The Brazilian Cup quarter finals concluded last week – who came out on top and how did the drama unfold?
Teams in Brazil’s top tier of football aren’t as lucky as their English counterparts, in that they don’t simply roll in the money by taking part in Brazil’s equivalent of the Premier League (the Serie A) and South America’s equivalent of the Champions League (the Copa Libertadores). No such luxuries and super wealth.
In fact, in Brazil, to make a big sack full of money it is better to go on a run in the Brazilian Cup than it is to do well in the league. Yes, the league does offer a route into the relative riches and prestige of the Copa Libertadores, but the winners of the Brazilian Cup (unlike the winners of the English FA Cup) are give a place into South America’s premier competition the next year too. That’s a big incentive.
The upshot is that the Brazil’s best teams often rest their best players for league matches and give maximum effort to the Brazilian Cup. We saw this clearly last week: there were some excellent cup matches, and several of those teams fielded reserve sides in the league last weekend.
I’m not a huge fan of resting the first XI complete for league games, but I personally think it is cool, and refreshing (at least from an English perspective), for teams to go all out to win the local cup competition. Take the Roberto Martinez approach to life: beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final with Wigan, but get relegated too. You only live once!
Unsurprisingly, all of last four of the Brazilian Cup quarter final ties, played over two legs, proved to be very tight matches.
Defending champions Cruzeiro raced into a 3-0 league against their city rivals Atletico Mineiro in the first leg: Thiago Neves, Robinho and Pedro Rocha scored the goals. Cruzeiro’s league form has been shoddy this year but they remain a force in any cup competition.
Atletico made a valiant effort at trying to turn the tie around in the second leg, but their efforts were thwarted by Cruzeiro’s imperious centre back Dedé. They did manage two goals though, but the second came in the 88th minute (a rocket from much criticised right back Patric), and although six minutes of extra time was played, Cruzeiro held on for the win.
Grêmio got the better of Bahia in Salvador, thanks to a clean sheet and a very good goal from Alisson. They had let a lead slip in the first leg and and could only manage a 1-1 draw at home, but Renato Gaúcho is a master of getting results for this Grêmio team in cup competitions. He is also a master of fielding strong sides in the Cup and weakened sides in the league, epitomising Brazilian clubs’ approach to cup competitions.
To highlight this last point, Grêmio fielded a reserve side against Internacional in last weekend’s league clássico. Internacional returned the favour though, almost as if the two teams had agreed this beforehand. The real reason that Internacional fielded a weakened team against Grêmio was because they had a physically and emotionally draining cup tie in the middle of the previous week against league leaders Palmeiras.
And Internacional’s players produced a heroic performance and achieved a very impressive result in that match. One of the reasons for the emotional fatigue was the rollercoaster that they were put through by VAR. They beat Palmeiras 1-0 in normal time, thanks to a Patrick goal, which took the aggregate score to 1-1. And they then beat the table toppers on penalties. But VAR was the centre of attention, and not for the first time.
First, Palmeiras had a penalty in their favour overturned after a video check, around ten minutes before the end. And even closer to the end of the match International thought they had scored, only for the ref to rule out Cuesta’s goal after checking VAR and deciding that another Internacional player had fouled an opponent in the build up to the goal. The problem with VAR, it seems, is that referees now don’t just check things that they had a doubt about, and initially consulted the VAR for, but they are reviewing everything on the screens, including buildup play. Not cool.
Palmeiras can’t really have too many complaints though and after trailblazing their way to the top of the league, their post Copa America form has been very poor. They won the league last year, but couldn’t transfer the same form into the cup competitions. Their league form has now dipped, and early cup exits this year in the State Championship and now the Brazilian Cup, have raised the pressure on heir coach Felipão – should he be achieving more with this expensively-assembled squad?
In the final of the four ties, Flamengo took on Athletico Paranaense and surprise surprise, this match was also the victim of more VAR controversy. It was also noteworthy in that Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus made his bow in the Flamengo dugout for the first leg, which finished 1-1.
Flamengo keeper Diego Alves handled the ball outside the area, and prevented a clear goal scoring chance for the attacker in the process. It should have been a red card, but it was missed by the referee and the VAR. Incorrect use of VAR. Wrong decisions after VAR reviews. Checking things they shouldn’t on VAR. And not using VAR when they should use VAR. VAR VAR VAR.
Two Athletico goals were ruled out after VAR checks, while a penalty decision in favour of Athletico was reversed after a 7 minute VAR revision. The reason: a foul on the Flamengo defender in the buildup to the goal. Poor form. Lucky Flamengo.
Flamengo’s luck ran out in the second leg though and Athletico’s keeper Santos saved two penalties in the shootout, forcing 70,000 Flamengo fans to go home in a bad mood, after another 1-1 draw in normal time. Flamengo played well in the first half, Gabriel scored for them again, but Athletico came back strongly in the second half. Flamengo captain Diego missed one of the penalties and is once again being singled out by angry fans. Life at Flamengo continues to be as turbulent as ever.
Last but not least, the semi final draw has been made and these are the fixture times:
Cruzeiro v International (7 Aug 2019)
Grêmio v Athletico Paranaense (14 Aug 2019)
Internacional v Cruzeiro (4 Sep 2019)
Athletico Paranaense v Grêmio (4 Sep 2019)
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