Brazilian Futebol

News and opinion about Brazilian football (soccer).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Santos get Ze Roberto

Former Bayern Munich midfielder Ze Roberto agreed to a one year deal with Santos, after also being offered a deal to play for Sao Paulo. The player, who had knee surgery after the World Cup - in which he played for Brazil - and was having physiotheraphy sessions at Sao Paulo, opted for Santos because of a greater wage offer (a reported 500,000 reais, or roughly US$ 230,000, per month).

Meanwhile, Flamengo signed goalkeeper Bruno from Corinthians, and forward Jaja, from Spain's Getafe. The defending Brazilian Cup champions are dangerously close to the bottom of the table in the Brazilian League, and hope their new players will help the team stay in the First Division next year.

Finally, Corinthians' investment partner MSI agreed to loan Argentine stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano for a year to English Premier League side West Ham United. Both players had asked to leave the popular club after the team hired coach Emerson Leao. Even without these two players, Corinthians managed to beat Sao Caetano 1-0 away from home last night.

The team from Sao Caetano, winless in four, decided to fire coach PC Gusmao this Thursday. The manager lasted just over two weeks at the team, after being fired from Cruzeiro and arriving to replace Leao, who left for Corinthians. A new replacement has yet to be announced.

Gremio wins another to reach second place

Gremio defeated Cruzeiro 2-1 to get a tie for second place in the standings of the Brazilian League, now with 35 points alongside Santos. Playing in the last of the three-match home ban in which no fans were allowed into the stadium, the team again had to play away from Porto Alegre, usin the Centenario Stadium in Caxias do Sul to host the match. Gremio played very poorly in the first half, as did Cruzeiro, and nothing but a scoreless draw could come out of it. Luckily, the locals were able to open the score in the second half, when Tcheco scored at the 50th minute mark after dribbling past a defender and putting the ball to the right of goalkeeper Fabio. Elber tied it for the visitors 11 minutes later on a header, after a cross from the left wing. Ramon restored the lead for the gauchos shortly after, in the 63rd minute, heading a ball after a corner kick. Goalkeeper Fabio, called by Dunga to the National Team, made an embarrassing mistake in the play, allowing it to go through his legs after fumbling it with the hands. It was Gremio's third straight win and sixth in seven matches during the month of August. On Saturday the team returns to its home ground, the Olimpico Stadium, and will again be allowed to have fans in the stands.

Gremio benefitted from Santos' 2-1 loss to Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba. Atletico dominated most of the match, against an extremely defensive Santos. The locals had the best chances in the first half, including a goal correctly waived off for offside. Marcos Aurelio opened the score for Atletico five minutes into the second half, and almost scored again after Santos decided to adopt a more attacking style. The second goal was only scored in the 86th minute though, with William heading a cross from the right. Santos still had a consolation goal in injury time, with Rodrigo Tiui.

Goias left the relegation zone and finally ended its 11-game winless streak after beating Fluminense in Goiania, 3-1. The last win had been on June 1, and since then the team had tied four times and lost seven. Nonato scored twice and Fabio Bahia once for the locals, with Juliano scoring for Fluminense. The team from Rio lost its third straight game and is winless in five.
Continental champions Internacional finally won a game after its Libertadores title, going to Recife and beating last place Santa Cruz 2-0, with goals by Fernandao and Adriano. The team from Porto Alegre is now in fourth place with 34 points.

Defending champions Corinthians played without Argentine internationals Tevez and Mascherano and beat Sao Caetano 1-0, the same result Juventude achieved against Flamengo. Palmeiras remained unbeaten after the World Cup, but lost a great chance to get three points at home and only tied Figueirense 1-1.

Three matches complete the 21st round tonight, with Sao Paulo trying to open six points at the top of the table when it hosts Fortaleza, second last in the standings. Vasco can make it a three-way tie for second place by beating Ponte Preta at home, while Parana tries to recover from two straight losses in its match in Rio against Botafogo.

Corinthians signs Amoroso and Magrao

After losing its Argentine players Tevez and Mascherano, defending champions Corinthians quickly signed two Brazilian players who were playing abroad, to help avoid relegation in the Brazilian Serie A. Forward Amoroso and midfielder Magrao agreed to join the most popular team in Sao Paulo, after lacklustre passages in foreign teams.

Amoroso signed a one-year deal, while Magrao agreed to a 10-month contract. The forward had left Sao Paulo to AC Milan in January, but did not get enough opportunities at the Italian team, playing only five times and scoring one goal. Magrao, who used to play for another Corinthians rival - Palmeiras - was playing in Japan. He will be on loan until the end of June.

Meanwhile, Sao Paulo and Santos are still fighting for midfielder Ze Roberto, who played in Bayern Munich last year and at the Brazil National team during the World Cup in Germany. After undergoing knee surgery upon returning from Germany, Ze Roberto has been doing physiotherapy work at Sao Paulo. The player apparently agreed with Santos yesterday afternoon, but then changed his mind and opted for a better offer from Sao Paulo. A final decision will be made today.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Brazilian Serie A - Round 21 preview

The 21st round of the Brazilian Serie A begins tonight with seven games. Three matches will be played on Thursday. Leaders Sao Paulo play at home against second last Fortaleza, while second place Santos try to gain ground away at Atletico Paranaense. Vasco and Gremio try to consolidate their play of late playing at home, against Cruzeiro and Ponte Preta, respectively.

Here are my views on this round's games:

ATLETICO PARANAENSE x SANTOS: Santos tries to cut back the three point difference to the league leaders, but will have a tough date in Curitiba against Atletico Paranaense. After losing at home to Vasco and tying last place Santa Cruz away, Santos regained some confidence in a come from behind win over Goias last Saturday. Defender Ronaldo Guiaro and left-back Carlinhos are banned after receiving their third cumulative yellow cards in the last game. Atletico seems to be returning to form, with two straight wins, including a 2-1 away victory over Fluminense last weekend. After repeating its formation for two consecutive games, Atletico will miss four players due to suspensions in this match, including goalkeeper Cleber. Midfielders Alan Bahia, Ferreira and Marcelo Silva are the other suspended players. With so many problems, the locals will be lucky to get a point here. At home in April, Santos won 2-0.

GREMIO x CRUZEIRO: One of the hottest teams in the league, Gremio goes for its sixth win of August against a surging Cruzeiro side. The locals will again play with the gates closed and not in their regular Olimpico Stadium, in the last of the three-match ban after incidents during a game against Internacional. Not that the team has minded much, having won both the previous games under such conditions. On Sunday, it helped aggravate the defending champions critical situation with a 2-0 away win over Corinthians. For the game on Wednesday, the team will not have midfielder Lucas. Cruzeiro, on the other hand, has not been playing well this month, but is coming a 3-0 win over Sao Caetano that ended an eight-game winless streak. Francismar is banned for the match and will be replaced by either Sandro or Julio Cesar. Gremio are still the favorites, but Cruzeiro will try its best to return to the race for a Libertadores spot. Gremio lost 3-1 the previous time they met.

GOIAS x FLUMINENSE: Two teams playing extremely poor football of late meet at the Serra Dourada Stadium, with Fluminense's new coach Antonio Lopes returning to meet his former team just a couple of weeks after being fired. After losing on his debut, Lopes may take advantage of the knowledge he gathered while at the side from Goiania. His team has not shown recently it can play well enough for his gameplay to work though. Petkovic is still out injured, and Thiago Silva is suspended. New Goias coach Geninho will try to build up on the first half of his team away at Santos, when it even managed a partial 1-0 lead after 90 minutes. His team is winless in 11 games though, with the last win coming before the World Cup break, on June 1st. To make matters worse for the locals, the team will not have suspended Souza, Welliton, Cleber and Cleber Gaucho for the game, as well as injured Fabiano. Rafael Dias, Leonardo and Jadilson return to the team though, and Robson Luiz can make his debut for the team. In their previous match this season, Fluminense defeated Goias 1-0.

SANTA CRUZ x INTERNACIONAL: Can the best team in South America beat the last placed team in the Brazilian League. Under normal circunstances, this would be a no-brainer. However, Inter is still trying to regain its form after losing four important players from the squad that won the Libertadores. And the team has yet to win a game after the title. In its last match, the team tried hard but still lost at home to a reborn Vasco side. For tonight's game, left back Rubens Cardoso returns after serving a one-match suspension. Midfielder Fabinho is questionable, after complaining of back pains on Tuesday. Santa Cruz will desperately try to win the games it has at home to try to avoid relegation one year after being promoted to the Serie A. With just two draws in its last five games, including one draw and one loss at home, the team must improve significantly in order to do so. Defender Paulo Rodrigues plays instead of suspended Cassio. Despite Inter's form, for this game anything more than a draw for the locals would be a welcome surprise. Inter beat Santa Cruz 1-0 in April.

PALMEIRAS x FIGUEIRENSE: Palmeiras is still unbeaten after the World Cup break, thanks in large part to the work of coach Tite, who managed to bring back some confidence and improve the conditioning of his squad during the international competition. After a 1-1 draw away to Ponte Preta on Sunday, the team returns home to face Figueirense, which can always be a tough opponent. In its six matches this month, the team has lost only once. If Palmeiras keeps playing the way it has for the past month and a half though, tonight the visitors could see their second loss of the month. The locals will have Amaral in place of important Paulo Baier, banned for the match. Figueirense will miss its top scorer, midfielder Cicero, also suspended. The game has a special flavor to Palmeiras, which lost 6-1 to Figueirense in the second round of the league.

JUVENTUDE x FLAMENGO: Juventude surprised everyone when they travelled to Curitiba and beat third placed Parana 1-0 on Sunday. Not having played too consistently lately, few expected the team to pull such an upset. Back at home, they can only hope for a similar fate against Flamengo, who still run a risk of falling into the relegation zone. Regular defenders Antonio Carlos and Fabricio return to the team. The Brazilian Cup champions are unbeaten in August, with 2 wins and 4 draws. A draw here would not be too disappointing for the visitors. For this game, Peralta has been chosen to play in the attack in place of Obina, with Fernando and Leonardo Moura also returning to the team. Flamengo won the previous match between the two sides, 3-1 at the Maracana.

