With uncharacteristic speed, the Superior Brazilian Tribunal of Sports settled the “external interference” matter of last week. Not surprisingly, there will be no rematch, and the three points have been returned to Flamengo. However, it is surprising that the Tribunal did not even rule on the claim. The president of the entity simply archived the case, justifying his decision with “Lip reading is not proof of anything, and the inspector of refereeing says he did nothing wrong, so… Case closed”.

Case closed, ladies and gentlemen. No investigation, no ruling. Straight to the archives.

The signal is clear: external interference will be tolerated. A precedence has been set. A precedence that is destined to change dynamics on the pitch. In dubious situations, we will see players huddle the referee and simply not allow the game to restart until someone somewhere, with access to a replay, gives the players a thumbs up or down.

“But Flamengo won on the pitch and football should be decided on the pitch, not by a tribunal”, many argue, including quite a lot of sports journalists. I strongly disagree. Flamengo did not win on the pitch, Flamengo drew on the pitch. Flamengo drew, because the referees allowed an offside goal for the opponent – something not uncommon and “part of the game”. The draw only turned into a win for Flamengo due to the external interference; the illegal, off-pitch interference. Where is the justice in that?

The game has changed. Not for the better. And it is all self-inflicted. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Yesterday our squad was put to the test, as coach Cuca opted for leaving seven of his regular starting eleven players out of the second Brazil cup quarterfinal leg against Grêmio. Jean, Vítor Hugo, Yerry Mina, Tchê Tchê, Moisés, Dudu, Róger Guedes: none of these integrated the line-up taking central stage before 30.000 spectators at the Allianz Parque. Instead, Palmeiras were composed of Jaílson; Fabiano, Edu Dracena, Thiago Martins and Egídio; Gabriel, Thiago Santos and Cleiton Xavier; Allione, Gabriel Jesus and Barrios. Gabriel Jesus as captain, possibly the youngest in the team’s history.

Palmeiras played surprisingly well, dominating Grêmio in the first half, creating several chances including a header from Barrios hitting the crossbar. As against Figueirense, Fabiano (pictured above) was again a pleasant surprise, working hard on the right flank, participating plenty in offence through triangulations and crosses. Also, Jesus seemed more focused, perhaps a reflection of the increased responsibility as team captain.

Palmeiras returned to the second half with the same aggressiveness displayed in the first, and were rewarded with an early goal through a cool header from young Thiago Martins. Grêmio showed no power of reaction, all seemed very much under control, when at 15 minutes, the game changer: Allione, after an insanely forceful tackle in midfield, was sent off. Cuca tried to regroup his midfield promoting Jean and Zé Roberto, and a bit later Erik up front, hoping that a counter-attack might do the trick. The plan was never really put to the test: Grêmio quickly found the equaliser and for the following 25 minutes held on to the result. With a 2-3 aggregate, Grêmio are through and next week take Cruzeiro on for a spot in the finals. In the other semi-finals, Atlético Mineiro vs. Internacional.

Palmeiras fought hard and certainly showed that the squad is qualified enough. An isolated moment, a piece of bad judgment, sealed the fate this time. 21-year-old Allione will certainly not sleep well in the nights to come.

There are however positive aspects to the elimination. No secret Palmeiras treasure the 2016 Brazilian championship title much more than the Cup title. Sure, Palmeiras were in the race for both – and in good conditions to win them both – but as of now, the focus will be undivided.

In addition, yesterday’s round saw both Corinthians and Santos eliminated, meaning that our local rivals must do well in the Brasileirão if they aspire for a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. Both of them play runners-up Flamengo in upcoming rounds (Corinthians already this Sunday).

Finally, a few words on Atlético, who qualified for the semi-finals. The Belo Horizonte team is currently third in the tables, eight points behind Palmeiras. I feel safe in assuming they will throw the towel in the Brasileirão, now making the Cup their priority.

