Thiago Neves inspires Cruzeiro to Brazilian Cup win

Thiago Neves scored the winner in the first leg (Pic: Daniel Teobaldo / CBF)

Thiago Neves inspired Cruzeiro to win the Brazilian Cup for the second year in a row, although they were also helped by a controversial VAR decision.

Cruzeiro deservedly won the Brazilian Cup (or Copa do Brasil) after beating Corinthians in both legs of the final. Thiago Neves was the star man for Cruzeiro, especially in the first leg. There was some controversy though when Pedrinho’s brilliant strike for Corinthians was harshly ruled out with the match finely poised in the second leg.

The win was Cruzeiro’s second Brazilian Cup win in two years and the sixth in their history. That makes them the most frequent winner in the competition’s history, with one more title than Gremio, who have won the trophy five times.

It may well have been a very different story had Pedrinho’s beautiful strike been allowed to stand. It was very harshly ruled out, although the decision was technically the right one. In the buildup to Pedrinho’s shot, Jadson’s trailing hand hit Dede. The referee didn’t see that clearly, but gave the attacker the benefit of the doubt and let play continue. Once the ball went in, he correctly reviewed the Jadson/Dede clash and deemed it to be a foul. It was controversial, and it certainly was a soft foul. But it was a foul nonetheless, especially by Brazilian standards, so the goal was right chalked off.

Corinthians are often on the right end of dubious refereeing decisions so in the bigger scheme of things they can’t really feel too hard done by. They even won a dubious penalty themselves in the first half after a soft (and silly) foul was conceded by Thiago Neves in the box. That being said, it was still a tough one for Corinthians to take: not only was a goal of the season contender ruled out, but if that goal had stood it would have put Corinthians 2-1 up in the leg and brought the teams level on aggregate (Cruzeiro won the first leg in Minas Gerais 1-0). With home advantage and their tails up, you would have expected Corinthians to go on and win the tie from there.

To be fair, Cruzeiro battered Corinthians in the first leg and it was a wonder that they only took a one goal advantage to Sao Paulo for the second match. 33 year-old Thiago Neves wound back the years and was the star of the show for Cruzeiro, especially in the first leg of the tie: he scored, hit the post, forced Cassio into good saves and set up several excellent chances for his teammates, which were either fluffed or saved.

Another golden oldie, Hernán Barcos, wasn’t on the same level as Thiago Neves and missed several decent chances to increase Cruzeiro’s lead in the first leg. They also had Fred in reserve, although he is only just coming back from a serious long-term injury was kept on the bench in both matches.

Raniel was the man to come on for Barcos in the second half of the second leg, and with Corinthians pushing for a tie-levelling equaliser, he broke and played in Arrascaeta, who ran clear of the Corinthians defence and chipped the ball beyond Cassio to clinch the match and the cup for Cruziero by putting them 3-1 up on aggregate. It was an impressive set of performances from Cruzeiro. And an impressive campaign from them, especially since they beat Palmeiras in the semi final, who have been in sensational form themselves since Big Phil Scolari took over a few months ago.

As for Corinthians, they showed their spirit and determination and it could have been a different story had Pedrinho’s strike stood. Ultimately though, the battering they took in the first leg underlined the lack of investment in the team this year. Fabio Carille had worked miracles on a tight budget last year, but his replacement Jair Ventura, has even less to work with and it shows that the club haven’t replaced the likes of Jo and Rodriguinho. Corinthians cannot argue that Cruzeiro were superior over the two legs.

That Corinthians started the second leg with the ineffective Jonathas up front and the 40 year-old Emerson Sheikh as a striker come winger highlighted the limitations of their squad; those players simply aren’t good enough for a team of Corinthians’ stature. Take nothing away from Cruzeiro and Mano Menezes though, they deserved their win.

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