SAO CAETANO x CORINTHIANS: Without Tevez and Mascherano, who left the team and are being shopped around in Europe, Corinthians tries to regain its focus to escape the danger of playing in the Serie B next year. Coach Emerson Leao gets to face his former team - which he quit two weeks ago to take charge at his current side - and recover from the 2-0 loss at home to Gremio. Goalkeeper Marcelo is still recovering from a hit to the head suffered in that game and will likely not play. Left-back Gustavo Nery is still out injured, and defender Marcus Vinicius is suspended. Winless in three, Sao Caetano also tries to recover from an embarrassing loss, 3-0 away to Cruzeiro. Left-back Triguinho remains out for Sao Caetano. Another match that could end in a draw. Back in April, Corinthians beat Sao Caetano 3-0.

SAO PAULO x FORTALEZA: The first of the three matches on Thursday sees leaders Sao Paulo host second last Fortaleza at the Morumbi Stadium, in a game the locals must win to confirm their favoritism in the league. Fortaleza is coming two straight loss, 4-1 away to Gremio and 3-2 at home against Botafogo. Midfielder Lucio was sent off against Botafogo and will not play here. Defenders Emerson and Glauber return to the team, together with forward Osmar. After a 3-2 win over Parana last Thursday, Sao Paulo tied Flamengo away 1-1 to hold on to the lead. Coach Muricy Ramalho will play midfielder Lenilson in place of injured forward Aloisio, shifting from a 4-4-2 formation to a 3-6-1, with Thiago as the lone striker. Fortaleza beat Sao Paulo 1-0 in their second match of the league.

VASCO x PONTE PRETA: What else could Vasco fans ask for? In the middle of a three-game winning streak which included away wins over Santos and Internacional, the team coached by Renato Gaucho faces Ponte Preta at home with its sights on second place Santos. However, the team will not have five regular players for the game. Defenders Fabio Braz and Paulao are suspended, together with midfielder Morais. Forward Edilson has left the team to play in Japan, and right-back Wagner Diniz is out injured. Ponte has other plans though, and hopes to play as well as it did in the 1-1 draw at home against Palmeiras to build some room between itself and the relegation zone. Defender Regis and forward Luis Mario are out suspended, and will be replaced by Thiago Mathias and Tuto. Vasco is still the favorite here, but all the changes can make it a little easier for the visitors. The team from Rio defeated Ponte 2-1 in Campinas in their previous match this season.

BOTAFOGO x PARANA: Having just left the bottom four, Botafogo wants to remain outside of it after facing Parana. The team from Rio is coming off two straight wins that ended a six-game winless streak, and hope to take advantage of the sudden collapse at the visitors' side, that lost two in a row. But the team will be without captain Claiton, sent off against Fortaleza. Defender Joilson and forward Jefferson Feijao are questionable. Parana fans are still trying to understand how the team could lose at home to Juventude after playing so well in a 3-2 away loss at Sao Paulo. If the team is able to regroup, it could escape this game with at least a point. Defender Emerson and midfielder Beto return to the team, but forward Leonardo continues to be out with an ankle injury. In the second round, the teams were held scoreless.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mascherano also leaves Corinthians

After Carlos Tevez went AWOL last week leaving Corinthians and showing up later in Buenos Aires, another Argentine player from the Brazilian defending champions did not show up for a training session at the team. This morning, Javier Mascherano was not seen at the club, and according to coach Emerson Leao, gave no explanation about his whereabouts. Leao said he considers both players to have finished their playing time at Corinthians, helping to fuel rumours about their imminent transfer to Europe, probably to play in the English Premiership with either Chelsea or Arsenal. Corinthians president Alberto Dualib is currently in London discussing issues with the team's main investment partnet, MSI, and is believed to be interested in deciding the fate of his Argentine players before the European transfer window closes, in two days.

Early week transfer news

The week started with plenty of news in the transfer front for Brazilian teams and players. Former Internacional forward Rafael Sobis will join ex-teamate Jorge Wagner at Betis Sevilla, having signed an eight-year contract with the Spanish club on Monday. He will likely already begin training with his new club on Tuesday, according to the Spanish media.

Edilson, from Vasco, is also leaving the country to play abroad. The member of the 2002 Brazilian World Cup championship team is headed to Japan, where he will play for Nagoya. And Vasco's crosstown rival Flamengo may lose three players to Spain's Atletico de Madrid to pay a debt with that team: midfielder Junior, defender Rodrigo Arroz and forward Bruno Mezenga.

Finally, Argentine star Carlos Tevez - who left his team Corinthians last week - is now being associated with playing at the English Premiership. After rumours he was being chased by Manchester United, the player is now being said to interest Arsenal, who would buy the player with money from a sale of Ashley Cole to Chelsea. According to London's The Sun, Arsenal would pay US$ 32 million to Corinthians. The Brazilian team's president, Alberto Dualib, is in England trying to finish a deal and solve the problems the team currently has with its investor partner MSI.

Coming the other way - from Europe to Brazil - defender Miranda has agreed to a one-year loan with Sao Paulo, from France's Sochaux. He will replace Uruguayan international Diego Lugano, who left the team after the loss in the Libertadores final. Sao Paulo is also said to be interested in midfielder Dagoberto, from Atletico Paranaense - who's also sought by Santos.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Gremio and Vasco keep winning

Vasco and Gremio had important away wins on Sunday and moved into the Libertadores qualification zone in the Brazilian Serie A. Gremio went to Sao Paulo and beat defending champions Corinthians 2-0, while Vasco had an impressive 2-1 win over Libertadores champions Internacional. League leaders Sao Paulo tied 1-1 in Rio with Flamengo, and second place Santos came from behind to defeat Goias at home, 2-1.

At the Pacaembu Stadium, in Sao Paulo, Gremio got its fifth win in six matches by defeating Corinthians 2-0. The visitors played a strong match and did not seem to mind playing at the defending champions home. Evaldo scored the first goal at the 30th minute, on a header after a corner kick. Romulo scored the second ten minutes before the end of regulation, giving Corinthians its first loss under coach Emerson Leao. Gremio has moved to 32 points, six less than Sao Paulo. Corinthians remains in the relegation zone, with 20 points.

Gremio's cross-town rivals Internacional did not have much luck, and fell at home to Vasco 2-1. Jorge Luiz opened the score with a header after just 10 minutes for the visitors, but the colorados tied it seven minutes later in a beautiful effort by Iarley. The winning goal by a determined Vasco side arrived only in the second half, with a long shot by Morais. Inter has not won a league game since claiming the continental title, drawing twice and losing once to remain with 31 points - now in sixth place in the standings. Vasco, on the other hand, climbed to fourth place with 32 points, reaching its third straight victory.

Sao Paulo went to Rio and saw Flamengo open the score in the first half with Juan, after a quick free kick caught the Sao Paulo defense unprepared. The locals dominated the match but slowly allowed the visitors to create some good chances. In one of those chances, Lenilson tied the game in the second half to give the league leaders a three-point advantage in the standings over second-place Santos. Sao Paulo complained about referee Carlos Simon, who did not give two penalty kicks that should have been called against Flamengo. The result left the team from Rio with 24 points, four ahead of a relegation spot.

At the Vila Belmiro Stadium, Santos came back from behind to beat Goias 2-1. The locals played poorly in the first half and left the pitch under strong disapproval from the fans in the stands, as well as a 1-0 lead to the visitors on a goal by Souza. In the final 45 minutes, though, the team scored twice - with Kleber and Carlinhos - to get back ahead and keep close to Sao Paulo in the standings.

In other matches, Fluminense's new coach Antonio Lopes could not change his team's fate, and Atletico Paranaense scored an important 2-1 away win. Cruzeiro ended its eight-game winless streak with a 3-0 win at home over Sao Caetano, and Figueirense defeated last place Santa Cruz 2-0. Parana lost a great chance to keep its third place in the standings by losing 1-0 at home to Juventude, its second straight loss. Palmeiras remained unbeaten after the World Cup break with a 1-1 draw away at Ponte Preta, and Botafogo left the relegation zone with a good 3-2 away win over Fortaleza.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Brazilian Serie A - round 20 preview

With the halfway point of the season already behind them, teams try to focus on the second stage of the Brazilian Serie A beginning this weekend. Leaders Sao Paulo have a five-point lead over second place Santos, with one game in hand. At the same time, only four points separate the bottom six teams in the standings.

Here are my views for the games this weekend:

FLUMINENSE x ATLETICO PARANAENSE: Antonio Lopes will try to straighten the ship at Fluminense, which has gone through four previous managers in the year and a terrible month of August so far. After a 3-0 away loss to Palmeiras on Wednesday, the tricolor from Rio tries to win the three points against a renewed Atletico Paranaense that had no mercy of Ponte Preta, in another 3-0 game. Fluminense had a good 2-1 away win over Atletico in the first round, but they will have a much tougher time this weekend.

SANTOS x GOIAS: Still in second place, but now five points behind league leaders Sao Paulo, Santos must win this game to remain in the title race. Coming off two sub-par performances that saw the team lose at home to Vasco 2-0 and draw 1-1 away to last place Santa Cruz, the team coached by Wanderley Luxemburgo knows it should beat Goias in this game. The visitors poor form continues, and they barely manage to salvage a 2-2 tie at home to Internacional on Wednesday, scoring two late goals after Inter had a player sent off. The teams were held scoreless in their previous matchup.