Palmeiras take on Sport on Sunday, again at the Allianz Parque. Our opponent rests in 14th place, only two point above the relegation zone, with a bad track record as visitor. Anything but the three points would be a serious hick-up.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

The round could not have shaped up any better for Palmeiras. Figueirense might be in the relegation zone, but are strong at their home grounds Orlando Scarpelli, where they lost only two games this season. Three games now.

Cuca surprised, placing rarely used Fabiano on the right flank, displacing Jean to the middle. Could have worked, but Figueirense populated the midfield with defensive players, effectively clogging things up. However, Palmeiras slowly learnt to master both the slippery surface and the spaces available on the flanks, creating chances in the last third of the first half. Virgin scorecard in halftime.

Palmeiras came out determined, applying pressure and creating several chances within the first minutes. At the seventh, Gabriel Jesus received an arm to his face as he went up heading a ball in the penalty area. Much confusion as the Figueira players applied Flamengo-style pressure on the referee, perhaps buying time in hope of an external interference. No such luck: while Gabriel Jesus received medical attention, Jean tucked the ball away, giving Palmeiras the lead.

Palmeiras continued dominating the game. The referee could have awarded Figuerense a penalty, as Egídio stupidly made contact with an opponent right on the divisor of the penalty area, but did not. Just as he did not reward Dudu with one in the first half, when our forward was taken down inside the area.

At 39 minutes, Gabriel Jesus broke free on the left flank and somehow got the ball into the middle, where a charging Jean found his second brace for the night. The three points seemed in the bag, but no: shortly after, Figuerense scored on a corner, Jaílson completely misjudging the trajectory of the ball. A few minutes of nervousness ended with the final whistle. Major victory.

Simultaneously, we palmeirenses had all been keeping an eye on Inter vs Flamengo and Botafogo vs Atlético. Both games swung back and forth, but ended with defeat for the two title contenders. With that, Palmeiras pulled ahead of Flamengo four points, and Atlético a whopping eight points.

— ooo —

Four points ahead of Flamengo, which today Tuesday, at least momentarily, turned into seven points. The Supreme Tribunal of Sports accepted Fluminense’s claim that their game against Flamengo – which originated the external interference scandal – should be subject to their ruling. As Fluminense are seeking a rematch, the points awarded Flamengo have been suspended, the two teams now featuring one game short compared to the rest. No one knows when the court will decides on the case. It can take weeks.

A special feature on Brazilian TV significantly strengthened Fluminense’s case last Sunday, analysing footage from the game. In the middle of the ruckus, with players from both teams pressuring the referee, a man in a suit, identified as the inspector of refereeing for the game, is seen talking to the referee – which is a violation in itself – lip synch experts affirming he says “TV showed it, TV showed the offside”.

External influence is such a severe breach of regulation, a rematch would be expected in any serious country. I leave it at that.

— ooo —

Palmeiras now switch attention to the Brazil Cup, where Grêmio await tomorrow Wednesday. Having lost the away leg 2-1, a simple 1-0 victory would see Palmeiras through to the semi-finals. That being said: Cuca will opt for sparing roughly half of his ordinary starting eleven, letting players like Moisés, Dudu, Roger Guedes, Edu Dracena and Yerry Mina rest ahead of the game against Sport on Sunday. No doubt the Brazilian Championship it the top priority. And I completely agree, although I believe Palmeiras have the quality and the manpower to win both titles this year.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

*photo by César Greco

A short summary, in English, of the full text in Portuguese:

Dear Palmeiras supporter,

All of us are tired of how Palmeiras are being treated by mainstream media, and the situation has escalated with the team’s growing success. Although the syndrome is found in almost all TV channels, ESPN in particular has turned the bashing of Palmeiras into a form of art. On social media, this has led to escalating verbal assaults between Palmeiras supporters and sports journalists, reaching a point where they now take over the agenda. 

In light of the above, a selected group of the independent Mídia Palestrina proposes a solution: a clean break.

Initiating with aforementioned ESPN – more specifically their twitter account @ESPNagora – we propose an end to discussions, verbal assaults, following on social media, RTs and the generally providing of audience. We propose an #UnfollowEspnDia31, a date to not only unfollow ESPN but also to generally clean your timeline from all those accounts frequently getting on your nerves by disrespecting Palmeiras in one way or the other.

