Corinthians are through to the Libertadores final for the first time after knocking out holders Santos last night. It’s been a long time waiting for the Timão from São Paulo and nobody can begrudge them their place in the final. For all the hype surrounding Santos, Corinthians controlled the match, played the good football and they fully deserved to go through.
Watching the game live meant I didn’t get to bed until after 04.00am and got less than 3 hours sleep. Well worth it though. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric; before the game kicked off 40,000 supporters wearing black and white swung scarfs over their heads and sang at the top of their lungs. Fireworks went off in the background. There was also some fancy choreography with the fans holding up pieces of paper in the shape of a cardiogram with a heart and Corinthians flag in the middle. Corinthians were up for this and ready. Santos came out onto the field in a blue strip to a chorus of jeers with their star Neymar leading the way.
Santos have been Brazil’s Cup team in recent seasons – they’ve won the Brazilian Cup a few times, the Sao Paulo state Champs three times in a row and the Libertadores last year. Corinthians are no slouches themselves but Santos have got the better of them in Cup competitions recently. I expected Santos to go through before the tie started. For me Corinthians are more of a league team, consistent rather than spectacular. They won the league last year but they are bottom of the Serie A with five games gone and that in itself is a reflection of how seriously they are taking the Libertadores this years – sending out their reserve team in the Brasileirão on weekends and first XI in the midweek Libertadores matches.
Corinthians beat Santos on their own turf last week (in a match I didn’t watch) and came away with a 1-0 win. Reports suggest Santos were below par, Corinthians good on the counter attack and Cássio, Corinthians’ Argentine-looking keeper, a key figure. The match winner Emerson Shiekh was suspended for second leg after lashing out on Neymar last week. Willian was his replacement.
Last night’s match started with Corinthians sitting back and inviting Santos to come at them, Corinthians only pressuring in their own half. Santos were passing the ball around alright but getting nowhere near Corinthians’ goal. Corinthians were well organized, playing a Barcelona style 4-3-3 formation with a false number 9. On my blurry internet screen it looked to me like Alex was playing the Messi role with Willian on the left and Danilo on the right. Jorge Henrique seemed to be playing on the right of midfield. Corinthians were not playing like Barcelona though but more with the kind of defensive organisation that would make Roberto Di Matteo or Roy Hodgson proud. A mixture of styles rolled into one with Brazilian flair to go with it.
On 11 minutes the first chance came and it went Corinthians’ way. And what a chance it was – sloppy midfield play from Adriano allowing Corinthians to break, Willian shot from the left but it could have been so much better. A very quick and slick break from Corinthians but poor finish. The next twenty minutes followed the same pattern. Adriano lost possession in dangerous areas again and Ganso was also guilty of surrendering possession easily. Corinthians dangerous on the break. Alex was Corinthians’ danger man especially from set pieces and he forced a world class save from Rafael, the seleção’s new young and impressive goalkeeper.
Santos belatedly started to do something and they had their first chance on 30 minutes – Ganso feeding Neymar who set up left back Juan who wasted the chance. Finally. FINALLY a Santos attack and shot. Did they realise they had to win this match??
Six minutes later and Santos were in front, against the run of play with a slice of luck. Ralf and Alan Kardec (I think) jumped for a header and Ralf went down holding his head. Santos played on and the ball fell to Neymar. Neymar beat the Corinthians left back Fabio Santos like he was a training cone and played the ball out to the right. For once the Corinthians defensive unit was opened up. Kardec picked up the ball and drilled in the cross. Borges got a touch with the bottom of his boot it hit the post and like all good strikers do Neymar was following up to bundle the ball over the line. Santos back in the tie and Ralf still lying on the ground with a groggy head. That was, I believe, the first goal Corinthians have conceded at home in this Copa Libertadores. Game well and truly on!
At this point I thought the tie had swung back into Santos’ favour. Corinthians might try and attack more, lose their defensive shape and give the likes of Neymar the space that they had been lacking. I was wrong. The match continued as before: Santos passing the ball around their own half, getting nowhere near the Corinthians goal and Corinthians looking very threatening on the break.
Half time and Liedson on for Willian.
Two minutes gone and Alex whips in another dangerous free kick. Santos players are all ball watching and it falls to Danilo, COMPLETELY UNMARKED, at the back post. Perfect control, cool as you like 1-1. Where was the defence??
Titles are won and lost on key moments and this was the key moment. Santos were lucky to be level, and needed to stay on level terms. They couldn’t allow Corinthians to equalise. Not at this stage of the game. Their lead lasted just 10 minutes and they threw it away with criminal defending. Not for the first time Santos. Edu Dracena and Durval are crap!
Corinthians and their excellent defence were not allowing any room, time or space – as soon as Corinthians scored you knew that they would give Santos even less space. And that’s exactly what they did for the rest of the match.
I can’t recall Santos mustering a single shot in the second half. Can you believe it? A team consisting of guys like Neymar, Ganso, Borges, Alan Kardec and Elano on the bench can’t even muster a single shot on goal. Defending Champions… If anything Santos got worse in the second half. The closest they came was a penalty shout when Henrique went to ground in the box after minimal contact on 60 minutes. Elano came on and pinged a nice sixty yard ball onto somebody’s chest. That was about it. The game was crying out for Ganso to drop deeper and Santos to push another man into the attack. But Muricy stuck with the same innefective 4-2-3-1 formation for the full 90 minutes. Does this guy really know what he is going?
Corinthians continued to look the more threatening. Paulinho struck a post although was offside at the time, Alex smashed a Cristiano-style free kick straight into Rafael which he just about managed to keep out. The clock ticked away. Fair play to Corinthians, they stuck to their game plan and Tite has instilled a fusion of styles and developed a winning team. To be fair the structure of that team was laid by Mano Menezes. A lot of Corinthians legends out there: Alessandro, Jorge Henrique, Danilo, Chicao, Paulinho, Ralf, Leandro Castan.
Very impressive. Bring Boca or La U in the final!