State championships get their squeaky bum moment

Squeaky bum time Turkey style (pic: Reuters)

What does Alex Ferguson make of the Brazilian State Championships, I wonder?

To those confused, I have borrowed a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson for the title of this blog. Back in the day, Manchester United’s coined the term to describe the time of the season when the tension cranked up and plastic stadium chairs squeaked as fans wriggled their tense bums around in them. (The pic above is the Turkish version of this.)

After a long hard slog, the squeaky bum moment of the State Championships has finally arrived. Squeaky bum of sorts, that is, because last weekend, despite playing really important games in their states, Grêmio and Flamengo fielded reserve sides in those games, preferring to keep their best players fresh for the midweek Libertadores matches instead.

So while it is the squeaky bum moment in the state championships, it still isn’t really that squeaky in the bigger picture. Sadly for Grêmio and Flamengo, despite resting their first choice players on the weekend, they lost their Libertadores matches this week. Flamengo, to Peí±arol, in front of 60,000 fans at the Maracanã, and Grêmio at Universidad Católica.

Despite that loss, Flamengo are still in a good position in the Libertadores and have six points after two games. And their fans are still happy because they won the final of the Rio Cup against Vasco last weekend, despite playing reserves in that match. They had to rely on a late, late goal from their new signing Uruguayan signing Arrascaeta to equalise the scores at 1-1 after 90 minutes though, and they won the penalty shootout.

Abel Braga may have decided to field a reserve team in that match, but the celebrations of the players following the win showed just how important it was to them. The fans were made up too, especially since the win happened over big rivals Vasco!

The result means that under the broader umbrella of the Rio State Championship that Flamengo will play Fluminense in the semi final today, while Vasco play Bangu in the other semi final tomorrow. (The Rio Cup, which Flamengo won last weekend is one of two cup competitions played in the Rio State Championship; the winners of those two competitions and a complicated points system determines the semi final lineup of the State Championship – I am not explaining it well, but it is frikkin confusing!)

Grêmio, meanwhile, could only manage a 0-0 draw at São Luiz. They will fancy their chances of beating them at home this weekend, but with an all-important Libertadores match this coming Wednesday I suspect Renato Gaúcho will field his reserves in that match too.

Champions two years ago, and semi finalists last year, Grêmio are dangerously close to elimination from this year’s Copa Libertadores after picking up just one point from their opening three group games. They need to beat Universidad Catolica this week.

I watched the first leg of both semi finals of the São Paulo state championship last weekend. They were both closely fought, and unlike in other states, the teams here fielded full strength teams, despite the Libertadores commitments of Palmeiras.

São Paulo and Palmeiras drew 0-0 at the Morumbi. The big talking point was a penalty given to Palmeiras, which was subsequently undone after a VAR review. Not giving the penalty was ultimately the right call, but that kind of decision (a situation requiring interpretation) should not have been put to the VAR according to the experts and ref pundits.

The right call, but made wrongly. The way it was dealt with was ridiculous too, with proper grandstanding by the ref. He referred to the VAR a few minutes after the penalty had been awarded and only moments before the attacker was about to take it. Then, after consulting the VAR, he ran back, and took an age before blowing his whistle and not giving the penalty – maximum drama, maximum spotlight on the ref; not the way it should be.

Palmeiras have a stronger, more experienced and more settled team than São Paulo, but you wouldn’t have noticed that from this performance. They also lost away from home at San Lorenzo in the Libertadores this week, cranking up the pressure on the team. They have some very good players but I’m not sure the balance of the team is right in midfield, and they seem to be lacking something up front (Deyverson is leading the line and has limitations, while Felipão is not happy with Borja’s recent performances).

São Paulo, meanwhile, can hold their heads high after that result. They haven’t won against Palmeiras in their ten previous attempts at Palmeiras’ Allianz Parque stadium, but they will fancy their chances tomorrow – former Palmeiras manager Cuca is taking over at São Paulo and he has been working well with the interim coach Vagner Mancini despite not formally taking over yet.

If Palmeiras are on form it will be very hard for São Paulo. But Palmeiras are not on form, and there is a buzz around São Paulo at the moment with the new coach, some excellent young players coming through (the best is the Ronaldinho-esque 19 year old right winger Antony) and some exciting signings (Pato, Tchê Tchê and Vitor Bueno).

Sunday’s game between Corinthians and Santos was better. There was a cracking opening to the match, with Corinthians scoring after three minutes thanks to a header from Manoel, after an expertly-taken free kick from Sornoza. Santos equalised less than five minutes later through Derlis González, after some poor goalkeeping from Cássio.

The game calmed down and settled into a rhythm of Santos controlling possession without causing Corinthians too many problems, and Corinthians struggling to create when it was their turn to attack. But Corinthians under Fábio Carille are an interesting side – they struggle to beat some weaker team (for example, they relied on a penalty shootout win to beat Ferroviária in the previous round), but they always seem to find a way to grind out results when it really matters.

And sure enough, that is what they did against Santos; Clayson scored an excellent goal, out of nothing really, after sloppy defending from Luiz Felipe and Victor Ferraz. They suffered a few squeaky bum moments in the second half, but ultimately held on to win the game 2-1 against the team managed by Jorge Sampaoli. Monday night’s second leg at the Pacaembu promises to be attack versus defence

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