31 October. The day of #UnfollowEspnDia31.

— ooo —

Caro torcedor palmeirense,

Nosso Verdão segue liderando o Brasileirão e mais um ano caminha para um final verde. Cuca vem impondo uma regularidade ao time que nos enche de orgulho e confiança.

Apesar disso, grande parte da mídia esportiva teima em se referir a nosso time de forma parcial, depreciativa. Exigem futebol “bonito”, olham com desdém para nossa campanha cujos números são incontestáveis e usam seus teclados e microfones para emitir opiniões muitas vezes carregadas de rancor ou simplesmente clubismo.

Nenhuma emissora escapa. Em todas, há pelo menos um profissional que parece ter como missão principal espezinhar o Palmeiras, muitas vezes embasado em fatos distorcidos que levam a conclusões ruins, falácias que manipulam a opinião pública.

Um canal em particular que se especializou nisso: a ESPN. Apesar de manter em seus quadros bons jornalistas, como em toda emissora, em geral o tom das discussões quando o assunto é o Palmeiras é de ranço extremo com o clube, com os dirigentes, com o treinador e com a torcida. Um jornalista em particular personifica esse mau jornalismo neste ano de disputa entre Palmeiras e Flamengo: Mauro Cezar Pereira, cujo amor pelo time carioca não permite que faça análises equilibradas e isentas como a profissão exige, principalmente num canal de tanto alcance.

A internet abriu a possibilidade de tornar o que era uma via de mão única, em uma via de duas mãos. Em tempos de Twitter, Instagram e Facebook, é normal que a torcida em geral se revolte com esse tipo de atitudes antiprofissionais e que use as redes sociais para demonstrar essa indignação. As mensagens poderiam ser bem mais amenas se o tratamento dado ao Palmeiras fosse mais digno.

O palmeirense tem a seu dispor uma mídia alternativa, clubista e parcial, que sempre vai tratar os assuntos que envolvem nosso time com paixão, mas com muita honestidade. Os palmeirenses que consomem o conteúdo dos sites palmeirenses podem até não concordar com as opiniões, mas jamais se sentirão desrespeitados.

Não cabe ao torcedor ofender nenhum jornalista através das redes sociais. Entendemos que o caminho desse tipo de interação, utilizando a linguagem das arquibancadas, em vez de levar a uma reflexão e a ajustes na conduta, só gera desgaste, para todos.

Por isso, em mais uma iniciativa inédita, os sites palmeirenses independentes promovem uma alternativa melhor: o rompimento.

A emissora escolhida para simbolizar esse rompimento com a mídia opinativa é a ESPN, por tudo o que foi citado. Na segunda-feira, dia 31 de outubro, para simbolizar esse rompimento, vamos todos fazer um unfollowzaço no Twitter da emissora (@ESPNagora). Vamos deixar de ler, retuitar e compartilhar suas publicações, ou mesmo de comentá-las. E como consequência, deixar de assisti-los. Se querem fazer jornalismo desta forma, simplesmente não interessa ao torcedor palmeirense. Nossa resposta não será pelo confronto. Vamos apenas riscá-los de nossas vidas.

A torcida do Palmeiras, representada pelos sites abaixo, espera que desta forma a tensão entre palmeirenses e parte da imprensa diminua ou, quem sabe, chegue ao fim. Ninguém mais aguenta esse ambiente destrutivo. Como em qualquer relacionamento que não dá certo, em vez de confronto, o rompimento é a melhor saída. A torcida palestrina já tem a mídia palmeirense. Ninguém precisa da ESPN. E que sirva para outros canais também. O #UnfollowEspnDia31 pode ser estendido a qualquer jornalista ou emissora que você olha atravessado em suas redes sociais, mas que, sabe-se lá por que, você ainda mantém em sua rede. Não se desgaste mais, não passe raiva. Faça uma faxina em sua TL. Dê preferência sempre a quem trata o Palmeiras com respeito.