CRUZEIRO x SAO CAETANO: Can Cruzeiro fall any lower? Winless in eight, the team controlled the play against Botafogo away at the Maracana Stadium on Wednesday, but still left the field empty handed. Worse, the result ended Botafogo's own six-game winless streak, and left the team from Belo Horizonte in eighth place. Sao Caetano was lucky to draw Flamengo at home by a 2-2 score, and must improve if it wants to come away with at least a point. Cruzeiro will try to avenge the 2-1 loss to Sao Caetano in their first match of the league, but could have trouble trying to do so.

INTERNACIONAL x VASCO: The Libertadores champions lost four important players but still managed to put up a good effort at Goias, surrendering a late 2-0 lead when a player was sent off near the end of the game. Back at home they try to win their first match after their continental title, against a rejuvenated Vasco team coming off two important wins over Santos and Figueirense. Despite their recent results, Inter is the favorite. In the first round, a 1-1 draw in Rio.

PARANA x JUVENTUDE: Parana was unlucky not to come out of the Morumbi Stadium leading the standings, giving away two leads and ultimately losing to Sao Paulo by a 3-2 score on Thursday. Back to Curitiba, the surprise of the year in the league should not lose the chance to get all the points from the match to keep its title chances alive. Under normal conditions, Juventude should be beaten here. In their first match of the league, however, Juventude beat Parana 1-0.

FLAMENGO x SAO PAULO: League leaders Sao Paulo try to prove they have definitely overcome the trauma of losing to Internacional in the Libertadores final. Against Brazilian Cup champions Flamengo, the team coached by Muricy Ramalho tries to keep its comfortable lead atop the standings. However, it shall have a tough time against a very reasonable Flamengo side unbeaten in five games. Sao Paulo won the first match of the season between the two, 1-0.

CORINTHIANS x GREMIO: The gauchos seem to have found their game, and have climbed up to fifth place in the standings after beating Fortaleza 4-1 on Thursday. Their task this weekend will not be an easy one, however, as the team travels to Sao Paulo to face defending champions Corinthians. Still unbeaten in three games under its new coach, Corinthians is still trying to regroup after a turbulent week in which star player Carlos Tevez left the team and travelled without authorization from the club to his Buenos Aires home. Gremio beat Corinthians 2-0 in the first round.

FIGUEIRENSE x SANTA CRUZ: Figueirense will try to get three points from last place Santa Cruz at home to break a three-game home winless streak in which the team accumulated three 1-1 draws during the month of August. Four points out of fourth place, the team still has a chance of fighting for a Libertadores spot, but should stop wasting opportunities at home if it wants to play in the prestigious competition next year. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz hopes to return to its good form found after the World Cup, and end the current five-game winless streak. In the previous match, a scoreless draw in Recife.

PONTE PRETA x PALMEIRAS: Palmeiras gave its fans more reason to smile on Wednesday, when it easily beat Fluminense 3-0 to keep its great form and improve to 6 wins and 3 draws after the World Cup break. To make things better, Edmundo returns to the team after serving a one-match ban. Against a fading Ponte Preta that lost 3-0 at Atletico Paranaense, Palmeiras will try to return the favour from the first round, when they lost 3-2 at home to Ponte.

FORTALEZA x BOTAFOGO: After ending a six-game winless streak, Botafogo will try to create another streak, but a positive one this time. To do that they will have to beat Fortaleza, coming off a 4-1 loss top Gremio in a long trip to Rio Grande do Sul. The long trip may affect the locals, but Fortaleza has shown some toughness at home in their last games at the Castelao, and Botafogo has not won a game away from Rio yet. In their debut in the league this season, Botafogo beat Fortaleza 1-0 at the Maracana.

Sao Paulo opens 5 points at the top

In an extremely exciting match, Sao Paulo beat Parana 3-2 on Thursday at the Morumbi Stadium to open 5 points at the top of the standings in the Brazilian Serie A. The leaders now have 37 points against 32 from second place Santos. And Sao Paulo still has one game in hand, as do Internacional and Parana, in third place with 31 points.

The match started in frantic fashion, and Parana quickly showed it had no intention of sitting back to wait for the locals. After just 5 minutes, the visitors opened the score with Beto, who controlled the ball inside the penalty box after a corner kick, and placed it past goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni. One minute later, however, Sao Paulo tied with Aloisio, on a header after a free kick from the right. Parana continued to pressure and soon started controlling most of the action, limiting Sao Paulo to just a few passes around but never inside its penalty box. At the 22nd minute, Leonardo took advantage of a melee near Sao Paulo's goal to put the visitors up ahead again.

The teams still traded chances in the first half, but nobody could score. Sao Paulo would only manage to tie the game in the second half, after coach Muricy Ramalho changed a couple of players to try to create more chances. Leandro equalized at the 68th minute. Parana still had a few chances to win the game, but Alex Silva gave the hosts their first and final lead of the game after trying two headers to put the ball past the opposition's defense and into the net.

With the win Sao Paulo finishes the first half of the league in first place, and can build up to an eight point lead after making up its postponed match with Atletico Paranaense, originally scheduled for last week but which not took place due to the Libertadores final against Internacional. Inter and Parana, which should have played too, will also make up their game on September 30.

In another match yesterday, Gremio beat Fortaleza 4-1 to reach fifth place in the league alongside Fluminense and Vasco, with 29 points. The locals lead 3-0 after only 36 minutes, and slowing down afterwards. Fortaleza scored with 10 minutes left in the second half, but Gremio would still score another goal in injury time. It was the second of three home games in which the team from Rio Grande do Sul will play with no fans allowed in the stands. In the previous match in which the penalty was applied, the team had beaten Atletico Paranaense.

Vasco showed its win over Santos was no accident and beat Figueirense 3-1 at home and also reach fifth place. The home team quickly opened the score after 11 minutes, but suffered the tying goal 20 minutes later. Vasco would only pull ahead in the second half, with goals at the 68th and 88th minutes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fluminense changes coach for the fifth time this year

Fluminense was again humiliated on a trip to Sao Paulo. Just like two weeks ago, when it lost to Ponte Preta in Campinas by a 3-0 score, it could not hold Palmeiras at Parque Antarctica, and lost 3-0 in a match it should have actually lost 4-0 if a Palmeiras goal had not been unjustly called off. With two quick goals, including a beauty by Francis, Palmeiras took control of the game and did not score more only because it did not seem to want to. To make matters worse for Fluminense, the team had a player sent off before the first half was over, killing any hope it had to come back in the game. Palmeiras managed its first win in the league without Edmundo, who was suspended and did not play. With six wins and three draws after the World Cup, the team officially joins the race for a spot in a continental competition next year. Meanwhile, Fluminense changed coaches after the game - for the fifth time this year. Antonio Lopes, fired from Goias earlier in the month, will be the new coach.

Internacional also started well against Goias in Goiania, built a 2-0 lead by the start of the second half but in the end allowed the locals to tie the game 2-2. Playing with only nine men (against Goias' ten) at the end of the game, the visitors allowed goals at the 84th and 88th minutes. Not even the loss of four players from the team that won the Libertadores seems to bother the team from Porto Alegre, still determined to fight for its fourth ever Brazilian League title.

Santos regained sole posession of second place after a 1-1 draw against Santa Cruz in Recife. After opening the score at the end of a very defensive first half, the team suffered with the pressure put forward by the locals to start the second half, and suffered the tying goal at the 53rd minute. The teams started playing more offensively and either side could have scored the winning goal, but in the end the draw persisted.

In Caxias do Sul, Juventude could not transform its domination over Corinthians into a goal, and had to settle for a scoreless draw at home against the troubled defending champions. Despite the heroic draw amidst its current crisis, Corinthians still finds itself among the four bottom teams that would play in the Second Division next year if the tournament ended today.

At the Maracana Stadium, Botafogo broke its six-game winless streak and defeated Cruzeiro 1-0, thanks to a goal by Claiton at the end of the first half. Cruzeiro had the best chances to score though, despite playing with only 10 men since the start of the game. Cruzeiro remains winless in eight matches.

In other games, Atletico Paranaense scored a strong 3-0 win at home over Ponte Preta to gain some important points in its quest to escape relegation. Flamengo went to Sao Caetano and had an important 2-2 draw, despite complaining a lot about the first Sao Caetano goal, when a clear handball was not whistled down by the referee.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Brazilian Serie A - Round 19 preview

With seven matches on Wednesday, the Brazilian Serie A has its last round of the first stage this midweek. Three games complete the schedule on Thursday. The highlight of this round will be played at the Morumbi Stadium on Thursday, when leaders Sao Paulo face second place Parana.
Here are my views for the games of the 19th round:

ATLETICO PARANAENSE x PONTE PRETA: Atletico hopes to build on the 3-3 away draw against Figueirense to escape the bottom four in the standings. At home to Ponte Preta, coach Vadao tries to show the fans the team has turned a page and started its recovering. With Dagoberto coming back from suspension, the team shall have only one change from the one that played in the weekend. Ponte Preta will try to play better away from home in order to get some room between itself and the last placed teams. Forward Luis Mario returns to the team, while Tuto is suspended. Atletico may take advantage of the home crowd, but a draw looks more likely.

SANTA CRUZ x SANTOS: After losing its long home unbeaten streak to Vasco, Santos travels to Recife to play last place Santa Cruz on Wednesday. In order to get the three points, coach Wanderley Luxemburgo will have a tough time rearranging his team without three regulars: suspended Maldonado and Reinaldo, and injured Ronaldo Guiaro. Cleber Santana returns to the team after serving a suspension. Santa Cruz will also miss three players from the team that tied Fluminense 1-1 in Rio: Zada, Washington and Wilson Surubim. Winless in four matches, the locals will desperately try to land the three points. They are likely to get only one.

