Diego Souza scored a hat trick on Sunday as Vasco consolidated their position at the top of the Serie A table with a 3-0 win at Cruzeiro. Fellow title hopefuls Corinthians (second place) won 1-0 while Botafogo (fourth) and São Paulo (third) drew 2-2 in Rio. But the real story in the Brazilian Serie A is that with 12 games to go the title race is still wide open and only nine points separate the top seven teams.
Just like last year, it looks like things will go right down to the wire again. It’s amazing how things work in Brazilian football: league leaders Vasco have been on good form but a couple of weeks back lost 4-1 against bottom of the league América MG; Corinthians had been topping the table for most of the championship but then went on a poor run of form with only three wins in eleven before yesterday’s game; Flamengo topped the table at one stage but then went on a ten game winless streak and amazingly are still only eight points off the top.
Last year I wrote a piece on how not to win a league. Corinthians ended up throwing away the title thanks to a seven game win less run near the end of the season (Fluminense pipped them to the title). Will that happen to them again this year? On the positive side, their blip has come earlier than last year. Adriano is also getting close to full fitness and could make his debut soon. On the negative side, they have also struggled to gain momentum after good results (for example after they beat Flamengo they lost to Fluminense and Santos) and despite sitting in second place, some fans are staging protests and calling for the coach (Tite) to be sacked. Their captain Chicão has been dropped and all is not well.
São Paulo are another team that hasn’t really convinced but are still there in the hunt. Like Corinthians they are waiting for a superstar striker (Luis Fabiano) to come back from injury. The latest is that he could make his debut this week. São Paulo have thrown away countless valuable points thanks to a leaky defence but with players coming back from injury and their relatively new coach (although not by Brazilian standards!) Adilson Batista settling into his job, they are looking very dangerous in third spot if you ask me.
League leaders Vasco have been fantastic. They have won the Brazilian Cup, come through adversity after Ricardo Gomes was hospitalized and their football this season has been great. Diego Souza has been called up to the Brazil squad for the Argentina game later this week and Dedé has been a rock at the back for them. Will they have the bottle when it gets to squeaky bum time?
Botafogo have been brilliant this year. When Joel Santana left, I thought they were going to fall to pieces and predicted them for relegation. Shows just how much I know! I just don’t understand them. They beat Ceará 4-0 one week then lose 5-0 to Coritiba the next. If anybody can explain this team, please do. They are in 4th spot. They also have a player called Elkeson who is pretty good!
Defending Champions Fluminense are staging a recovery of sorts and most importantly their talisman Fred is firing on all cylinders: he has scored five goals in five games for them. Internacional, always seem to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season and this will probably be no different. The title could be a bit of a stretch as the just cannot win games that they should (for example). They also have a bit of a leaky defence and their hopes are completely and utterly dependent on Leandro Damião who is currently injured (Jí´ – ex Man City and Everton is his replacement and just not the same).
Finally, I was going to put Palmeiras into the category of title potentials (i.e. title this article eight horse race) until they let a 1-0 lead slip against the nine men of Atlético GO yesterday. Oh dear. After that result, Libertadores qualification (top four, or top five if Vasco finish in the top four) looks a real uphill battle. They simply do not have the players and the constant politics at the club seem to be undermining Big Phil’s work. It wouldn’t surprize me if he leaves the club come the end of the season.
Libertadores winners Santos are well off the pace in lie 11th in the table.