Dia 31 de outubro, dia do #UnfollowEspnDia31.

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Yesterday’s Palmeiras vs Cruzeiro was a well-played and intense affair, nevertheless resulting in a goalless draw. I could and should elaborate a bit more on the game, the decision to play in Araraquara (the Allianz Parque not available for having received an Andrea Bocelli show the previous night) and the unusual lengths Palmeiras – or rather Paulo Nobre – is ready to go to have national squad members Gabriel Jesus and Mina present and in playing conditions. Could, should, but will not.

The single most important aspect of yesterday’s round happened during Fluminense vs Flamengo, where the runners-up were ahead on two occasions, before Fluminense scored the equaliser, an offside header, five minutes from stoppage time. The linesman raised his flag, but referee Sandro Meira Ricci overruled him, allowing the goal. A few minutes of discussion, as would be expected, then the entire Flamengo bench poured onto the pitch, affirming goalscorer Henrique had indeed been offside. After some ten minutes of this, the referee reversed his decision, disallowing the goal.
More than one Flamengo player confirmed they learnt Henrique was offside from external sources, i.e. someone watching TV or listening to the radio passing the information on to the bench. Players brought this to the referee, who succumbed to the pressure. Nothing of this appears in the referee’s post-game report, released only this morning: “game stopped for 10 minutes as players from both teams protested against a referee decision relating to an offside situation” and then, a little further down, “nothing out of the ordinary to report”.

Referees acting upon external sources of information are in clear violation of FIFA regulations and of a magnitude that sets the stage for a rematch. Fluminense president Peter Siemsen says he will demand it, but he does not stand a chance. Just as Palmeiras in 2012, when Barcos’ “Hand of God” brace against Internacional was disallowed due to external interference, contributing to the Verdão’s relegation that year.

justice“Why do you defend an unjust goal? Henrique was clearly offside, and justice was made in the end”, some shallow minds argue, failing to see that “making justice” in that particular moment automatically implied in violating justice on every single previous occasion involving controversial refereeing in the championship.

The correct thing would be a rematch. As many clubs as possible should joint ranks with Fluminense (oh, the irony) to endorse that rules and regulations be followed. “Good luck”.

— ooo —

If yesterday’s results stand, Palmeiras are found at 61 points, Flamengo at 60 and Atlético Mineiro, who beat América Mineiro 3-0, at 56. With eight rounds to go. Buckle up, people.

Last week, the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Chamber of Arbitration – set up to rule on a series of issues where Palmeiras and Allianz Parque constructor WTorre disagree – ruled in favour of Palmeiras on the most important topic: how many of the stadium’s 44.000 chairs WTorre is allowed to commercialise. It has always been Palmeiras’ understanding that the number was 10.000, but a poorly drafted agreement left room for alternative interpretations, WTorre claiming they had the right to all the chairs, which would effectively kill Palmeiras’ highly successful supporter membership programme “Avanti”. Not only did the FGV side with Palmeiras regarding the chairs, but also ordered WTorre conclude the works on the Allianz Parque. That means ensure the stadium complies with FIFA standards, finish construction on the panoramic restaurant, the museum, the trophy room… A massive victory, both financially and morally, setting the game board for years to come.

With a ruling finally in place, Palmeiras can go back at tweaking the club’s supporter programme, look into how to optimise stadium capacity, optimise pricing. Moreover, Palmeiras should consider how to deal with the overly large portals giving access to the pitch; these portals facilitate getting heavy/bulky stage equipment onto the pitch (think rock shows), but have a considerable impact on stadium capacity.

“Optimise stadium capacity, optimise pricing”. What is “optimise”? Many would argue it is a simple equation, where optimise means securing maximum revenue for the club. Others say optimising is the point where two curves meet: highest revenue with highest possible attendance – an acknowledgement of the importance of supporters to a team’s success. A third line would argue that additional factors, like social inclusion, must come into the equation: it is fine the club making less money, if that means contributing to a greater good. 

