Brazilian Futebol

News and opinion about Brazilian football (soccer).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sao Paulo joins Botafogo atop the standings

Defending champions Sao Paulo defeated America Natal 1-0 on the road this Sunday, and joined Botafogo in the lead of the 2007 Brazilian Serie A football league. The new co-leaders benefitted from Botafogo's loss to Cruzeiro (2-3) at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte. With these results, both teams are tied at 28 points, with Botafogo having one game in hand.

In Natal, Sao Paulo didn't play well, just well enough to defeat last place America. The locals, despite playing at home, took a very defensive stand and preferred to rely on counterattacks. With goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni saving his team when needed, Sao Paulo managed to score a goal off a corner kick in the first half, with Richarlysson. America pushed forward in the second half, but was still unable to create many opportunities to tie the game.

In Belo Horizonte, Cruzeiro and Botafogo scored five times in the second half, after a scoreless opening 45 minutes. Guilherme scored twice and Wagner scored for the locals, with Andre Lima and Renato Silva scoring for Botafogo. Despite the loss, the team from Rio still leads thanks to a better goal differential than Sao Paulo. The win lifted Cruzeiro to fifth place, with 23 points.

In other results, Santos was surprised at home by Nautico, losing 2-1. Third place Gremio missed a great chance to be within one point of the leaders, tying Atletico Paranaense 1-1 at home. Vasco did not waste its home field advantage though, and defeated Goias 4-1 to reach fourth place in the standings.

Internacional had one of its best games of the season, going to Recife and humiliating Sport, 5-1. The two most popular teams in the country, Corinthians and Flamengo, played to a 2-2 tie in Sao Paulo, a result that cost Flamengo's coach Ney Franco his job (the team is still in the relegation zone). Juventude and Palmeiras played a match that lacked many emotions in a cold afternoon in Caxias do Sul, and which ended 1-1. Parana's inconsistent play continued, with a 3-1 home loss to Atletico Mineiro, Atletico's second win in a row and first under new coach Emerson Leao. And Fluminense, still unable to play in Rio due to the Pan American Games, went to Brasilia to host Figueirense, in a game that ended tied 1-1.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Serie B reaches 15th round

Three games open the 15th round of the Brazilian Serie B on Friday.

Sixth place Gama tries to return to the top four when it hosts Portuguesa in Brasilia. The team lost its two last matches, on the road, and hopes to recover now that it's returning home. Portuguesa will also try to surprise Gama here, since a win will also temporarily put the team from Sao Paulo into the top four. Both teams currently have 21 points.

Ponte Preta and Ipatinga, slightly below on the standings, will battle in Campinas to gain ground on the leaders. Ponte has 18 points, against Ipatinga's 19. The locals failed to get a point in two straight road games, while Ipatinga had a win and a draw in two matches at home.

Finally, leaders Criciuma go to Santo Andre to face Santo Andre, hoping to get at least a point to keep a safe margin ahead of second place Coritiba. The locals, on the other hand, try to continue its recovery to remain out of the relegation zone - currently the team has 15 points, just one more than 17th place Remo.

Remo will host fourth place Marilia on Saturday, hoping to win to breathe a little easier. Another team in the relegation zone, Santa Cruz, will have a tougher time when it travels to Santa Catarina to face Avai, currently in 14th. Santa Cruz, relegated last year from the Serie A, continues to struggle, having tied its last two games, at home. Paulista, in second last, also has a long way to travel, all the way to Fortaleza to play 15th place Ceara. And dead last Ituano hosts third place Brasiliense, which is coming off a great 6-0 win over Vitoria at home.

Vitoria's schedule doesn't get that much easier, as the team travels back home but has to face second place Coritiba, unbeaten in three games. A win can still put the team back in the top four, so not all hope is lost yet, despite the lopsided loss on Tuesday.

Gremio Barueri, with the same 21 points as Vitoria, hosts Fortaleza, with 20 points. Sao Caetano also has 20 points, and will travel to Maceio to face CRB, with 18 points. The locals return home after two road draws, while Sao Caetano had a win and a loss in a two-game homestand.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Three matches on Thursday

Three matches complete the 14th round of the Brazilian Serie A football league on Thursday.

Trailing the league leaders by three points, Sao Paulo will try to regain second place in the standings when it hosts Sport tonight at the Morumbi Stadium. The defending champions have been quite inconsistent lately, but hope that Sunday's 2-1 away win against Cruzeiro is the start to a more stable period that can push the team in its quest towards a fifth National title. Sport is not the team that started the season among the worst in the league though, having improved significantly over the last few weeks. The team has one draw - against leaders Botafogo at home - and two wins - including a 1-0 away win over Figueirense - in its last two games. Sport, which has lost all 10 games it has ever played against Sao Paulo at the Morumbi Stadium, hopes to have the debut of midfielder Adriano Gabiru. Gustavo replaces Du Lopes on defense, while Weldon joins the attack in place of Washington. With an injury to defender Alex Silva and his defense partner Breno being suspended, coach Muricy Ramalho will likely change Sao Paulo's formation. He may include three defensive midfielders: Hernanes, Richarlyson and Josue - returning from suspension. Reasco replaces Ilsinho - who is being sold to Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk - as right-back.

After an embarrassing 4-0 road loss to Vasco last Saturday, Atletico Mineiro fired coach Zetti and hired controversial Emerson Leao, who will still watch from the sidelines while Marcelo Oliveira, the coach from the team's U-20 squad, sits on the bench. The team hopes the change can have an immediate effect on the pitch, but it will have a difficult time against an emerging Fluminense side, coming off good victories over Sao Paulo and Goias. The team coached by Renato Gaucho hasn't lost on the road since May 20, when it lost to Gremio in the 2nd round of the season. Right-back Carlinhos will not play for the visitors, due to an injury. Goalkeeper Diego has been sold to Spain's Almeria and will be replaced by Edson. Lima is suspended, being replaced by Leandro Almeida on defense. Coelho returns to the left-back position.

After learning it will be without top forward Dodo for 120 days due to a suspension for doping, Botafogo faces Juventude in Rio de Janeiro with closed gates. The team was punished after a cup of water was thrown on the field during the derby against Fluminense, and thus the public will not be allowed in for tonight's game. Juventude recovered from a 4-0 loss to Atletico Paranaense by beating Internacional 2-0 at home last Saturday. The team must win to once again climb out of the relegation zone. The locals will be without midfielder Ze Roberto, punished for missing a training session on Tuesday and being spotted in another city while he was supposed to be home recovering from the flu. Maraba and Luciano played well coming from the bench against Inter and will start for Juventude, which will be without right-back Barao, suspended.

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Gremio jumps to second place

Gremio likes playing at the Aflitos Stadium in Recife. Two years ago, the stadium was the venue for one of the most fantastic matches ever played by the team, which heroically battled on with just eight players to guarantee a win over Nautico that granted the team the promotion to the following year's Serie A. Yesterday, after Nautico had to wait an extra year to join Gremio in the Brazilian football elite, both teams faced each other again for the first time in the same venue of that historical night. The end result was the same, a win by Gremio, even if not in as dramatic fashion. Playing a defensive style, the visitors took advantage of counter-attacks to get the 2-0 win, with Tuta scoring in the first half and Carlos Eduardo in the second. The result puts Gremio in second place, with 24 points. Nautico is tied for last with America with just 10 points in 14 games.

America Natal ended up losing to Flamengo on the road (1-3) to drop one spot to the bottom of the table. Flamengo now has 11 points in 11 maches, with the win over America being only the team's second of the season. At least Flamengo fans were able to celebrate the third goal, scored by Obina, who's still recovering his fitness after being out for a couple of months due to an injury.

Meanwhile, Santos went to Goiania and lost its four-game unbeaten streak, falling to Goias by 1-0 on a goal by Welliton. The locals climbed back to third in the standings, with 23 points, while Santos remains with 18 points, good for 12th in the standings. Atletico Paranaense tied Cruzeiro at home (2-2), with the visitors scoring in injury time of the second half.

