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Palmeiras’ spot in the quarterfinals of the Paulistão already secured, coach Baptista has been using remaining games in the group stage to test some ideas and give benchwarmers the opportunity. The alternative line-ups have not cooled down attendance: 21,5K against Mirassol at 8:30 pm on a Thursday and today, at 4 pm against Audax, a whopping 28K on the stands.

Against Mirassol, only two or three regular starting eleven players in the line-up. Same thing against Audax. One must tailor expectations accordingly. The team played surprisingly solid against the former, 2-0, goals by Rafael Marques and Felipe Melo (his first for Palmeiras). Today’s 2-2 against Audax was less satisfying (goals signed Róger Guedes and Willian), but again: only Tchê Tchê, Zé Roberto and Vitor Hugo are normally associate with the starting eleven. In addition, it is natural for players to relax a bit, as the objective – to reach the knockout phase – has already been achieved.
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Felipe Melo celebrates first goal in the Palmeiras jersey

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In any case, from the two games we learnt that Antonio Carlos is a good option in the centre lock and that Guedes is finding his form.

With today´s draw, Palmeiras sustain an undefeated home streak of 19 games, being 15 victories and 4 draws. Eight long months. Eduardo Baptista’s overall percentage is 69: in 15 games for Palmeiras, he computes 9 victories, 4 draws and 2 defeats.

Attendance
Back to the topic of attendance: already in 2016, Palmeiras were pulling ahead of other teams in Brazil. With a 32.471 average attendance in 2016, Palmeiras rank 56th in the world, Corinthians coming in at 74th with an 28.764 average. Internacional is the third Brazilian club on the top 100, at 96th, with an 25.422 average. Considering that Palmeiras also had the highest average ticket price in Brazil last year – R$ 60 (S$ 19) – one can easily imagine the long-term effects.

The aforementioned study was carried out by Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense and looked at 2.956 teams in 75 countries. In case you are curious, the top five teams are Borussia Dortmund (81.178), Barcelona (79.724), Manchester United (75.286), Bayern München (75.000) and Real Madrid (71.280).

Allianz Parque now family friendly
Against São Paulo FC, a novelty: Palmeiras debuted a new, designated “family area” at the Allianz Parque. Any adult buying a ticket for this area can bring a child, up to the age of six, without additional charge. Something of the sort has been a long-standing demand from supporters. Finally attended!

Players in the MD
In the medical department, unfortunately centre-back Thiago Martins has joined Moisés. The youngster ripped his knee ligaments during training the other week, and just like Moisés will need at least six month’s recovery time. The misfortune did however not stop Palmeiras from renewing the player’s contract, extending it another year, now running until the end of 2019. 

Two more player are in the medical department. Jean injured his foot against Santos, but a full recovery is expected in another week or so. Arouca had a second surgery to his left ankle yesterday and has being taken off the Paulistão list, with Hyoran replacing him. Should be interesting to watch.

Last game before the quarterfinals is Ponte Preta, away, upcoming Wednesday.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

In what possibly was the best game of football played so far this year in Brazil, Santos suffered a 2-1 defeat to Palmeiras in the ninth round of the Paulista Championship. Last time Palmeiras walked away with three points from the Vila Belmiro was in 2011.

Palmeiras came strong, the line-up consisting of Prass; Jean, Mina, Dracena and Zé Roberto; Melo; Tchê Tchê, Guerra, Keno and Dudu; Borja.

In spite of the rain, the game was highly paced and technical, both sides playing offensive football. Many clear opportunities were created on both sides, Santos perhaps producing the most, but we went to halftime goalless thanks to absolutely outstanding keeper performance on both sides. The scenario pretty much repeated during most of the second half, until Ricardo Oliveira opened up the scorecard with 29 minutes on the clock, forcing Palmeiras coach Baptista to go all in. Egídio already on the flank, dislocating Zé Roberto to the centre (Guerra out), Baptista now promoted Willian and Róger Guedes on behalf of Zé and Keno. Palmeiras became extremely offensive, but kept cool, working the ball. Santos succumbed to pressure, allowing the equalizer as Jean took an unlikely shot from a bad angle with five minutes to go. A few minutes later, the virada: Guedes, also on the right flank, went deep and crossed low, where Willian materialized to stuff the net. Glorious.
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The result mathematically secures Palmeiras a spot in the quarterfinals. For Palmeiras, the three remaining rounds in the group stage will be used to give bench players more pitch time, while guarding first position in the overall score, as that translates into home advantage in the semi-finals and finals. Next up, Mirassol.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Toward the end of the month, we´ll have two rounds of qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup. All in all, four Palmeiras players have been called up to defend their countries: Yerry Mina and Miguel Borja for Colombia, Alejandro Guerra for Venezuela and Dudu for Brazil.
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Dudu received the call later than the rest: Douglas Costa suffered a knee injury during training at Bayern München last Friday, and coach Tite picked Dudu as the replacement. This is the striker’s third time in the yellow shirt: his first appearance was under Mano Menezes, in 2011. Then a long break, before Tite called him up in January of this year. However, all previous occasions have been friendly games. Finally facing the “real deal”, Dudu is in ecstasy. Well deserved!