SAO CAETANO x FLAMENGO: Flamengo has started to play like Brazilian Cup champions. At least, that's what their recent record would suggest, given the team's four-game unbeaten streak. Truth be told, though, the team has not been particularly exciting during that stretch, only regular. On Wednesday it travels to Sao Caetano trying to get at least a point, but missing three players: suspended Juan and Renato Silva, as well as injured Luizao. Sao Caetano will try to prove it deserved better luck in the 1-0 loss to Parana, thanks to a goal three minutes into injury time of the second half. Without Anderson Lima and Gustavo, suspended, coach Paulo Cesar Gusmao will try his first win ahead of the team. It will be difficult, but the locals might get the three points.

GOIAS x INTERNACIONAL: Libertadores champions Internacional try to get an away win to move closer to the top of the Brazilian League. But they will have to overcome the loss of two more important players. After Bolivar and Tinga had left the team, Monday arrived with the announcement that Jorge Wagner and Rafael Sobis will also fly to play in Europe. Inter does not want to waste a good opportunity against Goias though, since the team is winless in nine games. In addition to the four dealt players, Elder Granja and Alex remain sidelined, while Perdigao was sent off against Palmeiras. Fabiano is the only questionable player for Goias, but that doesn't mean much given the team's poor form. If Inter was complete, this would be a no contest. Given their troubles, Goias can finally end their winless streak here.

PALMEIRAS x FLUMINENSE: Palmeiras tries to keep its good play of late by hosting Fluminense at the Parque Antarctica Stadium. However, the team must overcome the loss of forward Edmundo, suspended for this match. The team hasn't won a game in the League without him yet, losing in all three instances he could not play. Marcinho will play in his place. Defender Michael is also out, and will be replaced by Chiquinho. Fluminense, in the meantime, will try to recover from two very disappointing performances, in which the team only managed one draw in two matches at home against clubs at the bottom of the standings - Corinthians and Santa Cruz. The team will have goalkeeper Diego in place of Fernando Henrique, who abandoned the training session on Tuesday after being told he would not start the game. He did not travel to Sao Paulo with the team for the match, and it's still unclear what the full penalty for his action will be. The team will also be without suspended Petkovic, Tuta and Juliano - who gave way to Beto and Fernando Silva. Changes in the team also include the return of injured Thiago Silva, Roger and suspended Marcao. With all the turbulence at Fluminense, Palmeiras may well overcome the loss of Edmundo to keep its climb in the standings.

BOTAFOGO x CRUZEIRO: Winless in six matches, Botafogo tries to escape the bottom of the table against another team in poor form, Cruzeiro. The team from Belo Horizonte is winless in seven games, and is only in a better position in the standings thanks to a strong start in the league, before the World Cup. Things do not look too good prior to the game for either side. Diguinho, Rafael Marques, Marcelinho and Reinaldo are suspended for Botafogo, while goalkeeper Max is injured. For Cruzeiro, Martinez, Jonilson and Fabio Santos are injured, while forward Alecsandro was sold to Spain's Betis. During the week the team also had to deal with a complaint by forward Carlinhos Bala, unhappy for not having started the match against Sao Paulo. If their bad luck continues, both teams can expect to keep their winless streaks alive.

JUVENTUDE x CORINTHIANS: Still trying to escape the relegation zone, defending champions Corinthians find themselves in a serious crisis previous to the away match against Juventude. Argentine star Carlos Tevez left the team on Monday, travelling to Buenos Aires and demanding a transfer to Europe, while partner MSI criticized the behaviour by new coach Emerson Leao, accused of being one of the reasons why Tevez left. Without Tevez, Nadson will likely be the team's lone striker. The team will also play without suspended Eduardo and Carlos Alberto, as well as injured Marcus Vinícius and Ramon. Leao has not announced his changes for the team, but it will be very tough for him to get his third win in as many matches since taking over the squad. Juventude will try to rebound from a poor 4-1 away loss at Fortaleza, and hopes the local fans can help the team defeat the visitors. Winless in four matches, Juventude can only hope it can take advantage of Corinthians current troubles. A draw seems very possible too.

Three other matches complete the 19th round on Thursday:

SAO PAULO x PARANA: Can the leaders hold on to the top of the table without playing top class football for much longer? After winning just one of its last four matches, it's impressive that Sao Paulo has managed to stay three points clear of the second placed teams in the league. They don't have much space for error here though, as they face current second placed Parana, at the Morumbi Stadium. The locals' main weakness remains in defence, where coach Muricy Ramalho is still trying to find a replacement for departed Lugano. Parana has been playing quite well lately, and climbed to second place with a 1-0 home win against Sao Caetano on Sunday, thanks to a goal in injury time of the second half. Very close game, but Sao Paulo has the edge.

GREMIO x FORTALEZA: Still serving a suspension for trouble in the stands during the derby with Internacional, Gremio will face Fortaleza in an empty stadium. After the 1-0 away loss to Flamengo last weekend, the team will likely make two changes in defence and two more in midfield. Defender Evaldo returns after being suspended, while left-back Escalona will play in place of suspended Wellington. Midfielder Leo Lima also takes the place of suspended Tcheco, while coach Mario Menezes will probably opt for Ramon instead of Rafinha. The visitors had a strong 4-1 home win over Juventude this past weekend, but will certainly face a much tougher opposition against the Rio Grande do Sul State champions. The team has not been confirmed yet, but left-back Bruno Barros will probably return to the team after serving a suspension for too many yellow cards. Even without its fans, Gremio should still win this match.

VASCO x FIGUEIRENSE: What a difference a game makes. After failing at home to Sao Caetano, Vasco surprised everyone and defeated Santos 2-0 away on Sunday, ending that team's 21-match home unbeaten streak. All of a sudden, the team from Rio is now thinking about reaching the Libertadores qualification zone. To do that the team must gain more consistency though, and Thursday's game against Figueirense will be no easy task. The team from Santa Catarina will try to overcome a disappointing - albeit exciting - 3-3 home draw with Atletico Paranaense. After losing left-back Fininho to Russia last week, the team is still trying to find a substitute, and may promote the debut of 19-year-old Vanderson. Defensive midfielder Rodrigo Souto is still questionable, and may give way to Henrique. Vasco could win, but a draw is not out of the question.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Alecsandro leaves Cruzeiro for Betis

Forward Alecsandro, from Cruzeiro Belo Horizonte, is the newest Brazilian player to leave for Europe. According to the team, the forward will joing Real Betis from Spain for a €3 million fee. The 25-year-old caught the Europeans' attention after performing quite well for Cruzeiro over the past year, scoring at a pace of one goal every second game.

The signing could be another hint that another Brazilian at the team may indeed be leaving for Turkey. Ricardo Oliveira, who was on loan at Sao Paulo, has indicated he was very displeased with the team after not being allowed to play for Sao Paulo in the second leg of the Libertadores final - his loan had ended six days prior to the game. Moreover, he was fined €1 million for delaying his return to the club, having remained in Brazil hoping his loan would be extended. Reports indicate he may join Turkish side Fenerbahce, coached by former Brazilian star and Japan coach Zico.

Inter loses force

Less than a week after winning the Copa Libertadores, Internacional lost two other players to Europe. After Tinga and Bolivar had already announced they were leaving the team, Rafael Sobis and Jorge Wagner confirmed they had accepted offers from teams in Spain. Sobis will likely go to Valencia, while Wagner's destination is Betis. Sobis scored twice in the first leg of the continental competition's final, helping his team defeat Sao Paulo 2-1 in that match for a 4-3 aggregate win. Sao Paulo also lost important players, with Ricardo Oliveira's loan from Betis finishing and Diego Lugano going to Turkey's Fenerbahce.

Tevez leaves Corinthians

It didn't take long for Emerson Leao to cause the first casualty at Corinthians. One week after joining the club, the controversial coach was the main reason behind Carlos Tevez decision to leave the team on Monday. Despite being under contract until next year, the Argentine international did not show up for the training session scheduled for Monday, and said he will not work with Leao anymore. Tevez did not like comments the coach had made about Argentines in general, and about not liking to work with them. Also, the forward was particularly upset after he was removed the captaincy on the team last week. After the game against Botafogo, on Sunday, Tevez had hinted it could have been his last match at the team.

Leao has managed two wins in two games for the defending champions, slowly trying to climb out of the relegation zone in the Brazilian League. Despite the good results, the coach was never well seen by the team's main partner and investor, MSI. If Tevez doesn't find an European team interested in him by the end of the month, when the transfer window closes, he may have to sit out until January, when his contract expires. Either that or hope that his pressure to get Leao sacked will be successful. In either case, the situation is still dark for Corinthians and its fans.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ceni breaks record

Just four days after failing in the Libertadores final and losing the title to Internacional, goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni more than redeemed himself with the Sao Paulo fans. With a penalty kick save and two goals of his own, Ceni helped his team to a 2-2 draw that kept it at the top of the standings in the Brazilian Serie A. At the same time, he broke the record for most goals ever scored by a goalkeeper, passing former Paraguayan international Jose Luis Chilavert. Ceni now has 64 career goals, two more than Chilavert.

Playing in Belo Horizonte against Cruzeiro, Rogerio hopelessly saw his team fall behind 2-0 only 35 minutes into the match. Three minutes later Cruzeiro had a great chance to seal the fate of the game with a penalty kick in its favour. Ceni, however, had other plans for the afternoon. With a well timed jump to his right hand side, the keeper saved the kick and his team. Shortly after, he'd score a goal of his own, on a free kick from outside Cruzeiro's penalty box. He'd still make a few crucial saves before and after scoring his second of the afternoon, on a penalty kick at the 60th minute. Undoubtedly, a remarkable display by one of the greatest goalkeepers in Sao Paulo's history.

The team also benefitted from a loss at home by second place Santos, surprised 2-0 at the Vila Belmiro by Vasco. With a tight defensive system, the visitors took advantage of the few chances they had during the match to end a 21-game unbeaten streak at home by Santos - now three points behind the leaders, with 31 points. To make matters worse for the locals, they fell to third place on goal differential, after Parana managed a goal four minutes into injury time of the second half to beat Sao Caetano at home, 1-0.