This was the same result of the Figueirense against Corinthians game, in Florianopolis. The locals lost several chances to end the game early, always stopping on great saves by goalkeeper Felipe. Corinthians took advantage of the few chances it created and escaped with a very good away draw. Internacional once again took advantage of the play of Alexandre Pato, scoring a 1-0 win at home over Parana to reach 20 points, 9th in the standings.

But the most entertaining match of the evening was reserved to the Parque Antarctica Stadium in Sao Paulo, where visitors Vasco jumped to an early 2-0 lead in the first half, just to see Palmeiras come back to win 3-2. The locals scored twice in the final 10 minutes, despite the fact they had been playing one man short since the 65th minute. The result prevented Vasco from reaching fourth place in the standings, instead providing Palmeiras with the chance to get past Vasco and move into 6th in the standings.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Brazilian Serie A - 14th round

Seven games open the 14th round of the Brazilian Serie A on Wednesday, with three games left for Thursday.

Here's a preview of tonight's games:

Cruzeiro travels to Curitiba trying to overcome last Sunday's 2-1 home defeat to Sao Paulo. Atletico, on the other hand, hopes that home field advantage will give the team the energy it lacked in a road loss to America Natal on Saturday, the first points gained by America at home this season. Defender Danilo returns from a two-game suspension for Atletico, while midfielder Valencia has been ruled fit to play by the medical staff. Right-back Nei also returns, replacing injured Jancarlos. Three players are out for Cruzeiro. Midfielder Charles and forward Roni are suspended, and midfielder Leandro Domingues is injured.

After a long stay among the top four, Goias is slowly starting to fall from the leading block in the standings. After a draw at home and two road losses in its last three games (including a 3-0 loss to Fluminense on Sunday), the team has fallen from second to sixth in the table. Santos is moving in the opposite direction, having won three and tied one game in its last four matches. Right-back Alessandro and midfielder Maldonado are out with injuries for Santos. Goias will have the return of several important players from injury or suspension: Paulo Baier, Elson and Leonardo, as well as Fabricio Carvalho and Vitor.

The locals are coming off an excellent 3-0 road win over Corinthians on Sunday, while Gremio managed to keep its efficient play intact in a 1-0 win at home over Flamengo to reach fourth in the standings. This is a re-enactment of the classic 2005 battle of the Aflitos Stadium, when Gremio heroically won a match against Nautico on the road in the last day of the season to earn promotion to the Serie A. The team from Recife would need to wait another year to leave the Serie B. Defender Onildo is out with an injury for the locals. For Gremio, defender Schiavi is suspended.

The match of the desperate features last place Flamengo against second last America Natal. Flamengo is coming off two straight losses, but still has three games in hand in comparison to most other teams. If the team doesn't start winning again soon, these three games won't matter much though. America finally won some points on home ground with a 2-1 win over Atletico Paranaense, but now returns to the road for a very difficult game against a determined team. The locals - who will play away from Rio one more time, due to the ongoing Pan American Games - have only one change in relation to the team that lost to Gremio on Sunday, with forward Obina, a fan favourite, replacing Souza, who was sent off in that game. America will be without suspended left-back Marcio Goiano, forward Nunes, who was sold to a foreign team, and injured defender Cris.

Both teams are just outside the Copa Libertadores qualification zone, and know that all remaining matches can play a crucial part in determining the final standings at the end of the year. Vasco defeated Atletico Mineiro 4-0 at home on the weekend, and hopes to carry some momentum into the road to face Palmeiras, which lost for the first time in six games when it travelled to Curitiba and was defeated by Parana (0-1) on Sunday. Defender Dininho was sent off against Parana and will not be able to play for Palmeiras. Max trades places with Luiz Henrique on attack, starting the match while his teamate goes to the bench. Vasco won only once on the road this season, remaining unbeaten at home. Defender Dudar is out injured for Vasco.

Corinthians coach Paulo Cesar Carpegiani knows that his days ahead of the team are numbered if he is to lose again. His team fell to the relegation zone after losing 3-0 at home to Nautico on the weekend. This Wednesday's opponent, Figueirense, is a lot tougher than Nautico, and also desperately needs to win again to regain lost ground after two straight losses. Carpegiani will likely change the attack, which has had trouble scoring recently, and forward Finazzi will be left out of the team. Left back Marcelo Oliveira is suspended, while midfielder Rosinei is injured. Figueirense will be without forward Victor Simoes, sold to a South Korean team, and defensive midfielder Henrique, suspended. Carlinhos and Fernandes are out injured, but defender Chicao can return after being nearly one month away from the team since pulling a muscle.

Inter had its three-game winning streak snapped in the regional derby against Juventude last weekend, while Parana shows signs of recovery after two straight wins lifted the team back into the top four. For Inter, defender Sidnei leaves the team injured, being replaced by left back Hidalgo. Defender Marcao, who had been playing as the left back, moves back into his natural position. Forward Iarley returns from suspension and will likely replace Christian alongside young sensation Alexandre Pato in attack. Defender Neguette is suspended for Parana, while goalkeeper Flavio and defender Daniel Marques are still out injured.

Three games complete the round tomorrow, with leaders Botafogo hosting Juventude, red-hot Fluminense going to Belo Horizonte to face Atletico Mineiro (under new coach Emerson Leao, who replaced fired Zetti), and second place Sao Paulo trying to make the most of its home game against Sport.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Brazilian Serie A: round 13 preview

Three games open the 13th round of the Brazilian Serie A football
league on Saturday, with seven other matches played on Sunday.

Here's a preview of the games this weekend:

Since its match with Botafogo for the 12th round had already been played last month, Vasco did not play during the week. The team hopes the full week of rest will allow the players to be at their best against Atletico Mineiro, which is coming off a good 4-1 win at home over America Natal. The visitors have struggled on the road, winning only one game away from Belo Horizonte all season long. Vasco will be without suspended left-back Guilherme. Atletico will have the return of midfielders Danilinho, Bilu and Eder Luis. Rafael Miranda is still questionable.

America keeps trying to get its first point at home in the season. This Saturday, it plays a determined Atletico team which beat Juventude 4-0 at home on Wednesday, ending a two-game goaless streak. Four regulars are missing for the locals. Midfielders Marcos Alexandre, Leandro Sena, Celio and forward Frontini are suspended. For the visitors, defender Danilo is out suspended. New arrival Claiton, who was with Flamengo, may make his debut.

Juventude is surely happy to be back home, after being trounced by Atletico Paranaense in Curitiba 4-0. But things don't look very bright for the team from Rio Grande do Sul, which will face a Internacional team coming off three straight wins. Coach Flavio Campos may lose his job if Juventude loses, and this will certainly put some extra pressure on the locals. Iarley is out suspended for Inter, but midfielder Alex may return from injury. Fabio Baiano may make his debut for Juventude, which will also have the return of defender Leonardo Silva and Eber, who were suspended.

After playing its traditional cautious away game on Thursday against Goias, Gremio returns to Porto Alegre trying to regain momentum and keep moving up in the standings. It will face a Flamengo team that is starting to feel a little desperate, after losing to Parana 2-1 and not managing to escape the relegation zone. The team still has three games in hand in comparison to its closest competitors though. Defensive midfielder Diego Souza is out suspended for Gremio, but forward Tuta may return from injury after being out for more than a month. Gavilan returns from suspension, while Ramon and Amoroso are also available. Flamengo will try to recover from a 13-hour trip from Uberlandia to Porto Alegre on Friday, and will likely field the same team that started against Parana.

The team coached by Renato Gaucho did extremely well on Wednesday, going to the Morumbi Stadium and beating third place Sao Paulo 1-0. Unable to play in Rio, the team hosts second place Goias in neutral Cariacica on Sunday, trying to do just as well to gain more positions in the standings. Gaucho has not informed if his team will use a 3-6-1 or 4-4-2 formation. Forward Fabricio Carvalho is out suspended for Goias.

Still worried about its crisis off the field, Corinthians hosts last place Nautico in Sao Paulo on Sunday. The locals haven't won in six games, but the visitors are even worse, managing just four draws and six losses in their last ten. Maybe a tie would extend the misery for both sides? Forward Everton Santos is out injured for Corinthians, while defensive midfielder Ricardinho will make his debut, replacing Bruno Octavio. Right-back Pedro returns after serving a one-game suspension. Forward Kuki, disappointed with the criticism he's been receiving from fans, asked for and was granted a leave by Nautico, and won't play. Marcelinho is out injured, while goalkeeper Eduardo and midfielder Daniel Sobralense, despite still feeling some pain from persisting injuries, will likely play.