Brazil plays Uruguay away on the 23rd and Paraguay at home on the 28th. Palmeiras’ quartet will miss the last three group-stage rounds of the São Paulo championship: another involuntary test of the squad’s quality and resilience. Also, another proof of the incapacity of Brazilian football federations to set up a decent calendar throughout the year.

Good luck to the four: may they all return safe and sound to Palmeiras.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Must admit I expected an easier task. Jorge Wilstermann proved to be well trained, tactically obedient, a hard nut to crack. Both Tchê Tchê and Dudu suffered strong, individual marking throughout the game and Wilstermann’s line of five defenders recomposed quickly at every turnover, making triangulations at the flanks difficult.

Our line-up consisted of Prass; Jean, Mina, Dracena and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo; Tchê Tchê, Guerra, Dudu and Bastos; Borja.

Palmeiras were in control the whole game, not only enjoying much superior ball possession, but also using it objectively and offensively: numerous clear chances were created, especially in the first half, Borja again and uncharacteristically blowing his share. Close to no shots were fired by Palmeiras from outside the penalty area: a mistake, as this allowed the opponent to compact his defence even further. Even so, on several occasions a Palmeiras player, often Dudu, was inches from breaking free with the keeper, the linesmen having a very busy night. All in all, Palmeiras performed decently well, with plenty of intensity, just not getting that last detail right.

The referee allowed for more than he should but overall kept things (in my opinion) rather balanced. That being said: in true Libertadores style, the catimba was reigning, Jorge Wilstermann delaying the action whenever possible. One of theirs even teared his own shirt in order to render Yerry Mina a yellow card.

At the second half progressed, nervousness kicked in both in the packed stands and on the pitch. Palmeiras dipped a bit in production, but picked up speed in the last 15 minutes, pressuring hard. Guerra and Bastos gave way to Keno and Roger Guedes, the latter much involved in the action evolving toward the end, especially on the right flank, including the cross that Yerry Mina met to declare victory in the game’s dying minute. Relief!
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With four points after two games, Palmeiras (at least temporarily) assume top position in group 5. Later today, Peñarol receive Atlético Tucumán; should the visitors win by two goals or more, they take Palmeiras down a notch.

Next Libertadores round takes place in little less than a month. Palmeiras now refocus on the São Paulo championship, where we have the four last round of the group phase before the quarterfinals. Santos await at the Vila Belmiro upcoming Sunday: expect another exciting match.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Any sãopaulino infiltrating the Allianz Parque yesterday was surely shaking like a leaf – in the fear of getting caught (after all, only Palmeiras supporters were allowed in, as in every derby in São Paulo as of late) and considering the retrospect of the clash in recent years: last 4 home games, only Palestra victories, with a goal tally 12-1 in Palmeiras’ favour.

With an eye on Palmeiras’ Libertadores Cup game this upcoming Wednesday, and considering previous Wednesday’s physically and mentally tough battle in Argentina, coach Baptista opted for a mixed bag against The Enemy. I first, real test of the squad’s strength. Against a São Paulo featuring the Paulistão’s best offense, how would Palmeiras behave without reference players like Edu Dracena, Jean, Zé Roberto, Felipe Melo, Keno and Borja?

Wonderfully well, we learnt. In what surely was Palmeiras’ best performance so far this season, São Paulo was thoroughly dominated. The line-up consisted of Prass; Fabiano, Yerry Mina, Vítor Hugo and Egídio; Thiago Santos and Tchê Tchê; Michel Bastos, Dudu and Guerra; Willian. Fluctuating between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-3-1, Palmeiras never gave São Paulo a chance to breathe, consistently applying pressure high up on the pitch, compacting the lines, leaving the opponent little option but to clear the ball. Palmeiras created a number of chances, but the first goal came only just before halftime: Egídio won the ball on the midfield, by the left sideline, Dudu snapped it up, glanced over at Denis’ advanced position between the posts and fired away. Brilliant in every sense, a marvellous goal. And for the third time in three years, a São Paulo keeper is humiliated in similar fashion against Palmeiras. Difference is, this time, former keeper and current SPFC coach Rogério Ceni watched it all from the sideline.

In the second half, Palmeiras drove then final nails in the coffin, first through Tchê Tchê, with a terrific left-foot shot (what a comeback for the kid, spending last six weeks in recovery after fracturing his shoulder) and Guerra (his first goal for Palmeiras and his first opportunity playing the full 90 minutes, last 20 of these together with Borja).
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The victory was everything we could have hoped for. Yesterday, we had a clear indicator Eduardo Baptista’s ideas are finally catching on. And as formations, tactics and game plans start to mesh, players loosen up and allow their creativity to flow, leading to better individual and collective performance, better results and a continuous boost in confidence. 

Jorge Wilstermann had better look out. 

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Finally, the Libertadores Cup debut. Atlético Tucumán, away. Palmeiras with a solid line-up: Prass; Jean, Dracena, Vitor Hugo and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo and Thiago Santos; Michel Bastos, Dudu and Keno; Borja. Stage set.