Libertadores champions Internacional showed it might not be wise to bet against them having the strength to fight for the National title as well this year. Still recovering after the celebrations for the historical title, the team was still good enough to tie hot Palmeiras 1-1 at home, in a well fought and balanced encounter that could have ended with anyone's win. The team showed lots of determination during the whole game, and will not likely repeat Sao Paulo's poor form in the National league after winning the Libertadores in 2005. Inter is in fourth in the standings, with 30 points.

In other matches, Flamengo got a last minute goal at home to beat Gremio, while Corinthians got its second win in as many games under its new coach in a 1-0 win over Botafogo. Both Corinthians and Botafogo still find themselves in the bottom four, alongside Atletico Paranaense and Santa Cruz, which had away draws on the weekend, 3-3 against Figueirense and 1-1 against Fluminense, respectively.

Fortaleza, on the meantime, climbed above the danger zone with a strong outing, a 4-1 trouncing of Juventude. With 20 points, the team is one ahead of Corinthians and tied with Goias, which came back from a 2-0 deficit away at Ponte Preta only to lose the game 3-2 in the dying moments, when a penalty kick was taken three times before being validated - in the first two attempts, the referee ordered a retake alleging Goias goalkeeper moved away from the goaline before the kick was taken.

The next round, to be played on Wednesday and Thursday, will be the last of the first stage. The most important match of the 19th round pits Sao Paulo at home against Parana, in the battle of the top two teams in the standings. Inter is away to Goias, while Santos travels to Recife to face Santa Cruz.

Standings (after 18 rounds): 1. Sao Paulo 34 points, 17 games played; 2. Parana 31, 17; 3. Santos 31, 18; 4. Inter 30, 17; 5. Fluminense 29, 18; 6. Cruzeiro, Figueirense 27, 18; 8. Gremio, Vasco 26, 18; 10. Sao Caetano 24, 18; 11. Juventude, Flamengo, Palmeiras, Ponte Preta 22, 18; 15. Goias, Fortaleza 20, 18; 17. Corinthians 19, 18; 18. Atletico Paranaense 18, 17; 19. Botafogo 18 18; 20. Santa Cruz 17, 18.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Brazilian Serie A - Round 18 Preview

With two matches on Saturday and eight on Sunday, the Brazilian Serie A reaches its 18th round this weekend, with leaders Sao Paulo trying to recover from a loss at the Copa Libertadores final against Internacional to remain ahead of Santos. The team coached by Wanderley Luxemburgo is now only one point behind the leaders, which have one game in hand.

Here are my views ahead of the games:

PONTE PRETA x GOIAS: Ponte Preta fans are still asking themselves what went wrong on Wednesday, when the team lost at home to lowly Fortaleza by a 3-1 score. They may get an answer pretty quickly, if the team shows the same kind of effort against another troubled team, Goias. The visitors at least managed to secure a tie at home to Botafogo, but still have to play better not to risk relegation. All in all, this smells like a draw.

FLAMENGO x GREMIO: Gremio surprised a few people by defeating Santa Cruz away from Porto Alegre on Wednesday by a 4-2 score. They will certainly have a tougher task against Brazilian Cup holders Flamengo, coming off a 1-1 draw with Figueirense in Florianopolis. The team from Rio is struggling to score many goals lately, but at least has not allowed that many either. Another draw could be in the works.

FLUMINENSE x SANTA CRUZ: Two teams that lost at home on Wednesday will give it another try on Sunday. Better for Fluminense, again playing in Rio de Janeiro. Santa Cruz is again in last place, thanks to two straight losses after a five game unbeaten run. Fluminense will have several players back, and should be considered favourites for the match.

SANTOS x VASCO: Santos must win to have a chance of overtaking Sao Paulo for the lead in the standings. It certainly has a chance against an inconsistent Vasco side, winless in three games. Unbeaten in five matches, including four wins, the locals should get all points from this game.

CRUZEIRO x SAO PAULO: Can Sao Paulo recover from the obvious impact it suffered after the loss to Internacional in the Libertadores final? Moreover, can it adjust to the loss of key players Lugano and Ricardo Oliveira to Europe? Against a traditional opponent, away from home, the Libertadores runners-up should not stand much of a chance. However, Cruzeiro has been playing very poorly lately, with two draws and four losses in its last six games. Thus, it would not be a surprise to see them fail again here.

FORTALEZA x JUVENTUDE: Fortaleza managed an extremely important 3-1 away win at Ponte Preta on Wednesday, and will try to build on that to try to escape the bottom positions of the table. Juventude did not fare too poorly in its last match either, tying Palmeiras in Sao Paulo during a match in which it played with 10 men for the most part. However, this matchup seems to close to call. If anything, I'll give Fortaleza the slight edge.

FIGUEIRENSE x ATLETICO PARANAENSE: Figueirense could have done better against Flamengo this midweek, but a draw against the Brazilian Cup champions is not too shabby, even if the opponents are not playing that well right now. Against an Atletico Paranaense side that is in the bottom four (with one game in hand), Figueirense has the obligation of getting the full three points.

PARANA x SAO CAETANO: Parana did not play this midweek because it was supposed to face Internacional, which was busy winning its first ever Libertadores. Without playing, the team fell to fourth in the standings, and must now beat Sao Caetano if it wants to remain close to the top of the table. Sao Caetano lost its manager this week but still managed to beat Vasco. Can it pull the same trick against Parana? Not if the locals play the way they have been playing lately. Despite expecting a close match, I believe the local team can win this.

INTERNACIONAL x PALMEIRAS: What better way of celebrating the club's most important title ever than a home game just four days after the historic win? Well, maybe playing a friendly game instead of an official match. Obviously riding a low after all the concentration and effort put forward in the Libertadores final, Inter should have a hard time against a Palmeiras side that has been playing better than any other team in the tournament for the past month. Last year, Sao Paulo remained winless in the Brazilian Serie A for more than a month after winning the Libertadores title.

CORINTHIANS x BOTAFOGO: Under a new coach, Corinthians' fans quickly had their hopes restored when the team beat Fluminense in Rio on Wednesday. On Sunday the team has another Rio team to face, but this time the match is at home. The defending champions should come out of this with the three points, but Botafogo has shown recently it can always play to get at least a point. In its last five games, the team has drawn four.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Kaka, Ronaldinho and Sobis called for friendlies

Coach Dunga called changed three players from his squad that faced Norway yesterday for the matches against Argentina and Wales, next month. Dunga called Ronaldinho, Kaka and Rafael Sobis, from Internacional, dropping Jonatas (Flamengo), Morais (Vasco) and Wagner (Cruzeiro). The coach hopes Kaka and Ronaldinho can show the same play they usually present at their teams, Milan and Barcelona, instead of the lacklustre presentation shown during the World Cup in Germany. So do all fans!

Red America

South America woke up painted red. Internacional Porto Alegre finally justified its namesake and won the most coveted continental competition of the Americas, the Copa Libertadores, after drawing Sao Paulo 2-2 this Wednesday (with a 4-3 aggregate score in the final) at the Beira-Rio Stadium. Fans sang, danced and suffered, but in the end jumped, screamed and hugged each other as their local team conquered South America for the first time in its history.

And what a game it was. If one match should translate the meaning, importance and history of the Libertadores, this was it. Needing only a draw to win the title, Inter seemed nervous at the start of the match, and sat back while Sao Paulo pressured forward, needing a one-goal win to force extra time. The visitors should have scored at least one goal - maybe two - before the 10-minute mark, but defenders Lugano, Edcarlos and Fabao missed clear opportunities inside the penalty box to keep an early blank sheet. Inter's goalkeeper Clemer also made a great save on a shot by Danilo, and soon enough, the locals regained their control and balanced the action in the match.

Then, at the 30th minute, Sao Paulo's greatest player in the past few years, captain Rogerio Ceni, failed. He could not hold on to the wet ball after a weak cross from right wing, fumbled with it ahead of a Inter forward, and hit it across the goalmouth right into Fernandao's foot. The Inter forward could not believe his luck, but did not waste his golden opportunity, putting the locals up 1-0 in the game and 3-1 on the aggregate score. Sao Paulo players despaired, and Inter took full control of the game until the end of the first half. Fans could not stop celebrating, and smoke from flares lit in the stands forced the game to be stopped for five minutes.

At the start of the second half, Sao Paulo's hopes were reborn after Fabao scored from a set piece. This time, it was the locals' turn to feel the impact of the goal and fall back, as Sao Paulo regained control of the game but without creating too many clear chances.

But then Inter scored again. Rogerio made a great save on a header by Fernandao, but could not hold on to the ball. Fernandao then moved to the left side of the box and crossed it perfectly to Tinga, who headed the ball into an empty net. An ecstatic Tinga lifted his jersey to show a jersey with a religious message, only to be shown his second yellow card of the game and be sent off.

Playing against 10 men, Sao Paulo decided to risk it all, and changed a midfielder for an attacker, then a defender for another forward. The move almost paid off, as Lenilson scored the tying goal with four minutes left in regulation, after Clemer failed to hold a shot from outside the box and laid the ball out to Lenilson to tap it in. However, despite Sao Paulo's last minute blitzen, Inter held on the fort - including a spectacular save by Clemer in injury time.

The night was red. Internacional had won its first ever South American Copa Libertadores. Fans sang as players embraced and saluted all those present at this historic occasion. Coach Abel Braga wept, clearly unable to hold his emotions after winning his first important title for Inter in four tenures at the club. And what a title, simply the most important ever for the Colorados.

After America, will the world be next? Right now, nobody really cares. The time is for celebrating by Inter fans. They can worry about the future later.

A draw in Dunga's debut

New Brazilian National coach Dunga made his debut on Wednesday with a 1-1 draw against Norway, in Oslo. The team seemed excessively nervous in the first half, maybe a product of the lack of preparation time for a team that had never played together, with a coach making his first appearance in the bench. Things got a little worse right at the beginning of the first half, when Norway scored the first goal.