Cruzeiro has been playing well since the team lost to Santos on the road three games ago. It has beaten Goias 2-1 at home and Nautico 4-1 on the road. It now faces the defending champions Sao Paulo, a shadow of the team it was for the past two seasons. With just 9 goals scored in 12 matches, Sao Paulo must turn its attack on soon or risk losing valuable ground in the title race. Despite its problems, the team is still in fourth place, tied with Cruzeiro, currently in third. The visitors will be without forwards Aloisio and Dagoberto, injured, while their substitute Marcel has been sold to Gremio. Borges or Leandro may play alongside Diego Tardelli in the attack. Josue is out suspended, but Jorge Wagner and Alex Silva may return from injuries. After playing the same starting lineup for two consecutive games, coach Dorival Junior will have to make at least one change in the Cruzeiro team, after Wagner was sent off against Nautico and is suspended for this game. Defender Luizao, who was with the Brazilian Under-20 team that played the U-20 World Cup in Canada, has been sold to a Swiss team and is also out.

Sport surprised Figueirense on the road on Wednesday, scoring a 1-0 win - its fourth victory in its past five games. Going back to Recife on Sunday, it hosts leaders Botafogo, which is still trying to determine whether last week's defeat at the hands of Santos was an accident or the start of a decline from the league lead. Defender Juninho, midfielder Tulio and forward Dodo are suspended, while midfielder Ze Roberto is out with the flu. The locals will be without midfielders Everton and Bia. Defender Igor, midfielder Adriano and wing Diogo are questionable. Midfielder Romerito returns from suspension.

Santos lost its bid for a third straight win in injury time of the derby against Palmeiras on Thursday, but coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo was happy with what he saw. Going back to the Vila Belmiro this weekend, he knows the team must beat Figueirense to keep its title hopes alive. After a poor start to the season, the team is still nine points back of Botafogo. Midfielder Vitor Junior is out suspended, while Maldonado is still out injured for Santos. Midfielder Dionisio returns and forward Kleber Pereira may appear in the starting lineup, though. Figueirense will likely keep the same team that lost to Sport 1-0.

Parana got a good 2-1 away win over Flamengo to recover from recent defeats to lower-placed teams at home. Going back to Curitiba, it hopes it can continue its recovery against Palmeiras, which barely managed to tie the derby against Santos on Thursday to get to 19 points - good for 6th place but the same number of points as fifth place Parana, Sao Paulo and Cruzeiro. Midfielder Vinicius Pacheco is out suspended, with defender Daniel Marques and midfielder Adriano injured. Edmundo, who returned to the team against Santos but started from the bench, may begin this match.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Vitoria tries to close gap against Criciuma

After two matches on Tuesday to open the 13th round, the Brazilian Serie B football league continues with two games this Friday and six on Saturday. The most anticipated game of this round is the one that pits leaders Criciuma against second place Vitoria, in Santa Catarina. The visitors try to close a five-point gap to the leaders, while staying among the top four on the table. Criciuma is happy to be back home after a 3-2 away loss to Ponte Preta in its last game. Vitoria just hopes it can perform as well on the road as it did the last time it played at home, when it beat Fortaleza 6-0.

On Friday, seventh place Brasiliense take on ninth place Ponte Preta, trying to temporarily move into second position with a win. The locals have 19 points, two less than second place Vitoria and third place Gama. The other game on Friday puts Sao Caetano against Avai, in a game featuring two mid-table teams.

On Saturday, in addition to Criciuma and Vitoria, fourth place Coritiba hosts Gremio Barueri. Both teams are tied at 20 points, but the locals have one more win and thus are awarded the better position in the standings. Santa Cruz tries to turn its season around to avoid relegation, as it hosts Remo in a battle of two desperate teams currently in the bottom four. Second last Ituano also has a matchup against another desperate team, Fortaleza, which is just out of the relegation zone, with 14 points - good for 16th place.

Marilia, which lost six points due to irregularly fielded players, continues playing well nevertheless, and can move into the top four with a win over Ceara at home. Finally, last place Paulista hopes to take advantage of playing at home to beat third place Gama.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Last minute goal saves Palmeiras

Palmeiras gained a point in a 2-2 tie with Santos on Thursday, scoring the tying goal in the last minute of play to keep alive a five-game unbeaten streak. Santos opened the score with Kleber - returning from a stunt with the Brazilian National Team - in the 11th minute. Nen tied the game for Palmeiras eight minutes later, but Pedrinho put Santos back on the lead with a goal in injury time of the first half. Palmeiras pushed forward in the second half, allowing for dangerous counterattacks by Santos. In the last play of the game, the ball was shot to the penalty box, where Martinez deflected it with a header and hit Rodrigo Souto, who ended up scoring an own goal.

In Uberlandia, Parana won for the first time in five games, beating Flamengo 2-1. Josiel scored twice in two minutes (in the 28th and 30th minutes) to put Parana up ahead, while Leo Medeiros gave Flamengo some hope with a goal in the 36th minute. In the end, however, Parana managed to hold on to the lead to leave Flamengo with eight points in nine matches, still in the relegation zone. Parana reached fifth place in the standings, with 19 points.

Finally, second place Goias played to a scoreless tie against Gremio in Goiania, in a poor match with very few chances created by both sides. Goias now trails Botafogo by four points, but the leaders have one game in hand.

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Three games tonight

The 12th round of the 2007 Brazilian Serie A football league will be closed tonight, with three games:

Gremio tries to focus on the match after nearly being killed in a plane accident on Tuesday. Goias can get within two points of leaders Botafogo with a win, while Gremio can gain second place from Goias and move within four of the leaders. Goias' coach Bonamigo - a former Gremio player - will be without midfielder Cleber Gaucho (suspended), while Paulo Baier (pink eye) is likely going to play. Left-back Lucio was sold to Hertha Berlin and will not play for Gremio, while defensive midfielder Gavilan is also out for the visitors, suspended. 18-year-old left-back Anderson Pico could play in midfield alongside captain Tcheco, who returns after being out since the Copa Libertadores final. And forward Carlos Eduardo, who was with the Brazilian Under-20 team, will start the match.

Due to the Pan-American Games currently underway in Rio de Janeiro, Flamengo has played only eight games against most team's eleven. Due to this discrepancy, the traditional team finds itself in the relegation zone, with just eight points. The Games will also force this match to be played away from Rio, in neutral Uberlandia. Right-back Leonardo Moura and left-back Juan return to the team, alongside midfielder Renato Augusto and goalkeeper Bruno. But defenders Ronaldo Angelim and Irineu are suspended, and Thiago and Rodrigo Arroz will play instead, the first time they play together. Forward Obina, who hasn't played in several months, will start on the bench, and may be an option for the second half. Parana will make three changes in relation to the team that lost to Figueirense (1-2) on the weekend. Defender Nem will replace injured Daniel Marques, with Luiz Henrique joining the defense in place of Joao Paulo and Alex returning to the right-back position, instead of Parral.

After two impressive wins (4-1 over Cruzeiro and 3-0 over Botafogo), Santos travels to Sao Paulo trying to surprise arch-rivals Palmeiras, in a Sao Paulo State derby to be played at the Parque Antarctica Stadium. Palmeiras is unbeaten in four games, but hasn't defeated Santos in its last five tries. A win tonight can take the team to second place in the standings, depending on the result of the Goias and Gremio game. Forward Kleber Pereira makes his debut for Santos, which will also have Kleber back from the Brazilian National Team that won the Copa America. Defender Adailton leaves the starting lineup, while Domingos continues to impress coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo. Midfielders Maldonado (injured) and Dionisio (suspended) are out. Defensive midfielder Valdivia also returns to Palmeiras after playing for Chile in the continental competition. Martinez also returns from suspension, while Deyvid is out with muscle pain. Forward Edmundo, who has missed the last four games with an injury, will likely start from the bench. Coach Caio Junior has yet to decide if the team will start the game with two or three central defenders.