It should and most like would have been a rather easy victory had not Vitor Hugo, clumsily, gotten himself sent off within twenty minutes after two yellow cards less than minutes apart. Without yet that good a read on the opponent, Eduardo Baptista wisely opted for the safest route: instead of retreating Thiago Santos to the vacant centre-back position, weakening the midfield defensively but keeping Palmeiras’ offensive power intact, he took Michel Bastos out, promoting centre-back Antônio Carlos from the bench.

Shortly after, the Argentine team netted, a combination of skill, opportunism and fluke if I ever saw one. Palmeiras one man down, things could have gotten ugly, but our men quickly recomposed and levelled the action, Keno driving it home five minutes before halftime.

The second half looked mostly like the first, Palmeiras actively looking to turn the game around, creating several clear chances to score, Borja and Dudu in particular.

With the final whistle, divided opinions among palmeirenses. While most recognized the virtue of securing an away draw playing one man short for 70 minutes, others lamented the early sending off of Vítor Hugo and/or Baptista’s choice to recompose the defensive line. Sure, the game was ours to win – even with ten men – but I am much more inclined to celebrate a draw considering the circumstances. Hopefully not only Vítor Hugo but also the whole Palmeiras squad learnt something from the episode: Libertadores is full throttle, but not anarchy. Will and determination, not violence and recklessness.

Saturday, Palmeiras receive São Paulo at the Allianz Parque. Not ideal, as next week another Libertadores game, this time at home and against Jorge Wilstermann, demands full attention. On the other hand, every opportunity to beat The Enemy should be considered ideal.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Interviewed in September of 2015, owner/president of Crefisa and Faculdade das Américas Leila Pereira refuted rumours she held intentions to become president of Palmeiras. “I cannot run for president now. I only recently became a member of the club and the statues say a person needs to have completed two mandates in the Deliberative Council [before being eligible for presidency]”, she told a reporter of Diário de São Paulo. Mrs Pereira knew she was looking at, at least, 16 years to fulfil any aspirations of the sort: eight years of club membership before eligible for the Deliberative Council, then two turns there, each mandate spanning four years.

No small surprise then when Mustafá Contursi, one of the club’s most senior oligarchs, in February of 2016 announced Leila Pereira was not only a club member, but had been so since 1996. Mr Contursi claims having made her an honorary member that year, while he was president of Palmeiras. However, no records of such an act have been found. And even if they were, the statutes does not give the club’s president the mandate to appoint honorary members at will: the procedure is actually fairly complicated, culminating in a decision taken by the plenary of the DC.

However, faced with the explicit threat of a non-renewal of the extremely lucrative sponsorship deal with Crefisa/FAM unless Mrs Pereria was allowed to run for a seat, newly elected Palmeiras president Maurício Galiotte granted Mr Contursi’s request for a revised entry date for Mrs Pereira. In Mr Galiotte’s thinking, the decision to bar Mrs Pereira was not his to make, but should be left to the DC, sometime after the voting (scheduled for early February) but before the newly elected took their seats in March. A few days after Mr Galiotte made his decision public, Palmeiras and Crefisa/FAM renewed their sponsorship agreement, worth an estimated 25% of Palmeiras’ total revenues in 2017-2018.

Why is having a political role at Palmeiras so important for Leila Pereira? Perhaps to please her husband and business partner José Roberto Lamacchia, a hard-core palmeirense (Pereira herself was born in Rio a Vasco supporter). Perhaps she enjoys the power rush. Perhaps it is in all the attention she receives while transiting from a very wealthy but anonymous businesswoman into someone who, in her own words, is recognized on the streets even outside of Brazil. Likely, there is a combination of the above and more; this unknown “more” factor making some of us rather nervous.

leila_mustafaIn any case, at the DC elections in February, Mrs Pereira did indeed run for a seat, as one of the candidates under Mustafá Contursi’s ticket. She was elected with a record 248 votes – several times the number she needed – and the extra votes spilled over to Mr Contursi, who thus reinforced his position in the DC with some 6-8 loyal names. In order to understand the impact of this, I quote Marcelo Santa Vicca: “The easiest way to understand how Mustafá Contursi’s head works is recognising he hates football and only cares for the social club”.

Today, 6 March, the Deliberate Council met to determine on the legitimacy of Mrs Pereira’s candidacy. On paper, a rather straightforward matter, one would think: void candidacy and therefore, void election. Nonetheless, she passed the trial like a breeze, only some 45 of the 228 gathered members of the DC opposing her inauguration.

The club´s statute was shredded in the most vulgar way. The immediate effect is the shame felt by many an honourable palmeirense, many of these outside the political sphere of the club. The medium to long-term effects are impossible to predict.

In addition to the above, the DC also elected two gentlemen as president and vice-president of the Council – Seraphim Del Grande and Carlos Faedo – both linked to Mr Contursi.

A moment of hesitation, and Palmeiras’ political landscape just recedes 15 years. Some thought the dragon had been slayed. It was not even sleeping.

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