Are football clubs expected to take direct responsibility for improving social inclusion? In England, studies show they are indeed: when asked what they value about their club, English supporters do not stress their success on the field, nor the value of the club’s shares, or whether it was in profit or not, but their importance within their family, social and community life. Similar views were expressed almost uniformly by clubs’ chief executives, staff and local residents and businesses, everybody emphasising the social function of a football club. I would not think the result would be much different in Brazil.

Still, one should not forget that competition is in the heart of sports. And here is where the major barrier to football’s ability to be a force for good – in England, in Brazil, in any part of the world – becomes evident: the financial strains most clubs face, primarily due to the pressure of putting a competitive team out.

Must one chose between financial optimization/competiveness and social inclusion? Perhaps yes, in the realm of immediacy. However, we should look further.

I few weeks back I visited Vienna, and the Vienna Opera House. Opting for a ballet performance, I was not surprised to find tickets almost sold out, with the few remaining going at €160-180 apiece. Then a word, on a sign a bit further away, caught my attention. “Stehplatz”. Standing space. Something more and more common in sports arenas across Europe, and at one point also discussed as an option for the Allianz Parque. To my surprise, the Vienna Opera House seats more than 1.700 persons, but in addition has the capacity to cater for close to 600 standing spectators. Most of the stehplatz tickets are released only a couple of hours before the performance, on a first come first served basis. Ticket price? €4!

Here we have a prime establishment, which certainly could be making a lot more money by filling the space up with chairs, offering tickets at €4 apiece. Talk about social inclusion.


Stehplatz rows in the foreground, Vienna Opera House

The Vienna Opera House might be losing money in the ticket box, but they are also getting good PR through the people now able to attend something they otherwise never would. From tourists, crashing in at the last minutes, being amazed by the performance, sharing pictures on social media, contributing to the fame and hype. Social inclusion, the “doing good”, is likely to bring financial revenue to the Opera House in the long term.

I can easily see this applied to the Allianz Parque. The creation of a popular section – and why not through the Stehplatz concept, getting rid of those gaping holes through easy-to-assemble, removable standing grids – where the less fortunate, and tourists, or anyone really, can either buy in advance or cue up on the day to have the true Familia Palmeiras experience.

After all, if we are family, we must care for one another. Strengthening Palmeiras and the “Palmeiras brand” in the process.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Palmeiras again without Gabriel Jesus, Yerry Mina and Lucas Barrios – the trio serving their national squads – still managed two away wins, 2-3 against Santa Cruz and 0-2 against América Mineiro, slightly distancing themselves from Flamengo. The cariocas only drew against São Paulo before today beating Santa Cruz, but as of next week initiate a tough sequel composed of Fluminense (a), Internacional (a), Corinthians (h) and Atlético Mineiro (a).

Atlético Mineiro are, presumably, looking at an easier path in the forthcoming rounds – América Mineiro (h), Botafogo (a), Figueirense (h) and Flamengo (h) – but cannot afford any mistakes, as they are currently seven point behind. We are certainly at a decisive moment, for both our contenders.

Palmeiras can and should nothing but focus on the upcoming tasks: Cruzeiro (h), Figueirense (a), Sport (h) and Santos (a).
What is to be expected from Palmeiras in the next four rounds? Hard to tell. Against Santa Cruz Palmeiras were forcefully imposing, energetic and courageous. Today, against América Mineiro, the numerous palmeirenses at the Estádio do Café were treated to a sleeping pill like you wouldn’t believe. Palmeiras rarely play well against, on paper, lesser opponents: there is something crooked on the motivational side, has been like that for years. That being said, there is only so much room for complaint with the team beating weaker opposition even playing badly, then stepping it up against the likes of Inter, Corinthians, Fluminense. Possibly, today’s apathy of virtually relegated América Mineiro contributed to the laidback attitude of the Palmeiras squad. At the Allianz Parque, against Cruzeiro (to whom Palmeiras lost earlier this year) we should see a different Palmeiras.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra! 

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