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The Pato show

Internacional fans surely missed Alexandre Pato. The young star, who was away with the Brazilian Under-20 team for most of the past month, returned to Inter's starting eleven in top form this Wednesday, at the Beira-Rio Stadium, in Porto Alegre. With two goals and one assist, Pato helped dismantle Corinthians in the second half of a game Inter won 3-0. The locals won their third straight game to jump to eighth place in the standings, with 17 points. It wasn't that long ago that the team had been dangerously close to the relegation zone, raising concerns among the faithful red. These concerns must now surely rest with the fans of Corinthians, winless in six matches and down to the 16th place in the standings with 14 points, just one position out of the relegation zone.

Before the start of the game, fans paid one minute of silence in respect to the victims of the accident with an airplane that was going from Porto Alegre to Sao Paulo on Tuesday. Nearly 200 people, many from Porto Alegre - and including one former Internacional president -, died on the crash at the Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo. Despite the mourning, both teams quickly pushed forward after kickoff. The game started on a frantic pace, with teams alternating scoring chances. At the end of 45 minutes, however, the game was still scoreless. The first goal was scored only in the 61st minute, when Pato took a penalty kick suffered by Iarley. He would also score the second goal for the locals, in the 80th minute, with a strong shot from just inside the penalty box. Adriano scored in the last minute after another play by Alexandre Pato, to give Inter the final 3-0 score.

Meanwhile, Sao Paulo keeps wasting opportunities to close on the league leaders, Botafogo. Playing against Fluminense at the Morumbi Stadium, the team once again failed to score, having only nine goals in 12 matches this season. Even worse, it lost the game 1-0 and thus ended a 23-year unbeaten streak against the rival at the Morumbi Stadium. Fluminense seems to have learned from Brazil's success at the Copa America, as coach Renato Gaucho simply positioned his team to not allow any spaces to be taken advantage of by the locals. The strong marking system worked, and Sao Paulo failed to create many chances during the game. The visitors also took advantage of one of the few chances they had themselves, and scored on a penalty kick awarded in the 53rd minute.

And Sao Paulo's life will not get any easier. On the weekend they travel to Belo Horizonte to face a reinvigorated Cruzeiro team, coming off two good wins. After beating second place Goias last Saturday (2-1), the team coached by Dorival Junior came from behind to soundly beat Nautico on Wednesday, 4-1. Nautico opened the score in the second minute, but Cruzeiro tied the game ten minutes later, coming back in the second half to score three more times. It was a good psychological win for the team as well, after losing its two previous road games (to Figueirense and Santos). The win lifted Cruzeiro to third place in the standings, past Sao Paulo, with 19 points. Meanwhile, Nautico continues in last place with seven points, having lost six games and tied four in its last ten matches.

Another team from the Brazilian Northeast is also in trouble deep in the standings, joining Nautico at the bottom of the table. America Natal went to Belo Horizonte and also lost by a 4-1 score, to Cruzeiro's archrivals Atletico Mineiro. Atletico scored the two first goals in 20 minutes, and after America scored one shortly thereafter, the local team was still able to answer with the third goal before the first half was over. Not many chances were created in the second half, and the fourth Atletico goal only came five minutes from the end of regulation. The win was important for the locals, who now have 16 points and are five points clear of Juventude, the last team in the relegation zone.

Juventude didn't do itself any favours on Wednesday, going to Curitiba and losing 4-0 to Atletico Paranaense. Atletico, which had been held scoreless in its last two games, welcomed the return of its top scorer, Alex Mineiro, who had missed these two games. And he was quick to make himself noticed, scoring on a penalty kick in the 7th minute to open the score. The other goals would come only in the second half.

Finally, Sport surprised everyone with a road win over Figueirense in Santa Catarina. In a poor game with few scoring chances and low technical quality, the visitors were lucky to score a goal in the 88th minute, with Carlinhos Bala. Figueirense lost a chance to climb to second in the standings, while Sport reached sixth place.

Three games close out the 12th round on Thursday. Goias hosts Gremio at the Serra Dourada Stadium in Goiania. Santos travels to Sao Paulo to face Palmeiras, while Flamengo and Parana play on neutral grounds in Uberlandia, since Flamengo is unable to host its games in Rio during the ongoing Pan-American Games.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brazilian Serie A - 12th round preview

Six games on Wednesday and three on Thursday complete the 12th round of the 2007 Brazilian Serie A football league. The first match of this round was played more than a month ago, when Botafogo beat Vasco 4-0 in an anticipated match rescheduled because of the ongoing Pan-American games in Rio de Janeiro.

Here's a preview for Wednesday's matches:

Inter goes back home after defeating Nautico on the weekend in Recife. Mourning the death of former president Paulo Amoretty in the TAM airplane crashed that killed 200 people on Tuesday, the locals have a chance to get closer to the top of the standings, against a Corinthians team that hasn't won in five games, but which is also coming a decent performance in a 1-1 tie with Sao Paulo on the weekend. Defensive midfielder Bruno Otavio is questionable for the visitors. Alexandre Pato returns to Inter's starting lineup after taking part on the U-20 Fifa World Cup in Canada. Defender Indio, who was suspended for the last game, also returns.

Sao Paulo will try to move closer to Botafogo, facing a tough team in Brazilian Cup champions Fluminense at the Morumbi Stadium. Without conceding too many goals, the team must find a way to score more if it wants to remain among the top teams in the standings. In its past three matches, the team has scored only two goals, managing a win and two ties. So a 1-0 win for the locals would not be too surprising, especially given the fact they haven't lost to Fluminense at home in the last 23 years. Defender Alex Silva, who returned to the team after the Copa America, is out with a shoulder injury, together with forward Aloisio and Jorge Wagner. Josue is also back from the Brazilian National team, while midfielder Hugo returns from a three-game suspension. Coach Renato Gaucho, on the other hand, hasn't confirmed which team will start against Sao Paulo, but it's possible he'll adopt a 3-6-1 formation during the game.

Last place Nautico gets another chance at home to start climbing out of the bottom of the standings. It faces an unpredictable Cruzeiro team, which is coming off a good win over second place Goias at home, but which has not been playing well on the road recently. The locals have lost the two last games they played in front of their fans, though. Nautico will be without defender Alysson, who was recently transferred, injured goalkeeper Fabiano and defensive midfielders Vagner Rosa, Daniel Sobralense and Luciano. Daniel Paulista is also out for Nautico, suspended. Cruzeiro will have the same team that beat Goias 2-1 on Saturday, the first time in 43 games that the team fields the same starting lineup in two consecutive matches.

Atletico Mineiro has a must win match at home against a team in the relegation zone, America Natal. The locals should be careful not to give appropriate credit to their opponents though, since America has played decently as visitor in the past few games - not at home though, losing all six games it played in Natal. Atletico will change the team in relation to the one that started in the 2-0 loss to Sport on Saturday. Forward Eder Luis and midfielders Bilu and Danilinho are out suspended, while right-back Coelho was removed from the starting eleven in favour of Claudio. For America, right-back Eduardo returns to the team after being sidelined due to a pink eye, while forward Paulo Isidoro, who did not play on the weekend because he was getting married, also returns.

Inconsistent Atletico Paranaense hosts a defensive-minded Juventude team that usually provides a tough test to any team facing it. Which Atletico team will show up, the one that beat Palmeiras 2-0 on the road or the one that tied Nautico 1-1 at home? After two away losses in which coach Antonio Lopes had to make some changes due to injury or suspensions, most regulars will be back for this match. Only defensive midfielder Valencia has not been cleared to return yet from injury. The team is confident that the return of its top players, including top scorer Alex Mineiro, will improve the attack, which hasn't scored in its past two games. Juventude will be without forward Michel, injured, and suspended defender Leonardo Silva and forward Eber. Alex Alves is also out with a longer suspension, after failing a doping exam.

