This blog wouldn’t be complete without some lower division football coverage so when I was invited by my brother-in-law and his friends to watch the mighty Juventus take on the São Bernardo Tigers in the 2011 Copa Paulista (or Paulista Cup), I couldn’t turn down the offer. Diplomatic relations with the wife took a turn for the worse when I had to cancel a lunch with friends at the last-minute but that is the price a committed blogger and football fan has to pay sometimes.
Founded by Italian immigrants in 1924, with the phrase eternally hating modern football blazoned across their stadium wall on the quiet suburban road Rua Javari, Juventus are a special team. I am not talking about Juventus from Turin of course but rather the mighty Juventus from Mooca (pronounced like the coffee), an Italian neighbourhood in the east end São Paulo.
The club is a neighbourhood club and is also a social club with facilities including a gym, swimming pool, water slides, snooker, tennis, restaurants, dance hall, etc. The number of club members is an online mystery with some people quoting up 100,000 in certain internet chatrooms. I sincerely doubt it is that much but whatever the real number, the point is that Juventus are an important part of the local community.
The stadium (Conde Rodolfo Crespi) is small and probably has only enough space to hold around four thousand people. There are no floodlights and all matches must be played during the day. The scoreboard is operated by hand with the away team simply refered to as visitors. Some of the scenes from the Brazilian football film Boleiros were shot here. The pitch must be close to the minimum size as required by Fifa and the fans are very close to it which is unusual in Brazil. I didn’t see any objects being thrown onto the pitch during the match but I did see one fan open his wallet and offer some cash to the assistant referee.
Around 900 people turned up to cheer on Juve on this sunny and warm winter afternoon. Most of São Bernardo’s small contingent of travelling fans turned up midway through the first half. Founded in 2004, São Bernardo are a young team from the industrial south-eastern region of the greater São Paulo. The region is called ABC and is where the ex-president Lula became famous for his delivering speeches to labour unions. The team have moved up the divisions very quickly and participated in the São Paulo State Championship first division this year where they got some noticeable results including draws with Corinthians and Santos. Despite these good results they were relegated.
You would have thought that there would be a big gulf in class between the two sides then but in fact there wasn’t. The problem for São Bernardo is that almost their entire São Paulo State Championship team was sold (or never belonged to the club in the first place) following their relegation. Juventus were the more composed on the ball for most of the first half but São Bernardo took the lead against the run of play and went into the break 1-0 up. The had the look of a less creative but more clinical side. Perhaps greater professionalism. But Juventus stuck to their guns and turned the game on its head midway through the second half with two goals in quick succession.
Juventus’ first goal was possibly the worst have I ever seen live in a match I’ve paid to watch. After some good work down the left hand side, a Juventus forward found space on the edge of the penalty area with two players to pick out in the box. A rush of blood to the head later and the Juve forward had kicked the grass with his boot, ball with his shin and rolled it slowly into the path of the unmarked defender in a yellow jersey. The São Bernardo defender took a mammoth swipe at the ball but made no contact whatsoever. Lucky not to have damaged his knee ligaments, he flinched in horror as the ball went under his leg and on to the Juventus attacker who duly miscontrolled the ball. A couple of lucky bounces later the Juve attacker turned and miss-hit a left footed toe-poke which beat the keeper and two despairing slow motion dives of the defenders on the goal line. Gooooooooooooooaaaal. Classic stuff.
The winner was something special too (for completely the opposite reason) and well worth the entrance money (10 reais or about 4 pounds). People may not believe me when I say that Juventus attacking midfielder Tavares dribbled two defenders, putting the ball one side and running past the player on the other on each occassion. He then whipped in a peach of a cross to the back post. For a minute it looked like the two Juve attackers at the back post would get in each others way. But they didn’t and the better positioned striker rushed onto the ball and placed a firm header past the stranded goalkeeper. The ground erupted and people couldn’t believe their eyes. Here is the video with the goal and celebration.
Cameraman Denis didn’t capture the true moment of true magic which was the two dribbles by that man Tavares. That there is no digital evidence of this fantastic move must make the goal all the more legendary, I believe. And I was there to see it.
Ok, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit. But what I can say for sure is that the good folks of Rua Javari do know a thing or two about special goals. It was at this ground that Pelé scored what he says is the most beautiful goal of his career (for Santos against Juventus in the São Paulo State Championship of 1959). That goal was also not captured on camera, further adding to the myth of this hallowed turf.
Juventus have fallen from grace in recent years and instead of playing against the likes of Santos in the São Paulo State Championships, they now play in the third tier of São Paulo state football. Nationally, they do not compete in any of the four divisions (see here for more details) and while the national championships run between May and December, Juventus play a series of local competitions including the Paulista Cup. They did play in the Serie A at one point and even won the Serie B National Championship in 1983 one disgruntled Juventus André me know. He is annoyed and complains that his team must be the only one in the world that actually celebrates somebody scoring a goal against them.
Considering the competition (i.e. not part of the top four divisions nationally), I was reasonably impressed with the quality of football on display. I was particularly impressed with the ball control of both sets of players. Despite the poor state of the pitch, the players stuck to the true Brazilian way of playing football: passing the ball out of defence on the floor and creating chances through skill and dribbling. There were very few long balls hoofed down the pitch. Take a game of a similar level in England (say the Rymans Premier League) and it’s almost like another sport. On the other hand the defending wasn’t great and the passing was pretty poor sometimes.
I witnessed the following time and again: centre back gives defensive midfielder hospital ball – defensive midfielder receives hospital ball under pressure from two other players – defensive midfielder controls hospital ball under intense pressure – defensive midfielder holds off challenges, looks one way, goes another and has got himself a yard of space to start playing. Just look at this video – I think it sums it up. Great approach play. Awful final ball.
Oh, and there were scouts in the stands too so you never where we might see these players next. Not sure we’ll be seeing that left back anywhere anytime soon though.
It would be wrong of me to finish my post without mentioning food. Inside the stadium, the order of the day is the Cannoli, a Sicilian pastry filled with a sweet custard like sauce and crispy, sweet and sticky shell. 50% cholesterol 50% sugar. Very tasty indeed. Outside the stadium, things are ever better with pizzerias galore. Not wanting to be boring (everybody eats pizza in São Paulo), we went for the Lebanese option at a Juve decorated restaurant with a family feel; humus, vine leaves, kibes, esfihas, taboulé salad all served with fresh lime to remind us we are in Brazil. Great food, great company, great day.
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