Luckily, though, Brazil seemed to get better afterwards, and was soon creating quite a few chances of its own. At the 60th minute, Daniel Carvalho scored - also his first International cap - to tie the game. Brazil kept the pressure and still created a few opportunities to go ahead. Apart from a long shot saved by Gomes some 10 minutes before the end of regulation, Norway did not create much more in the game. However, the draw preserved the locals unbeaten record against Brazil. In four matches, two wins and two draws.

Overall, the first match under the new coach was a positive experience, and Dunga seems to be going in the right direction. Two more games next month, back to back against Argentina and Wales in London, shall provide a better glance of the new style Dunga wants the National Team to have. He still has time to experiment with these friendlies, ahead of next year's Copa America and World Cup Qualifying games.

Home field advantage?

It seems that playing at home was not much of an advantage for teams at the Brazilian Serie A this Wednesday. No local team scored a win in six matches, with just two teams drawing and an impressive four losing to the visitors.

Ponte Preta, for instance, seemed like a clear favourite ahead of its match against Fortaleza. The visitors soon showed they were determined to gain three points to help them escape the relegation zone, and build an impressive 3-1 win. In a night when its crosstown rivals were celebrating back home, Gremio managed to continue its strong play of late and scored a 4-2 away win over Santa Cruz. Meanwhile, Sao Caetano did not seem to mind losing its coach Emerson Leao on Monday, and shocked Vasco at Sao Januario, 2-1. Leao, by the way, had a good debut with Corinthians, helping the defending champion get an important 2-1 away win at Fluminense, with all goals coming in the first half.

Two other games ended tied, with Goias unable to defeat Botafogo at home and settling for a 2-2 tie, and Flamengo travelling to Florianopolis to tie Figueirense 1-1.

Today, Santos may climb to second in the standings with a win over Cruzeiro, while Palmeiras tries to confirm its good form against Juventude. Normally considered favourits, these home teams should pay attention to their supposed advantage from playing at home. After all, this advantage seems to have taken a break this midweek.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Brazilian Serie A - Round 17 preview

With Sao Paulo and Inter deciding the Libertadores tonight, the Brazilian Serie A will see eight games played this midweek. The two remaining games (Inter x Parana and Atletico Paranaense x Sao Paulo) will be played only on September 30.

Here are the today's six games and tomorrow's two matches:

PONTE PRETA x FORTALEZA: Ponte had an important away draw at Flamengo during the weekend, and has played two strong games in a row. Against Fortaleza, the team is the favourite and should come away with the three points. The visitors, on the other hand, disappointed in a 2-1 home loss to Internacional's reserves, and should improve significantly if they wish to stand any chance of gaining at least a point.

VASCO x SAO CAETANO: Can Vasco build on the away draw against Juventude on Saturday. It certainly can, and Sao Caetano may be a great opportunity for the locals to do so. With a last-minute change in command, Sao Caetano lost coach Emerson Leao to Corinthians, and must now overcome this sudden development away from home. If Leao was still in command, Sao Caetano could naturally gain at least a point here. Without him, Vasco regains the favouritism for the match.

SANTA CRUZ x GREMIO: Santa Cruz lost for the first time after the World Cup on the weekend, away at Sao Caetano. Coming back home may give the team an extra boost to remain clear of the relegation zone. Gremio is coming off two wins, but faced a long trip to Recife for this game, and may come short in its quest for another three points. Santa is the slight favourite, but a draw is not ruled out.

GOIAS x BOTAFOGO: Goias faces Botafogo trying to recover some ground in the standings before it's too late. After firing coach Antonio Lopes and re-hiring Geninho - who was fired by Corinthians -, the team tries to overcome the past poor performances that saw the team gain only 2 of its last 18 possible points. Botafogo sees itself back in the relegation zone after a 3-1 home loss to Palmeiras, and could have a tough time gaining a point here.

FIGUEIRENSE x FLAMENGO: Figueirense went to Sao Paulo and defeated Corinthians on Saturday, while Flamengo could only play to a scoreless draw to Ponte Preta at home. Playing in Santa Catarina, Figueirense is the slight favourite here, but must overcome a determined Flamengo team that is still dangerously close to the relegation zone. A draw is a real possibility, despite a slight favouritism for the locals.

FLUMINENSE x CORINTHIANS: New coach Emerson Leao tries to bring some life back to the defending champions. Currently in last place in the standings, Corinthians must restart winning soon if it's to escape a trip to the Second Division in 2007. Fluminense may not be the perfect candidate to do so, given the team's strong 3-2 away win over Cruzeiro during the weekend. Nevertheless, a change in command could give Corinthians the boost it needs to get at least a point here. Last month, Leao was ahead of Sao Caetano in a 2-2 away draw against Fluminense.

SANTOS x CRUZEIRO: Dropping to third place in the standings after an away draw against Parana was not what Santos fans hoped for last weekend, but in the end the result should have been considered positive. The same cannot be said about Cruzeiro, that lost 3-2 at home against Fluminense to further distance itself from the top of the table. With new coach Oswaldo Oliveira in command, the team will still face a tough challenge against Santos, which can jump to second place with a win here.

PALMEIRAS x JUVENTUDE: Palmeiras will try to continue its climb in the standings in a home game against Juventude. Coming off five wins and one draw in the six matches since the World Cup break, Palmeiras is undoubtedly the hottest team in the league right now. By keeping its concentration for this game, the team shall gain its sixth win in seven matches against Juventude, which has not played very well away from home this year.

The battle of Porto Alegre

Tonight, a Brazilian team will be crowned the champion of South America. Right now it looks like this team will be Internacional, who had a very important 2-1 away win over Sao Paulo in the first leg of the final, last week. To make matters worse for the visitors, key midfielder Josue will not play after being sent off in the first match, and forward Ricardo Oliveira may also be dropped from the squad after not receiving proper authorization from his team, Betis, to extend his loan by one week so as to appear in the final match.

Sao Paulo must win by at least two goals in order to win the title in regulation. A Sao Paulo win by a single goal takes the game to extra time, with a possible penalty shootout deciding the title should no team score in the extra 30 minutes. Inter only needs a draw at home to win its most important title ever. No matter who wins the match, the final will certainly be an epic battle between two three-time Brazilian champions.

If Inter can play as seriously as it has last week, without falling into the over optimist mode of its own fans, then it should win the title. After all, the team has only lost once at the Beira-Rio Stadium this year. Sao Paulo must play its best game of the year to stand any chance of winning. But that, in football, is also a very possible outcome.

Dunga's debut

Dunga will coach his first game as Brazilian National manager tonight, as Brazil travels to Norway for a friendly. Without the main players from the squad that failed miserably in Germany during the World Cup, the Brazilian Federation hopes this can mean a strong start to the rebuilding of the team for the 2010 World Cup. Dunga will not only have to overcome the difficult task of coaching his first game ever at the National level, but also must do so against a team Brazil has never been able to beat. More than a change in tactics, for now the coach only promises a change in attitude, demanding more of an effort from his players than what the team showed during the World Cup. Before the end of the year, he will likely get at least three other chances to see his squad in friendly action: against Argentina, Wales and Kuwait.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Watch out for the hot water

A curious and unfortunate event has sidelined Botafogo goalkeeper Lopes for a month. After the team's loss to Palmeiras on Sunday, he was injured when boiling water suddenly started coming out of one of the showers in the team's dressing room, at the Maracana Stadium. He suffered serious burns and will remain sidelined from 30 to 40 days. He said he's likely suing the stadium's administration for the incident. Definitely an embarrassing moment for Brazil's most famous stadium.

Coaches on the move

According to Brazilian media reports on Monday, Corinthians is close to hiring Sao Caetano coach Emerson Leao. Only details related to the termination fee of his contract with Sao Caetano separate the coach from the last placed team in the Brazilian Serie A. Corinthians fired coach Geninho after the 3-1 home loss to Figueirense on Saturday. Geninho, however, did not remain unemployed for too long, and has already secured a return to Goias, who fired Antonio Lopes after the 2-1 loss to Sao Paulo. Last week, Oswaldo de Oliveira was fired from Fluminense. Yesterday, Cruzeiro announced it was hiring Oliveira, to substitute Paulo Cesar Gusmao.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Reserve wins

The South American Copa Libertadores does not seem to be taking its usual toll on participating Brazilian clubs this year. At least not when it comes to the Brazilian Serie A standings, which have the Libertadores finalists still sitting ahead of all other teams, after 16 matches played. This week, Sao Paulo and Internacional won their games with reserve sides, while concentrating on the second leg of the continental decision, scheduled for Wednesday in Porto Alegre.

Sao Paulo had only three players from its main squad in the starting lineup: goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, defender Edcarlos and midfielder Josue. In spite of that, the team managed to defeat Goias at home by a 2-1 score, dominating for most of the game and holding off some pressure near the end of the second half. The win left the team with 33 points, four ahead of second-place Inter.

Inter had to make its longest trip in the tournament, travelling to Fortaleza to face a desperate team trying to escape the relegation zone. Not even coach Abel Braga made the trip, preferring to stay back in Porto Alegre to prepare for the match against Sao Paulo. Despite an early goal by the locals, Inter managed to orchestrate a comeback and escaped with the three points after a 2-1 win.

The gauchos benefitted from a draw between the teams that were right above them in the standings prior to the weekend. Playing in Curitiba, Parana and Santos drew 1-1, after the visitors wasted a few good chances to build a big lead in the first half. Parana soon balanced the action and in the end could even have come out of the match with a win. In the end, both now share third place, with 28 points, alongside Fluminense.