Sport has not been playing well away from home this season, but the team must show the same effort it's shown at home if it is to stay in the Serie A next year. With three wins in its past four games, Sport has climbed out of the relegation zone, where it plans to stay. Tonight it will have a tough time getting three points against a determined Figueirense team, but a point is not out of the question. Figueirense is currently in sixth, one point out of a Libertadores spot among the top four in the standings. Midfielders Carlinhos and Fernandes are out injured for Figueirense, alongside defender Edson and captain Chicao. Right-back Ruy returns to the team after one month. Midfielder Rosembrick is injured and will not play for Sport, the same happening to another midfielder on the team, Adriano. Finally, Romerito, who made his debut for the team on Saturday, is out suspended - he had collected two yellow cards while on Goias earlier this season, and the third on his debut with Sport.

Three games close out the 12th round on Thursday, with Goias hosting Gremio, Flamengo playing in Uberlandia against Parana and Santos going to Sao Paulo to face Palmeiras.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gremio escapes accident with plane in Sao Paulo

The Gremio football team was supposed to be aboard the plane that crashed Tuesday evening as it landed in the Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo. According to team directors, the team changed plans at the last minute, opting to take a different plane en route to Goiania, where it faces Goias on Thursday. TAM flight 3054, an Airbus A320, crashed on a cargo hangar building besides the runway after it failed to stop and slid off the tarmac. It's believed close to 200 people may have died on the accident, including passengers and people who were in the building hit by the plane.


Brazilian Serie B update

The Brazilian Serie B Football League has had 12 of its 38 rounds played so far, with Criciuma holding the top spot in the standings with 26 points, five more than second place Vitoria and third place Gama. Coritiba comes next with 20 points to round out the top four which would be promoted if the tournament ended today. There's still a long way to go, however, and anything can still happen. Good news for the bottom feeders, particularly Paulista, currently in last with just 9 points. Ituano is second last, with ten, while Santa Cruz keeps falling, being currently in 18th place in its first year back in Serie B, after being relegated from the Brazilian Serie A last season. Remo, with 13 points, is in 17th, the last spot for relegation to the dreaded Serie C.

Two matches will be played this Tuesday in the Serie B. Ipatinga from Minas Gerais hosts Santo Andre, as both teams try to move closer to the leaders. Currently with 15 points, they are presently tied for 12th place, with the visitors holding the advantage on goal differential.

Slightly better, ninth place Portuguesa (17 points) hosts 11th place CRB (16 points), trying to jump four spots to temporarily take 5th place in the standings. Both teams are coming from 1-0 defeats last Friday, with Portuguesa losing an away game to Remo and CRB being upset at home by Marilia.

Two other games are scheduled for Friday and six for Saturday, as the race for a berth in next year's Brazilian football elite continues to heat up.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

When winning is all that matters

For the duration of this year's Copa America, Brazil has been criticized at home and abroad for not playing up to par with what has generally been perceived as the traditional Brazilian way of playing football. The 'jogo bonito', or beautiful game, style of play made Brazilians famous, with a controlled pace given to the game so as to entertain fans, dominate the opposing team and ultimately - if it came to it - win titles.

It worked superbly in a different era, when Brazil had the talent to play like this and almost always emerge victorious in the end. The team would surrender quite a few goals for deciding to play an open game filled with flair. But it would inevitably score more, and the team would generally come away with the win. When the quality of Brazilian players would decline, so would the rate of success of this type of strategy. Other teams learned to adapt and neutralize this kind of football too, and soon it was evident that Brazil would need to adapt if it was willing to keep on winning.

What followed was a total departure from that old game, and the beautiful game gave way to the game of results. It didn't matter how the game was won, all it mattered was the win. This is how Brazil barely managed to win its fourth World Cup title, in 1994. Captained by Dunga, the team was more concerned about defending first, and only then attacking. With sub-standard opponents in what was considered a weak World Cup, Brazil beat Italy in the final on a penalty shootout. Italy would have to wait another 12 years before it finally won its fourth World Cup title - curiously enough, in another poor World Cup, decided on penalty kicks.

Following Italy's win in 2006, Brazil's old captain, Dunga, was brought in to get Brazil back on track with a results-oriented philosophy. Giving too much attention to flair and players who worried too much about the 'jogo bonito', it seemed, had cost the country the chance to win the last world Cup. Instead of worrying about the team, each player seemed more concerned about his own future and personal contracts.

Concentrating on the end result would bring championships back to Brazil, and prima-donnas would no longer be tolerated. Instead, a hard-working team would give the country its best shot at winning. The first months of the new Dunga era saw alternating good and bad results, as the new coach tried several new faces. Slowly, the team started being shaped in the way Dunga wanted the game to be played. The way he played. Defending first and worrying about the attack later.

This is an approach which is as dangerous as the flamboyant style adopted earlier by Brazil. By taking this stance, Dunga ultimately levels down the field, and the Brazilians start playing similarly to other less-talented teams, which would not have a different option other than taking a defensive approach.

The Copa America showed how poorly Brazil can play when adopting this new style of play. But the effort of all players and the collective posture of the team as a unit first, and not a group of individuals, also showed how strong this mindset can be. A 2-0 loss to Mexico, a weak win over Ecuador, two good wins over Chile and a lucky one over Uruguay had put Brazil in the final of the competition against the heavily favoured Argentines.

A mixture of strength, commitment, some luck, and lots of effort gave Brazil its most remarkable performance of the Cup, when it mattered the most. By defending first, and cancelling Argentina's main plays - even if to do that the team had to commit a series of fouls to stop the opponents - the team was allowed to explore counterattacks and patiently build a 3-0 win.

To the Brazilians, this is the new 'jogo bonito'. If they can mix that kind of commitment and effort with the talent and flow of their flamboyant game, it will become even more beautiful.

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Brazil beats Argentina 3-0

It didn't take long to see that this was a different Brazilian team than the one that had played a mostly lacklustre competition. Brazil started the final against the powerful Argentines taking some chances in attack, and patiently controlling the ball in midfield. Before the game was five minutes old, Julio Baptista received the ball inside the penalty box on the left wing, quickly cutting it towards the centre of the pitch past an opponent, and then perfectly placing it to the left of goalkeeper Abbondazieri.

Argentina couldn't create much, with the Brazilians crowding the midfield and stopping creative Riquelme with fouls whenever he tried to take more than a few steps with the ball. But the white-and-blues slowly tried to move forward, and almost tied the game in the 10th minute, when Riquelme took a great shot from 15 metres to hit the right post of the goal guarded by Doni. The Argentines seemed to patiently wait for their chances, which would definitely arise later in the game.

Or so they thought. Brazil still managed to create a few scoring opportunities of its own, and in one of those chances, defender Ayala deflected a cross from the right wing into his own net, in the 41st minute, to make it 2-0 for the defending champions. Argentina lost its patience, and came back to the second half desperately trying to tie the game.

With Argentina going forward and leaving more spaces back on defence, Brazil waited for the right opportunities to create a few chances in counterattacks. A two-goal lead was not enough to guarantee any kind of relief though, since everyone on the team knew how dangerously a 2-0 lead could turn around late in a game. In the 69th minute, Robinho found Vagner Love, who quickly moved up the field and passed to Daniel Alves on the right side of the penalty box. Alves shot the ball across the box into the lower right corner of Abbodanzieri's goal, and the game was all but over.

As Brazilians celebrated during the last few minutes of the game, Argentina was left to wonder how it lost yet again in a competition final, after dominating most of the tournament with clearly the best football of all competitors. For Brazil, it didn't matter, as a mostly discredited team rose to the occasion and beat their arch-rivals with an unquestionable 3-0 win.

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Botafogo loses first match

Still trying to deal with the suspension of goalscorer Dodo due to a doping charge, Botafogo travelled to Santos trying to maintain its lead atop the standings in the Brazilian League. It managed to do that, but not before losing its first game of the season, 3-0 to Santos.

The team started the game playing quite well, and dominated the first half. But without translating that dominance into a lead, Botafogo had to deal with a determined local side coming back to the second half. Marcos Aurelio took advantage of a lapse of attention by the Botafogo defense in the 60th minute, and scored the game's first goal. Four minutes later, Rodrigo Tabata scored on a free kick. Moraes made it 3-0 in the last minute of regulation, a result that did not quite reflect the reality of a very disputed game, but which undoubtedly ended the last unbeaten record in the league.

Luckily for Botafogo, its lead at the top remains of five points, after Goias lost to Cruzeiro 2-1 in Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo tied Corinthians 1-1 in the Morumbi.

In other results, Internacional managed a heroic comeback to defeat America Natal 2-1, with two goals in the second half. Atletico Mineiro went to Recife and lost to Sport, 2-0. And Palmeiras tied Gremio 1-1 in Porto Alegre.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Match preview: Brazilian League

Six matches on the eleventh round of the Brazilian Serie A League will be played on Saturday. Three games were played on Thursday (Vasco 1-0 Atletico Paranaense, Parana 1-2 Figueirense and Juventude 1–1 Nautico), while the derby between Flamengo and Fluminense has been postponed till August 16th due to the PanAmerican Games, in Rio de Janeiro.

Here's a preview of Saturday's games:

Sport Recife needs a win to distance itself from the bottom four in the standings. In order to do so, the team must defeat Atletico Mineiro, which also played on Serie B in 2006, alongside Sport. With 11 points, the locals can get past Atletico (13) and move to the middle of the standings with a positive result. Defensive midfielder Ticao will not play for the next 30 days, after breaking his wrist on a training session this week. Defender Gabriel is also out, after being sold to a foreign team. Midfielder Romerito, acquired from Goias, will probably make his debut, but another midfielder, Adriano, is questionable. Coach Zetti will have the return of midfielder Rafael Miranda to Atletico, after he missed the loss against Gremio with an injury. Defender Vinicius, right-back Coelho, midfielder Marcinho and forward Galvao should also join the team. After a good start to the season, the team has faltered of late, having lost twice and tied twice in its last four games.

The league leaders travel to Santos to face the recovering side coached by Wanderley Luxemburgo. After a 4-1 win over Cruzeiro last weekend, Santos tries to build momentum to climb out of the relegation zone. Currently with 11 points, the team is tied with three other teams ahead of it in the standings, losing in goal differential to fall to 17th place. Left-back Kleber is still with the Brazilian team that is playing in the Copa America. Defender Adailton and midfielder Adriano are suspended. The team still awaits word from league officials to see if newly signed forward Kleber Pereira can make his debut. Botafogo did not have a good week, learning that top forward Dodo will be suspended for at least 30 days after failing a doping exam. Defender Alex returns from suspension, with midfielder Diguinho going back to the bench.

Two teams on the rise face each other in Porto Alegre. Coach Mano Menezes still doesn't know if he'll use youngster Carlos Eduardo, who was with the Brazilian Under-20 team, in attack. Ramon and Everton have not played that well up front, and will likely have to battle for a position to determine who will play alongside Carlos Eduardo. Tcheco is still out for the Libertadores runners-up, as the team tries to continue its recovery after a poor start to the tournament. Palmeiras will try to surprise as visitors, but will have to do so without captain Martinez, suspended. Pierre returns to the team, while Edmundo, Alex Afonso, William and Francis remain out recovering from injuries.

Cruzeiro frustrated its fans last week, as it went to Santos and was embarrassed by a 4-1 loss. Coach Dorival Junior, desperate to shake things that have gone wrong recently for his squad, will make four changes. Goalkeeper Fabio returns to the team after a knee injury. Emerson replaces Erick on defense, alongside Thiago Heleno, who takes Mariano's spot. Jonathan is the new right-back, while Leo Silva and Guilherme join the team in midfield. Will these changes work? Only time will tell, but it seems unlikely the team can get any worse. Even if the team doesn't win, Dorival Junior is looking for more stability in defense, after surrendering 22 goals in 10 matches. Second-place Goias will try to take advantage of Cruzeiro's problems. Coach Bonamigo will have a full squad with the return of left-back Diego from injury, and suspended defender Paulo Henrique, defensive midfielder Amaral and forward Welliton. It's not easy to predict how the changes may affect Cruzeiro, but it seems the locals will have a tough time getting past a good Goias side.

After surprising Parana last week in Curitiba, America Natal wants to keep its winning ways to start getting out of the bottom of the table. This week the team faces Internacional, which is also struggling and remains dangerously close to the relegation zone. The locals will be without three regulars. Defender Odirley and midfielder Marquinhos are suspended, while fellow midfielder Paulo Isidoro took a leave of absence for his marriage. Inter's situation is even worse, forcing coach Gallo to field a team without nine regular players, among starters and immediate substitutes. Youngster Diego, for instance, will play as right-back after starter Ceara, and substitutes Elder Granja and Jonas had injury problems. Defender Indio is suspended, while his partner Alex is out with muscle pains. The midfield will be without suspended Wellington Monteiro and injured Fernandao. Alexandre Pato, who was with the Brazilian Under-20 team that was eliminated in the second round of the U-20 World Cup this week, will not play either.

The traditional derby features the two last Brazilian League champions, whose recent performances are not quite what their fans had seen when they won their titles in 2005 and 2006. Corinthians is amidst a long crisis due to its failed partnership with investment fund MSI and investigation by the authorities. On the field the team has also been struggling, as new coach Carpegiani tries to give the team some consistency. In its last four games, the team has lost twice and tied another two times. Sao Paulo seems to have never really managed to get things going this year, despite still holding on to third place in the standings. They are still the favourites due to the crisis on their opponent's side and their ongoing streak against Corinthians, having not lost in 12 games, since 2003. The team has been having trouble scoring (only 8 goals in 10 matches) but also has been solid on defence, having allowed just 2 goals in 10 games. Will this be another low scoring game? Josue and Alex Dias are still with the Brazilian National team, while Jorge Wagner is questionable for the game.

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Corinthians managers accused by Public Attorney's office

Several top managers from popular Brazilian club Corinthians were accused by the Brazilian Public Attorney's office this past week, due to the involvement with international investment fund MSI. They were accused of illegal financial operations, including money laundering. According to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, the investigation also mentions possible plans by the team and MSI to use financial means to prevent the team from being relegated, if it ever were in risk of doing so. The federal authorities recorded some conversations between the team and the fund managers, but did not give out many details as the investigation is still ongoing. The recordings also show team and MSI officials discussing details about buying and selling players abroad, with illegal transfer of money for these transactions, tax evasion and bribing.

In another note, the team has lost its legal battle in international courts against French side Lyon, and must now pay 8 million euros that had not been paid in the transfer of forward Nilmar.

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Parana loses again at home

Three matches opened the 11th round of the 2007 Brazilian League on Thursday. Parana lost its second straight match at home, this time 2-1 to Figueirense, wasting a golden chance to climb back to the top four in the standings. Last week, the team had already lost at home (0-1) to last place America Natal. With the win, the team from Santa Catarina jumped to sixth place with 17 points, seven behind leaders Botafogo.

Vasco also gained some valuable positions on the table, jumping to the same 17 points as Figueirense and Palmeiras, but having a better goal differential to temporarily claim fourth spot. On Thursday the team hosted Atletico Parananense and suffered to win by the minimum 1-0 score. Atletico played without many regulars, but still managed to get a one-goal lead, which was waved off for an offside that did not occur. Leandro Amaral scored the only valid goal of the game for Vasco.

The third match featured Juventude and Nautico in Caxias do Sul. The last placed team from Pernambuco surprised the locals, who were also trying to escape the relegation zone. The 1-1 final result still leaves Nautico in last place - tied with America Natal with 7 points - but Juventude temporarily leaves the bottom four, if only by virtue of a better goal differential. The team is now in 15th place with 11 points, the same number as 17th placed Santos and 16th Internacional.

Six matches will be played on Saturday, but the 11th round will only be completed in mid-August, with the derby between Flamengo and Fluminense, postponed from this weekend due to the PanAmerican Games in Rio de Janeiro.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Not strong enough

The Brazilian Under-20 team is finally out of the Fifa U-20 World Cup which is being played in Canada. The Brazilians, who barely qualified out of the first round with one win and two losses, lost to Spain 4-2 in extra time on Wednesday, in a second round game played in Burnaby, British Columbia.

It looked like the Brazilians would advance late in the first half, after Leandro and Alexandre Pato scored one minute apart, in the 39th and 40th minutes. Four minutes later, however, Pique netted an extremely important goal for the Europeans, which meant Spain trailed by only one goal at halftime instead of two - which would have been a much more difficult mental task to overcome going into the second half.

