The best game of the season so far and some commentators are even saying it was one of the best ever games in the Brazilian National Championship. Stars of the future, past and present, heroes, villains, dislocated shoulders, missed penalties, brilliant goals from free kicks, brilliant dribbles, clinical finishing, brilliant passing, poor defending and goalkeeping. This game had it all (except for a red card I suppose)!
Santos stormed into a 3-0 on 26 minutes thanks so some fantastic passing (Ganso), movement (Neymar) and finishing (Borges). Santos’ third goal was brilliant. Neymar started the move with a great run and dribble and played a one-two with a teammate on the edge of the box. Then produced a very weird piece of skill which I am not even going to attempt to describe as I write this article at 1.00am on a Wednesday night. He promptly finished the chance! 3-0. Game, set and match, surely. Nobody could have imagined what was to come. Least of all me, who had watched Flamengo draw 0-0 with Palmeiras live a week earlier.
However Santos had already received a warning sign which they chose to ignore. And boy did they ignore it. On 20 minutes, Flamengo build well down the right hand side through wingback Léo Moura and Luiz Antônio. Luiz Antônio gets in a low cross which Santos keeper Rafael comes for and misses. The unmarked Flamengo striker Deivid gets his feet horribly wrong and somehow bundles the ball wide of an open goal. But just ten minutes after that and two minutes after Santos had taken their 3-0 lead, exactly the same thing happened again. This time Ronaldinho was the unmarked Flamengo striker and he made no mistake. 3-1.
Three minutes later, Flamengo find space down the right hand side AGAIN (where was Santos left back Léo?). Léo Moura whips in an excellent cross and finds a completely unmarked Thiago Neves to head home for 3-2 with 31 minutes gone.
Ten minutes later, Neymar charges down the left hand side (why couldn’t he play like this at the Copa America?) and Flamengo hard-man Willians pushes him to the ground inside the box. Penalty to Santos and yellow card for Willians. Up steps Elano fresh from his penalty shootout miss against Paraguay at the Copa America. Obviously playing on his mind, he decides to do the unexpected which would make him look great if it comes off: softly dink the ball over Felipe straight down the middle of the goal. Felipe stands his ground and catches the ball. Elano looks ridiculous and to rub it in Felipe starts juggling the ball on the goal line with the ball still in play! 41 minutes gone. 3-2.
42 minutes gone. Ronaldinho whips in a corner, Santos defenders are nowhere to be seen and Deivid makes up for his earlier miss by glancing in a near post header. 3-3.
50 minutes. Neymar works his magic down the left hand side again and dinks the ball over Flamengo keeper Felipe. 4-3.
54 minutes. Neymar struggles for possession with Flamengo youngster Luiz Antônio who comes off worst and dislocates his shoulder.
67 minutes. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Ronaldinho wriggles his way through three defenders on the edge of the Santos area and is fouled. He steps up to take the free kick. Everybody jumps and he slots the ball underneath the wall. Rafael didn’t move. 4-4.
76 and 77 minutes. Neymar bursts down the left on two occasions again. Both times he takes the wrong option and shoots for goal. Both shots go wide of the near post.
81 minutes. RONALDINHO!!!!!!! Ganso faffs around in possession of the ball in the Flamengo half and loses it. Flamengo break at pace with Deivid, Thiago Neves and Ronaldinho. The three combine and Ronaldinho does the rest. 5-4 to Flamengo.
Inspired by the end to end pace of the game, the noisy capacity crowd in the cramped Vila Belmiro stadium and playing in something of a free role, Ronaldinho produced his best performance since returning to Brazil earlier this year. His free kick was magic. And today, unlike previous occasions, he was not shackled out on the left hand side of the pitch where his pace lets him down or stuck playing up front on his own. He was operating just behind Deivid and given liberty to roam left, right and centre. After watching him live last week, it was clear to me that he would be more effective in the middle as a second striker. And so it proved today.
Take a guess who Neymar went to swap shirts with at the end of the game.
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