The team from Rio recovered from last week's 3-0 collapse at Ponte Preta, and scored a huge 3-2 away win over Cruzeiro. In a match with a couple of lead changes, Fluminense went ahead early only to see the locals come back with two goals. In the end, though, Fluminense scored twice - including the winning goal at the 90th minute - to win for the first time in a month. The result surely eases the pressure at the team, which fired coach Oswaldo Oliveira midweek. Cruzeiro now finds itself in 6th place, with 26 points.

In other results, defending champions Corinthians lost 3-1 at home to Figueirense, and still finds itself last in the standigs. Palmeiras distanced itself from the relegation zone with a strong 3-1 away win over Botafogo, which had gone back into the group of teams that will play in the second division in 2007. Flamengo could not get over Ponte Preta, as both played to a scoreless draw in Rio. Juventude and Vasco could not find a goal between them either, while Santa Cruz lost for the first time since the World Cup break, falling 2-0 away at Sao Caetano. Finally, Gremio defeated Atletico Paranaense 2-0, despite playing with closed gates away from its home field, due to problems in a match against Inter last month.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Brazilian Serie A preview - Round 16

With only four games left to play before reaching the half of the Brazilian Serie A, several teams try to recover their form and place a series of positive results to climb the table. An overall balanced group of teams has meant little difference between the leaders and the relegation zone, with a series of team in between.

Here are my views on this week's games. The first four games are on Saturday, and the other six on Sunday:

JUVENTUDE x VASCO: Juventude tries to recover from last week's 1-0 loss to Gremio in Porto Alegre. They may have trouble against a determined Vasco side that could have had more luck last week in a 2-1 loss to Parana. All in all, it seems that the draw is a very possible result here.

SAO CAETANO x SANTA CRUZ: Santa Cruz continues to play well, and last week simply shocked Cruzeiro by refusing to fall back and coming back from behind to tie a game 3-3 at the Mineirao Stadium. Sao Caetano, on the other hand, has four draws in five games under unbeaten coach Emerson Leao. Another draw is possible, despite the locals slight advantage.

FLAMENGO x PONTE PRETA: Brazilian Cup champions have regained the confidence they need to escape relegation in the Brazilian League after last week's 1-0 win over Goias. Ponte Preta should usually not pose too much of a problem based on recent performances, but last week the team from Campinas simply crushed another team from Rio, 3-0. Flamengo is still the favourite though.

CORINTHIANS x FIGUEIRENSE: Can the end of an eight-game winless streak finally put the defending champions back on track? Not if the internal atmosphere of the team is any indication. With a fight breaking out between players and the team's direction still on a fight with its main partner, MSI, Corinthians is still amidst a mess for this game. Luckily they will play at home, but Figueirense has not been playing poorly enough to justify a possible favouritism by the locals.

BOTAFOGO x PALMEIRAS: The visitors try to regain their form, after a disappointing performance last weekend that saw the team luckily escape with a point from Fortaleza. Botafogo, meanwhile, tries to play better than in another draw last weekend, against Sao Paulo's reserves. Both teams haven't lost after the World Cup break, with Botafogo tying four and winning one, and Palmeiras winning four and drawing one. Maybe they will remain unbeaten after this.

GREMIO x ATLETICO-PR: Along with a 1-0 win against a Flamengo side still tired after celebrations for a Brazilian Cup victory, Atletico has three losses in its last four games. All by a 2-1 score. Gremio will try to add to Atletico's woes, but must do so away from home, after the team was punished for its fans' behaviour in the draw against Internacional last month. They may just do that.

CRUZEIRO x FLUMINENSE: Can these teams overcome the frustration from last weekend's results? Cruzeiro gave away two points at home after allowing Santa Cruz to come back and tie a game 3-3, while Fluminense went to Campinas and left with a 3-0 loss to Ponte Preta. To make matters worse for Fluminense, the team also lost coach Oswaldo Oliveira midweek, after an argument over possible interference by the board on who should play. With that in mind, and taking into account the location of the game, Cruzeiro should win.

FORTALEZA x INTERNACIONAL: Internacional is coming one of the most important wins in club history. Only it wasn't in the Brazilian League, but the South American Copa Libertadores, over Sao Paulo. With the team fully concentrated on the return leg of that final and a reserve team showing up for this game, Inter should not pose too much of a threat to Fortaleza. However, The locals must try to play as well, if not better, than last weekend on a draw against Palmeiras. Time is running short for Fortaleza to try to escape the relegation zone, and this is a good opportunity for them to do so. Inter could still surprise and escape with a point, though.

SAO PAULO x GOIAS: The other Libertadores finalist is still trying to recover from its shocking loss to Inter at home. Its reserve side will try to re-focus on the Brazilian League, despite the general sadness that took place of the team after Wednesday. Josue - red carded against Inter - is the only regular scheduled to play against his former team, Goias. Fortunately for Sao Paulo, the visitors have not been playing well lately.

PARANA x SANTOS: Red hot Parana faces ressurging Santos, in this weekend's most anticipated matchup. The locals are slight favourites here, thanks to their recent play that saw the team win four out of five games. Santos is coming from two straight wins against powerhouses Inter and Sao Paulo, but those results were achieved against reserve sides. And last week against Inter the team almost lost, coming from behind to win with 10 men in the dying moments of the second half. Should be a good one!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Inter is almost there

Internacional took a huge step towards its first ever Copa Libertadores title on Wednesday, defeating Sao Paulo 2-1 at the Morumbi Stadium. With the result, the team only needs a draw next week at home to take the continental crown away from Sao Paulo.

In a very nervous and exciting match, the locals had their hopes crushed early on the match, when Josue was red carded after only 10 minutes of play, for a vicious elbowing infraction in midfield. Without its important defensive midfielder, Sao Paulo lost its game plan and allowed Inter to control the play during the first half, without ever recovering. Things seemed to improve for Sao Paulo when Fabinho was sent off for slapping Souza with five minutes to play in the half. However, Sao Paulo was still a tactical mess in the second half, allowing too much space for Inter midfielders and forwards to exchange passes and close in Rogerio Ceni's goal.

After just eight minutes into the second half, Rafael Sobis controlled the ball outside the penalty box, fooled his opponent and place a perfect shot to the lower right-hand side of Ceni. 1-0 Inter. The 70,000 local fans could not believe their eyes. The same could be said of the 3,000 or so brave colorados who made the journey from Porto Alegre and the millions more who had stayed home. The goal also seemed to shock Sao Paulo's players, and eight minutes later Sobis would get his second of the game, after easily deflecting a header that came off the crossbar.

Desperate, Sao Paulo pushed forward trying to get at least a goal, but still believieng it could tie the game. Not very organized, the local team was lucky to find the net with 15 minutes left in regulation, with defender Edcarlos heading a cross from the right wing past goalkeeper Clemer. That would be all Sao Paulo would get though, as Clemer still made a couple of big saves in the dying moments to preserve the invaluable away win for Inter.

Sao Paulo must now overcome its historic record away from home in finals at the continental competition. In five previous finals, the team never won a game away from home. One should quickly point out, though, that previous to yesterday, the team had also never lost a game in the finals at home. For Inter, next Wednesday's match can be considered the most important in club history. Only the title will satisfy the long suffering colorado crowd.

For that to happen, the team must cope with the enormous pressure that will surely be felt at the Beira-Rio, and the ghosts of previous failures at the critical stages of the Libertadores. After all, 17 years ago the team also had a huge away win against Paraguay's Olimpia at the competition's semifinal. In the return leg, Olimpia won in regulation and again in the penalty shootout to eliminate Inter from the tournament. Then, as now, the team was coached by Abel Braga. Has he learned his lesson after that loss? We'll only know for sure on Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Round 1 of the title bout

In a fight scheduled to take two rounds - with the possibility of extra time if still tied -, Sao Paulo and Internacional play tonight in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. For the second time ever, and second year in a row, two teams from the same country will play for South America's top honours in club football. Defending champions Sao Paulo will try to repeat what they did last year, when they defeated Atletico Paranaense 5-1 in the aggregate score at the final to take the title. This time, however, the team from Morumbi will decide its fate away from home, with the second leg scheduled to take place next week in Porto Alegre.

Sao Paulo might be the slight favourite for tonight's matchup, with an unbeaten record in Libertadores elimination games played at its stadium. Just as impressively, the team lost only once - in this year's opening stage to Chivas - at its stadium in the Libertadores in the last 19 years. But if a team can beat them, this team is Internacional, winners of four of the last five games between the two sides. Inter is well prepared and will pose a tough challenge to Sao Paulo. To win the title, however, the team must overcome years of mounting pressure by its fans, that demand the South American title to gain some ground in continental glory in relation to crosstown rivals Gremio, Libertadores winners in 1983 and 1995.

In any case, the final promises to be a very exciting - albeit nervous - matchup between two of the top current club sides in Brazilian football. The winner will get the chance to play for the world title in December, and will also boost its morale ahead of the final stretch in the Brazilian Serie A.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Controversial dismissal at Fluminense

Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira was fired on Monday, following Fluminense's 3-0 loss at Ponte Preta during the weekend. The loss, however, was not the reason behind his dismissal. According to different sources close to the club, the coach was fired for wanting to bench star serbian midfielder Dejan Petkovic, who has not been playing well as of late. Oliveira, usually calm, confirmed his decision to bench Petkovic in the upcoming games might have played a significant part in his firing, arguing that the club board was obeying orders from the team's main sponsors. The club, on the other hand, officially says the dismissal was caused by a series of poor results in the last matches in the Brazilian Serie A. It's the third coach fired by the team this year, after Ivo Wortmann and Paulo Campos had been let go in the first semester.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sao Paulo still ahead

Another game playing without its main players, and another game without a win for Sao Paulo. In the end, though, the team is still three points clear at the top of the Brazilian Serie A, thanks to a 1-1 draw away at Botafogo and a combination of other results that saw Parana and Santos climb to second place in the standings. Playing with reserves due to this Wednesday's clash with Internacional in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final, Sao Paulo fell behind early in the game but managed to come back in the second half to tie Botafogo. Inter almost closed the gap to Sao Paulo to one single point, but despite building a first half 1-0 lead over Santos could not hold the pressure from the locals and ended up losing 2-1.