Despite the exciting finish to the first 45 minutes, however, the second half started on a slow pace, with very few scoring chances developing for both sides. When it looked like Brazil was headed to the quarterfinals, Javi Garcia tied the game on a free kick, with five minutes left in regulation.

The tired Brazilians proved they weren't strong enough in extra time, suffering one goal in the 103rd minute and another after the 120th minute, in injury time. Bueno and Adrian Lopez scored the two goals for Spain, which will now face the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.

An end to a terrible competition by the Brazilians. When they arrived in Canada they were hailed as one of the tournament's favourites, coming off a second place finish in the last World Cup and traditionally fielding a good team at this level. It didn't take long for everyone to realize those expectations were misconceived. Just like the main Brazilian team one year ago at the World Cup in Germany, the boys never seemed to find their top form, and exit the tournament sooner than most fans would have thought or hoped for. One can only hope this will help the youngsters learn some valuable lessons about effort and consistency, which in turn can benefit them later in their careers.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shootout gives Brazil a ticket to the final

Uruguay captain Diego Lugano is used to being in the middle of a celebration by Brazilians on a football pitch. After all, he became famous in Brazil after being part of a good Sao Paulo team that won important titles like the 2005 Libertadores and Intercontinental Cups. On Tuesday, he was once again in the middle of a Brazilian football celebration. Only this time it was for all the wrong reasons.

With Brazil leading 5-4 on a penalty shootout to decide the qualification to the 2007 Copa America final, Lugano could not put the ball into the net to give his team another chance of winning the game. Instead, he shot the ball right into the hands of Brazilian keeper Doni, who incidentally had taken three or four steps in the direction of the Uruguayan player before the ball was even touched. Colombian referee Oscar Ruiz validated the save nevertheless, and Brazil defeated Uruguay on a penalty shootout of a Copa America semifinal for the second straight time.

It wasn't supposed to have taken this long for the Brazilians to consolidate the win. Early in the game, the team coached by Dunga managed to create a few good chances and seemed in complete control after Maicon scored an early goal in the 13th minute. Three minutes later, however, all the lights in one of the illumination towers of the Maracaibo Stadium went out, and the match had to be interrupted for nearly 15 minutes. When the game resumed - without all the lights having being turned back on - the intensity of play had definitely cooled off.

It wasn't until the end of the first half, when Uruguay created a few good chances, that the level of play improved. Finally, after a series of frustrating corner kicks taken by veteran Alvaro Recoba, goalkeeper Doni failed to clear a cross and accidentally gave the ball away to forward Forlan, who quickly put the ball into the net to tie the game. Brazil managed to come back and finish the second half ahead though, when Julio Baptista took advantage of a free kick from the right wing to deflect the ball into the net, past goalkeeper Carini.

In the second half, both teams were cautious and did not give up many spaces back on defence. In one of the few chances created by Uruguay, however, Forlan crossed the ball to 'El Loco' Abreu from the left wing, and the forward hit it past Doni to tie the game. Brazil still tried to adopt a more offensive approach inserting Diego and Fernando in place of Julio Baptista and Josue, but to no avail. Afonso replaced Vagner Love and couldn't do much - except missing a penalty kick during the shootout.

With the 2-2 draw after 90 minutes of regulation, both teams took the pitch to decide the game on the shootout. Brazil had the early lead when Forlan missed the first kick for Uruguay, but as Fernando and Afonso hit the post in Brazil's third and fifth tries, Uruguay could have advanced if only Pablo Garcia had managed to score on the fifth attempt. He didn't, and as Gilberto scored Brazil's fifth goal in the sixth try, Lugano could only hope he'd also score to send the shootout to a seventh round. Instead, he kicked the ball right in the middle of the goal, where Doni was waiting for it.

The Uruguayans still tried to argue that the penalty should be re-taken, since the Brazilian keeper had taken so many steps towards the shooter before the actual kick. A melee almost ensued, but in the end there was nothing to do but watch the Brazilians celebrate. This time, Lugano didn't feel like taking part in the celebrations. All the veteran defender could do was to slowly walk back to the dressing room, looking incredulous as the happy Brazilians sang and danced.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Brazil and Uruguay play tonight for the Copa America semifinal, in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The Brazilians are favourites, but not by a large margin - due mostly to the poor efforts the team has shown recently than any brilliance of the opponents in the last few matches.

True, both teams are coming from good victories in the quarterfinals (6-1 for Brazil against Chile and 4-1 for Uruguay over the hosts Venezuela). However, the oldest international tournament at the continental level has failed to create too much of a buzz yet again this year. After all, if the tournament was taken seriously, how could one explain the fact that two of the top players in the world, Ronaldinho Gaucho and Kaka, simply asked to be left out of the Brazilian squad? It's unimaginable to have something similar happen to a top European player asking to be left out of the finals of an European Championship.

Still, Uruguay is planning to surprise the favourites once again, just like they did 57 years ago, in the memorable 'Maracanazo' episode. In the 1950 World Cup final match, the Brazilians were as heavy a favourite as there can be in the match against their southern neighbours. Playing at home, the team was coming off excellent performances in which it simply toyed away with the opposition, defeating Spain 6-1 and Sweden 7-1. Uruguay, on the other hand, had barely beaten the Swedes 3-2 and tied the Spaniards 2-2. Brazil needed a simple tie in the final game, and fans had been celebrating the title even before the match had begun. When Brazil opened the score in the first minute of the second half, nobody would think the team could still lose the title. But that's just what happened, after Uruguay scored twice - at the 66th and 80th minutes - to win the game and the title. Nearly 200,000 fans left the stadium stunned and in silence, while the Uruguayans celebrated their greatest football achievement of all time.

So, will we have a new 'Maracanazo' in Maracaibo? A 'Maracaibazo'? Even if the Uruguayans win 3-0, it will hardly be as surprising as that win 57 years ago was. Brazil is still the favourite tonight, but not by that large a margin.

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Dodo suspended for doping

The second exam confirmed what the first had already showed, and Botafogo forward Dodo was preventively suspended on Monday for doping. His initial suspension is for 30 days. An urine sample collected after the match against Vasco showed the presence of an illegal substance commonly found in certain drugs used for dieting and quick loss of weight. Dodo scored two goals in that match, won 4-0 by Botafogo. The player, who has been playing quite well for the league leaders and has scored seven goals in ten matches so far in the Brazilian Serie A, will now be tried by the Brazilian Supreme Sports Justice Court. He can be suspended by as much as one year, following the trial.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Botafogo keeps on track

Botafogo increased its lead atop the standings of the Brazilian National League back to five points on Saturday, after beating Atletico Paranaense 2-0. Sao Paulo lost second place due to its inability to score a goal in a 0-0 draw with Flamengo at home. Goias is not complaining, having come back from a 2-0 deficit against Sport Recife at home to win 3-2, moving past the team from Morumbi.

Parana hosted last place America Natal and managed to lose 1-0, leaving the door open to Palmeiras to jump into fourth place - thanks to a 1-0 last minute win away at Nautico, now dead last in the standings with 6 points. Inter defeated Figueirense 2-1 to keep one point ahead of Juventude, which beat Vasco 2-0 but is still in 17th place with 10 points. Gremio completed a perfect outing for the teams from Rio Grande do Sul, getting a good 1-0 away win over Atletico Mineiro to get into 5th place.

The other team from Belo Horizonte also lost, with Cruzeiro going to Santos and losing 4-1, taking the hosts to 11 points and still out of the relegation zone, if only by just a point. Finally, Corinthians and Fluminense tied 1-1 in Sao Paulo.

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Atypical win takes Brazil to Copa America semis

If the U-20 team just managed to scrape by to the second round in their World Cup, the main squad had an easier time moving to the semifinals. After a controversial midweek when several players were accused of celebrating the qualification to the second round through excessive partying, Chile faced Brazil missing a few key players. Unluckily for the Chileans, the Brazilian team also chose to play its best game of the tournament so far. The combination of the hung-over crisis plus a more inspired team lead to a 6-1 trouncing in which the only positive note for the losing side was the goal scored in the second half, a terrific play by Suazo. Now Brazil will play Uruguay in one of the semifinals, after the two-time World champions defeated hosts Venezuela 4-1. The other semifinal promises to be a beauty, with Mexico coming over a 6-0 win over Paraguay and Argentina a 4-0 defeat of Peru.

