After three months of mind numbing State Championships, nearly all of the 24 odd Brazilian State Championships kicked into life yesterday as their reached their finale with a number of historic derby matches deciding trophies and finalists. All of the three main derby matches played on Sunday (Palmeiras x Corinthians, Internacional x Grêmio and Flamengo x Vasco) were decided on penalties while a day earlier Santos beat São Paulo 2-0 away from home to reach the São Paulo State final.
Starting in Rio, Flamengo and Vasco played out a 0 – 0 draw in normal time in the final of the Guanabara Cup. Flamengo won the penalty shootout 3-1 after Vasco missed three of their penalties. Unlike previous shootouts where goalkeeper Felipe was the hero, this time he didn’t have to make a save. Thiago Neves scored the decisive penalty for Flamengo.
Flamengo really have exceeded my expectations so far this season and although they haven’t at any point really played great football or dominated any (not even lower division) opposition off the park, they have been incredibly resilient and consistent. They are unbeaten throughout both the Rio Cup and Guanabara Cup (they two parts of the State Championship) and in winning both competitions and subsequently the State Championship, they have won three penalty shootouts in the process. Lucky. Maybe. But everybody knows that luck is the hallmark of all Champions. I wonder though, is there more to come? Or is this team limited and will they struggle in the National Championship with the stronger teams from other states and a points system where draws against weaker opposition will be far more costly than in the Rio State Championship?
Sadly, there are reports of violence between both sets of fans after the game and at least one fan has been killed and hundreds have been locked up by police. Meanwhile, the post-match press conference was a farce given by Vanderlei Luxemburgo with three or four kids on his lap.
In São Paulo, Corinthians overcame their fierce rivals Palmeiras in the semi-final of the São Paulo State Championship. The match was a tense and aggressive affair and marked by claims from Palmeiras coach Big Phil Scolari that the venue, referee and possibly result were fixed by officials ahead of the game. He was not any happier when captain Kléber was booked on three minutes and was fuming Danilo was sent off on 23 minutes. He gesticulated to the referee that he was accepting a bribe and was subsequently sent to the stands. Things went from bad to worse for Palmeiras when right back Cicinho and playmaker Valdívia were both injured and had to be substituted in the first half.
Despite all of the adversity, Palmeiras – backed by a noisy 40,000 or so fans – still looked the better of the two sides and deservedly took the lead early in the second half through defender Leandro Amaro from a Marcos Assunção cross. Twelve minutes later though, super-sub, Willian scored the equalized for Corinthians. Willian is fast becoming a Corinthians idol; after scoring two goals on his debut a few months ago, he scored the winner in Corinthians semi-final against Oeste. Nothing like an equalizer in an important game against fierce local rivals to add to that reputation. The match went on to finish 1-1 and into a penalty shootout. Corinthians keeper Júlio César was the difference and he saved a weak João Vítor penalty giving Corinthians’ Peruvian maestro Ramírez the chance to score the winner. 6 x 5 to Corinthians who scored all of their spot kicks. Hard luck on Palmeiras but Corinthians showed their resilience.
In Porto Alegre, Internacional and Grêmio were unsurprisingly the two finalists of the Farroupilha Cup (the second part of the Gaúcho State Championship). As with both of the days other superclássicos, the teams were inseparable in normal time and the game went to penalties. Internacional won this shootout and set up the State Championship decider double header with Grêmio who won the first part of the Gaúcho State Championship. It’s worth saying that Leandro Damião scored yet again and now has 18 goals in 17 matches this year!!
The only clássico missing from this weekend’s matches was a Atléitco Mineiro vs. Cruzeiro in the Mineiro State Championship. Do not worry though because that match will come and these two rivals meet each other in the State Champs final next weekend.
Last but not least, in Goiás, half a match was played with a beehive nested in the corner of the goal. Common sense prevailed and the hive was removed for the second half. I wouldn’t have enjoyed being the goalkeeper in the first half though. Can you imagine if somebody smacked a 30 yard shot against the crossbar?