Parana had another strong outing and defeated Vasco, also by a 2-1 count, tying Santos with 27 points. Inter and Cruzeiro are next with 26, after the team from Belo Horizonte drew 3-3 at home to Santa Cruz, in one of the most exciting games of the round. The result put an end to Santa's four-game winning streak. Palmeiras also had its four-game winning streak snapped thanks to an away draw, playing scoreless football at Fortaleza.

Another streak was broken by Corinthians, which defeated Atletico Paranaense 2-1 to win for the first time in eight matches. The result still left the team within the relegation zone though, with one less point than Fortaleza. Brazilian Cup champions Flamengo had better luck, defeating Goias at home by 1-0 to climb just above the cut. In a very tight race for continental qualification, Figueirense tied Sao Caetano 1-1, with Gremio defeating Juventude 1-0 and Ponte Preta recovering from previous performances by delivering a 3-0 pounding of Fluminense.

Only 5 points separate the second team in the standings from the eigth, with another 5 points between the eigth and the first team in the relegation zone, Botafogo. With this very level field, no team is safe and guaranteed in Serie A next year, and most clubs could still fall into relegation zone after stringing a series of bad results in a row.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Brazilian Serie A preview - Round 15

With the big story this week being the all-Brazilian final of the Libertadores Cup, the Brazilian Serie A gets ready for its 15th round. Curiously enough, the two top teams in the standings are exactly those that will beging fighting for the South American crown next Wednesday, Sao Paulo and Internacional. For that reason, they will field their reserve sides this weekend, and should not really concentrate on the domestic league.

Four games are scheduled for Saturday, with the other six completing the round on Sunday. Here are the games of the weekend:

GREMIO x JUVENTUDE: Right after playing Inter's reserve side last week on a local derby, Gremio faces another rival from Rio Grande do Sul. Juventude has been playing slightly better than Gremio lately, but home-field advantage should play a part in this match. The locals should guarantee at least a point.

FIGUEIRENSE x SAO CAETANO: After a loss to Juventude last week, Figueirense looks to recover its form at home against Sao Caetano. Coach Emerson Leao will try to get a better result than the two draws from his team's last two games, but an away victory against a motivated and so far surprising Figueirense side seems too much to ask for. This looks like a draw to me.

FLAMENGO x GOIAS: With another week to recover from the Brazilian Cup celebrations, Flamengo should play better this time around than in the loss away to Atletico Paranaense. They face an always dangerous Goias side which, however, has not looked too good after the World Cup break. Great opportunity for the locals to put some effort in trying to escape the relegation zone.

CORINTHIANS x ATLETICO PARANAENSE: Defending champions Corinthians still find themselves in last place, thanks to a combination of poor play, internal crisis and bad luck. This week they have another good chance to build momentum with a win, against an Atletico Paranaense side which is far weaker than the team that was among the country's best a couple of years ago.

BOTAFOGO x SAO PAULO: The visitors will not take their full force into this game, leaving it open for Botafogo to get the three points at home. The team from Rio should still be aware that the reserve side of Sao Paulo is not as bad as the 4-0 loss to Santos last week would suggest. But Botafogo should get at least one point here, keeping its unbeaten streak after the World Cup break intact.

SANTOS x INTERNACIONAL: After beating Sao Paulo's reserves 4-0 last weekend, Santos tries to do the same to Inter's reserves. If the team play as seriously as it did last weekend, it has a very good chance of getting the three points here too. Inter is way too concentrated in the Libertadores final, considered one of the most important series ever in the history of the club.

PARANA x VASCO: Parana lost to Palmeiras last week and saw its winning and unbeaten streaks end in the same game. However, the team still played well and could have finished the game with a better result if not for an even better game played by Palmeiras. Returning home this weekend, the team shall pick up right where it left off before last week. Vasco can pull a point thanks to its tradition, but if current form is any indication, then Parana should win the game.

PONTE PRETA x FLUMINENSE: Ponte tries to recover from its terrible form before it's too late to escape relegation. Now officially in the danger zone, the team must beat a Fluminense side that has wasted two straight chances of approaching the top of the standings, with draws against Sao Caetano and Botafogo. If they manage to put themselves together and recover their play from before the World Cup break, they should beat Ponte Preta.

CRUZEIRO x SANTA CRUZ: After a strong performance prior to the World Cup, Cruzeiro has seen its play deteriorate of late, being winless in three matches. Scoreless in those three games, the team from Belo Horizonte must defeat Santa Cruz to regain ground on Sao Paulo and Inter. The visitors should provide an interesting effort, though, having won four matches in a row.

FORTALEZA x PALMEIRAS: Alongside Santa Cruz, Palmeiras is the other team that won all its games after the World Cup break. And this week the team should continue its streak with a visit to inconsistent Fortaleza, which is ahead only of Corinthians in the standings. Coach Tite should try to keep his players focused though, now that the team has left the relegation zone.

Another Brazilian final

For the second year in a row, the Libertadores Cup will be decided by two Brazilian teams. Internacional confirmed its favouritism by defeating Paraguay's Libertad 2-0 last night at the Beira-Rio Stadium, in Porto Alegre. Despite a nervous scoreless first half, Inter managed to get two quick goals after the 60-minute mark to kill the game. It will now face defending champions Sao Paulo, with the advantage of playing the last game on home turf. It promises to be a very level battle, with no clear favourites. Sao Paulo will be going for its fourth continental title, while Inter has yet to taste the glory of being the top team in South America. One thing is certain, though. There will be a Brazilian team in Japan in December, fighting for the Fifa World Club Championship.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sao Paulo reaches final

Defending Libertadores Cup champions Sao Paulo are still trying to repeat, as they reached the final of this year tournament with a 3-0 home win (4-0 aggregate) over Mexico's Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday. It's the sixth time the Brazilian side has reached the final of the continental competition.

The match in front of 68,000 fans at the Morumbi Stadium began with Sao Paulo creating a few chances and Chivas soon gaining control of the game. The visitors wasted three great chances to open the score, including a penalty kick saved by goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni just before the half-hour mark. Shortly after that, Ricardo Oliveira found Leandro to give the locals a 1-0 lead. Before the first half was over, Mineiro - who scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Liverpool in the 2005 Club World Championship final - scored with a nice shot from outside the area. Fans were sure the team had advanced to the final, and that it would be just a matter of time before confirming the victory. To make it even clearer, Ricardo Oliveira headed the ball into the net just two minutes after halftime to make it 3-0 and seal the win. Chivas still tried to go forward, but Rogerio managed to keep the shootout.

Sao Paulo can play Internacional or Libertad in the finals. If Inter defeats the Paraguayan side tonight in Porto Alegre, it will advance to make its second ever final in the competition and the second straight all-Brazilian final in the Libertadores. Libertad, which never made the final, can advance with a win or tie with at least one goal scored. A scoreless draw takes the match into a penalty shootout to determine Sao Paulo's opponent.

Inter has a slight advantage from playing at home, but should Libertad manage to score first in the game, the gauchos could see themselves panicking. After all, a goal by Libertad would give them the advantage of playing for the draw, and Inter would have to score twice. Some very nervous times ahead of the locals tonight, but in the end they should still prevail.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Everything favours Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo plays Chivas Guadalajara this Wednesday in the return leg of the Copa Libertadores semifinal as prohibitive favourites to advance. Not only has the team from Morumbi won the first leg played in Mexico last week by a 1-0 score, but the team also has history on its side. Sao Paulo only needs a tie to advance to the final, and the team has never lost in 22 matches played at the Morumbi in home-and-away series in the Libertadores. It has only tied once (a scoreless draw in the semifinal against Once Caldas in 2004) and won all the other 21 games. With close to 70,000 fans expected today at the Morumbi, the locals will also have the undeniable benefit of a supportive home crowd. With a likely open style of play by both sides, Sao Paulo will only have to worry about feeling some pressure if it falls behind early. But with a side that has already experienced what it takes to win a Libertadores Cup, Sao Paulo fans can usually trust their players' nerves.

However, football is not an exact science, and not even all history can give 100 percent certainty that Sao Paulo will play in the Libertadores final. After all, prior to its 2-1 loss at home to the same Chivas side in the tournament's first round, Sao Paulo had not lost a continental match at home in 19 years. The Mexicans have done it once. Will they be able to pull the same trick twice in the same season?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Renewed team, mostly foreign based

New Brazilian coach Dunga called up the squad for the August 16 friendly against Norway today. Lots of new names, but still a respectable 8 players from the team that lost in the World Cup. Most of the players called are still based abroad, and just 5 play in Brazil. Of course this could also be explained by the fact he left out players from Sao Paulo and Internacional, who could still play in the Libertadores Cup final scheduled for the same day as the friendly match.

I was surprised by some names, but more so about the number of players from the squad coached by Parreira. It's a good thing to keep some continuity, rather than start from scratch.

The players called for the Norway match are these:

GOALKEEPERS: Fabio (Cruzeiro) and Gomes (PSV)

DEFENDERS: Cicinho (Real Madrid), Gilberto (Hertha Berlin), Maicon (Internazionale), Marcelo (Fluminense), Alex (PSV), Juan (Bayer Leverkusen), Lucio (Bayern Munich) and Luisao (Benfica)

MIDFIELDERS: Dudu Cearense (CSKA Moscow), Edmilson (Barcelona), Júlio Baptista (Real Madrid), Gilberto Silva (Arsenal), Elano (Shakhtar Donetsk), Jonatas (Flamengo), Morais (Vasco), Wagner (Cruzeiro)

FORWARDS: Daniel Carvalho (CSKA Moscow), Fred (Lyon), Robinho (Real Madrid), and Vagner Love (CSKA Moscow)