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Amazingly, they still can win it

The Brazilian Under-20 team has not been playing well at the Fifa U-20 World Cup in Canada this month. Still, it has managed to advance to the second round with a 1-2 record, after losses to Poland (0-1) and the US (1-2) and a tight win over the South Koreans (3-2). After avoiding an embarrassing early elimination, the team can still recover and win the entire thing, if it manages to play better in the elimination rounds. After all, Brazil was the worst of the 16 teams that still stand after three matches were played. It's going to be a tough task if the round robin stage is any indication, but the youngsters will give their best. Their next opponent will be Spain, on Wednesday.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Vasco humbles Santos

Santos confirmed its erractic play of late, going to Rio de Janeiro and losing embarrassingly to Vasco in Sao Januario, by a 4-0 score. The result left the Sao Paulo State champions dangerously close to the relegation zone, while Vasco sits just outside the Libertadores qualifying zone.

Meanwhile, Sport survived a tying goal and late pressure by Corinthians in Recife, scoring a second time to win the game 2-1. Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro, on the other hand, had a poor match that ended in unusual fashion, with Atletico going ahead 1-0 in the 88th minute only to have the visitors score to tie the game four minutes later.

At the end of the ninth round, the top of the table still features Botafogo, Sao Paulo, Goias and Parana. Nautico, America Natal, Flamengo and Juventude are at the bottom of the standings.

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Just enough

Brazil defeated Ecuador 1-0 on Wednesday, guaranteeing a spot in the 2007 Copa America quarterfinals. In an extremely poor match, with few scoring chances and just a handful of good plays, the Brazilians did just enough to prevent going home early. The lone goal was scored by Robinho, on a penalty kick, early in the second half. It was his fourth goal in three games in the tournament. The Real Madrid forward has scored all goals for the Brazilians in this year's Copa America.

After a 2-0 loss in its first match, against Mexico, Brazil recovered with two straight wins, 3-0 over Chile and 1-0 over Ecuador. Even then, however, the team still failed to display the high quality football that made it famous worldwide. Coach Dunga seems to be confirming the fans' worst fears that all he cares about is the end result, no matter how it's attained. In a way, he's a new Carlos Alberto Parreira. And a poor man's Parreira at that.

In a weird development thanks to the brilliance of the South American Confederation, Brazil - which finished in second on Group B - will get the chance to play a third-placed team, Chile, in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, first-placed Mexico will face a second-placed team, either Paraguay or Argentina.

Curiously enough, Chile and Brazil have already played in the first round. After a 3-0 win in that match, Brazil is the clear favourite in this game. However, onemust remember that if not for Robinho, the final result of that game could have been a lot different. Once again, it seems the team will depend on his inspiration to advance.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Botafogo settles for tie with Goias

In a game between the two top teams in the Brazilian Serie A socer league, Botafogo and Goias settled for a 1-1 draw this Tuesday in Goiania. The result maintained the five-point lead the team from Rio has over Goias - now in third place after Sao Paulo moved within four of Botafogo with a win over Internacional.

The locals managed to get an early lead with Paulo Henrique heading the ball into the net after a corner kick. Shortly thereafter, however, the team had a player sent off and was no longer able to dominate the play the same way it had during the first 20 minutes of the game. Botafogo then started spending more time on attack, but without any luck in the scoring department. Things didn't change even after a player from the visitors was sent off late in the game. Botafogo kept controlling the ball and pushing forward, but Goias was still dangerous in counterattacks. In the second half, things didn't change much, but Botafogo seemed unable to penetrate the strong defensive wall built up by Goias coach Bonamigo. Fortunately for the visitors, a free kick near the penalty box in the 74th minute was all it would take Juninho to tie the game. Botafogo still tried to get the go ahead goal in the final minutes of play, but one point would be all both teams would be taking from this game.

Meanwhile, Sao Paulo and Inter played a very entertaining match at the Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo. The locals had quite a few chances in the first half, but were not able to open the score. At the start of the second half, however, goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni scored on a penalty kick to give final numbers to the game. Not that the goal meant the end of entertaining play, as Inter took advantage of Sao Paulo trying to protect the lead and almost scored a goal of its own in later opportunities. Bravely - albeit a bit luckily -, Sao Paulo held on to the 1-0 advantage to earn three points and move into second place in the standings, now trailing leaders Botafogo by four points.

In other matches, Palmeiras had no trouble building an early 2-0 lead over America Natal at home and holding on to this score in the second half, while Fluminense and Parana were held scoreless in Rio de Janeiro. Gremio had an important 3-1 win over Juventude, in a Rio Grande do Sul matchup in Porto Alegre. Figueirense held on to a 2-1 win at home over Cruzeiro, and Atletico Paranaense failed to defeat Nautico at home, tying 1-1.

Three matches close out the ninth round on Wednesday, with Sport hosting Corinthians, Atletico Mineiro playing Flamengo at home and Santos going to Rio to face Vasco.

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Thrill seekers

It seems some people just love to live dangerously. After opening up with a 1-0 loss to Poland, the Brazilian Under-20 National Team barely managed to hold on to a 3-2 win over South Korea this Tuesday in Montreal, in its second match of the Under-20 World Cup being played in Canada.

Why would anyone want to cruise and finish a game easily after opening a 3-0 lead, when you can have a lot more fun protecting a one-goal game in an exciting finish by virtue of giving two goals in the final minutes of play? The Brazilians seem to be bored in the tournament, and keep finding ways of making easy games turn into true rollercoasters. In their debut, they had already managed to lose to a Polish side playing with ten men for most of the match. Poland, by the way, was soundly beaten by the US on Tuesday, 6-1.

With one game to go in the round robin, Brazil must now defeat the Americans in their final game to guarantee a place in the second round. No matter who wins the match, it promises to be another emotional ride for the Brazilian fans.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Against all odds

After eight matches for most teams, the Brazilian Serie A has another round scheduled for this Tuesday, July 3. Not that Tuesdays are a popular weekday for league matches in Brazil, but thanks to the continuing chaos that seems to control the sport in the country, most matches have been moved to Tuesdays and Saturdays this month, in order to keep interest in the collection of players currently representing the country at Venezuela's Copa America. Add to that the fact that many teams are also missing regulars which have been called up to the under-20 National team currently playing in the U20 World Cup in Canada, and what you have is a sub-standard version of the league being presented to the fans. At least, that's what one would expect.

Surprisingly, the last few rounds have been quite entertaining, and fan interest and attendance have been on the rise - more than 18,000 people on average watched the games last weekend. It remains to be seen for how long this trend can continue, but for the time being most teams are just trying to keep pace with the middle of the pack, hoping not to be completely out of the race for the title or continental qualification by the time the second half of the league arrives in September.

Seven games will be played on Tuesday, with the most anticipated one featuring league leaders Botafogo visiting second-place Goias, trying to increase their five-point lead at the top of the standings. The two most successful Brazilian teams in the last couple of years, Sao Paulo and Internacional, meanwhile, repeat the 2006 Libertadores final in a meeting at the Morumbi Stadium. Defending champions Sao Paulo are doing well, if not spectacularly in this year's tournament, managing to hang on to fourth place in the standings, while Inter is just outside of the relegation zone.

Other matches include Palmeiras and America Natal, Figueirense and Cruzeiro, Atletico Paranaense and Nautico and Gremio against Juventude. Brazilian Cup champions Fluminense host third-place Parana to close out Tuesday's games.

Three matches are scheduled for 4pm on Wednesday, a regular business day in Brazil - so that there's no competition for TV viewership when Brazil plays Ecuador at the Copa America in the evening. Sport plays Corinthians, Vasco faces Santos and Atletico meets Flamengo.

Will the attendance numbers keep rising. Highly unlikely, but this doesn't seem like an issue that bothers the Brazilian Confederation too much.

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