Iâ€™m now into the ninth day of my Brazil trip and after four days in Rio where I went to see Seedorf as well as enjoying the local nightlife Iâ€™m now in SÃ£o Paulo nursing my Rio hangover, taking care of some loose ends and catching up with old friends.
On Saturday afternoon I headed over to my friend Piuâ€™s house and over to the Pacaembu stadium to see Libertadores Champions Corinthians in action. Check out the pictures on Facebook here.
Piu is a bit of a legend. He lives 15 minutes away from the Pacaembu stadium, is a member of the official Corinthians supporters club, goes to most of the home games and went to the Libertadores final â€“ one of the 40,000 out of 20,000,000 or 30,000,000 odd Corinthians fans to have had the privilege.
Otherwise a respectable middle class guy, married with a good job, he told me how he tried, unsuccessfully, to instigate a pitch invasion at the end of the game. He also showed me some videos he took at the final showing the great atmosphere but also littered with at least 40 â€œpox@#%#â€ and â€œcar@#%#%â€. Corinthians â€“ itâ€™s a way of life and even turns the sane crazy!
With the Libertadores out of the way, Corinthians can now start focusing on the league. And they really need to start that quickly. Going into the game with Nautico they were in second last place with just 5 points after 8 games. The match against Botafogo in midweek was meant to be the day which this happened. Finally Corinthians could field a full strength side in the league with no worries about resting players or focusing elsewhere. Sadly for them that didnâ€™t happen and Corinthians were beaten at home 3-1 by the classy Botafogo, who have been given a huge boost by the Seedorf signing (even though he hasnâ€™t played yet). That loss could be forgiven but another home loss against Nautico and the fans would start to get annoyed.
I saw an interview with Corinthians coach Tite this week. He refused to talk about Chelsea as possible opponents in the final of the World Club Cup in Japan later this year and instead said that Corinthians need to pick up their form in the league, move away from the relegation zone and see where that takes them. He didnâ€™t rule out the league title but admitted it will be difficult and pulled out some impressive statistics which show that teams that do well in the Libertadores almost never do well in the league. This is a result of the badly organised calendar in Brazil and lack of strength in depth to manage with two competitions running simultaneously.
The most important thing according to Tite is to go into the World Club Cup competition in good form. He is also determined to keep the nucleus of this Corinthians team together. Leandro CastÃ¡n has left for Roma while Willian has left to play in Ukraine. Apart from that, Corinthians look like they will be able to keep most of their best players. A bid for Alex from Qatar has been turned down and Corinthiansâ€™ asking price looks likely to be prohibitive on that deal. The experienced, older players including the likes of ChicÃ£o, Danilo, Emerson, Alessandro and Jorge Henrique are unlikely to leave.
And before the match with Nautico, the Corinthians fans were greeted with the excellent news that Paulinho â€“ their star midfielder â€“ would not be joining Inter Milan. Ralf, his midfield partner in crime, would also be staying. Corinthians had developed a career plan for both and given them new contracts worth around R$300,000 â€“ R$400,000 a month (between 25,000 or 30,000 pounds per week). Apparently a lot less than the R$700,000 that Inter Milan were offering Paulinho.
Piu told me that Corinthiansâ€™ Libertadores success was based on four players â€“ ChicÃ£o, Leandro CastÃ¡n, Ralf and Paulinho. From the matches I saw against Santos and Boca I would broadly agree but the real success of this team is the team spirit and organization without any superstars. Iâ€™m impressed with Alex â€“ yes he was good but didnâ€™t do much in the Libertadores Iâ€™m told by Piu. Emerson Sheikh is very good but doesnâ€™t stand out as the star of the team.
Danilo, who scored both goals yesterday, symbolises just what this Corinthians team are about. Not a super star at all, he plays for the team, works hard and comes up with the odd bit of brilliance when it matters (he did the backheel for Emerson to open the scoring in the final). And that’s exactly what he did against Nautico.
I still canâ€™t figure out Corinthiansâ€™ formation. Romarinho was in the starting line-up against Nautico, alongside Emerson Sheikh supposedly as a striker. But he was tracking back at times and marking the Nautico right winger. Tite requires his players to work hard. Would he get Ganso and Neymar to track back like that? I doubt it. It makes me wonder whether it is a blessing in disguise for Corinthians that they donâ€™t have any superstars.
The game against Nautico was never going to be a classic â€“ Nautico are in mid-table and have a mediocre team. The Nautico coach has openly declared that the teamâ€™s objective for this year is to avoid relegation. That might make sense to most English readers but is unheard of in Brazil. The point is that it would not be a classic. Corinthians never play teams off the park so any chances of a cricket score were also very slim, even with Corinthians having their full strength side on the field. Nautico opened the scoring on 20 minutes. The Corinthians fans, especially the hard-looking bunch over to my right, starting singing even louder. Impressive. Not too many other sets of fans in Brazil would do the same. Two minutes later and Corinthians were level, Danilo firing an impressive left footed half volley into the corner of the goal.
I was particularly interested to see Romarinho in the flesh. He scored two cracking goals against Palmeiras on his debut and became a legend with his goal against Boca Juniors in the semi final with his first touch of the ball. Was that a flash in the pan? On last nightâ€™s evidence no. Romarinho looks class. Can he handle the pressure of being a Corinthians legend and delivering week-in week-out? Again, on last nightâ€™s evidence Iâ€™d say yes. He knows when to put his foot on the ball, he doesnâ€™t panic, his touch is excellent, heâ€™s got great vision and great skill to go with it: a few elegant controls, one pass round the defender with the outside of his foot and a few dribbles have me convinced. Every time he had the ball he looked like he knew what he was doing.
Corinthians unsurprisingly went on to win the match. Danilo scored both of the goals â€“ both of them left-footed half-volleys. It wasnâ€™t a classic by any means. But I didnâ€™t really care. I went home happy. Iâ€™d seen the Libertadores Champions in the flesh and Iâ€™d seen what I came to see. Corinthians were solid. As for the atmosphere at the game, it was good, ill put up a few video clips once Iâ€™ve sorted them out. Nothing like that night at the Libertadores final though Iâ€™m sure. I might just have to get some of Piu’s videos with all of theÂ â€œpox@#%#’sâ€ and â€œcar@#%#%’sâ€ to show you what this is all about.
Corinthians v Nautico highlights
In case you haven’t already seen my previous posts on Corithians’ Libertadores campaign, check them out: