losing since the 56th minute, there was no sense of urgency from players of the coaching staff. Worse, players seemed to not care about the game itself, and showed little or no motivation in the field, passively watching as Zinedine Zidane orchestrated his comeback to centrestage of the world game. During the goal scored by Thierry Henry, four Brazilians players just watched as the French attacker easily entered the penalty box with no marking to net the game's only goal. After the game, just a couple of players seemed to show their disappointment on the field, while the others quickly left for the dressing room or even smiled while exchanging shirts with their opponents.

This performance in particular caused most Brazilians to be angry at the team. Not so much because of the result, a perfect normal score in a match against two traditional teams. But the apparent lack of effort was harder to take. A sense of disappointment took over fans in regards to the National Team. Not so much of failure, but rather of frustration that these players could care so little about the fate of the team in the tournament. That they could be more interested in just making more money (and they already have tons of it) instead of showing some pride in wearing the National colours.

Back home, players now begin to question the style of coaching employed by Carlos Parreira, the training regime, lack of tactical strengthening and apparent wrong approaches taken during the preparation for the Cup. Beginning with the roster choice, with some veterans clearly out of shape or far from their once admired capabilities. With the loss, everything is now up for questioning, and a reformulation of the team is unavoidable. Parreira will likely leave his position, as he should - together with assistant coach Mario Zagallo.

A decision on who will succeed Parreira should be announced shortly. In August, the National Team will face Norway in a friendly match. The team will probably be quite different from the one that entered the pitch on July 1.

With the disappointment regarding the Brazilian National team in the 2006 World Cup, all the attention in the country goes back to the local competitions. The second half of the Serie A (First Division) and the finals of the Brazilian Cup are the top concerns for local fans. Sao Paulo and Internacional are still battling in the continental Libertadores Cup, while several teams will also take part in the Copa Sudamericana.

As for the World Cup, Brazilians only hope players in 2010 can show more heart.