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Palmeiras were unable to revert the 3-0 from the first leg of the semi-final against Ponte Preta and bid the São Paulo championship farewell. Ponte and Corinthians battle it out in the finals, the latter having eliminated SPFC.

Eduardo Baptista sure tried to shake things up, surprising with a novel 3-5-2 formation, Felipe Melo operating on the left flank of the defensive line completed by Mina and Dracena. The formation allowed for much more aggressive wingplay, with Egídio and Jean frequently driving deep and looking to cross. Sadly, that seemed to be Palmeiras’ only plan: little vertical infiltration, almost no shots from outside the penalty area. Albeit with crushing superiority in ball possession and game control, Palmeiras was too predictable, with cross after cross deflected by Ponte Preta’s compact defence. Borja did not have a great night, neither did Tchê Tchê or Dudu, and we all know that when Dudu is off centre, the whole team wobbles. Guerra and Guedes completed the starting eleven. Keno, Willian and Bastos came on in the second half. Too little, too late. However, this time, no complaints in regard to fighting spirit, the whole squad gave 100%. Not to mention the supporters, who gave 200%. Still, Brazil’s possibly best squad was knocked out by a second division team. That is what happens when your head is somewhere else on gameday.

Physical and emotional wear will have to step aside as Peñarol await on Wednesday. Eduardo Baptista, questioned by some since day one, feel the pressure rising. A negative result against the Uruguayans, and knifes will be sharpened, Brazil style.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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Tomorrow Saturday, Palmeiras enter the Allianz Parque with a mission: revert the 3-0 disadvantage against Ponte Preta to proceed to the finals of the São Paulo state championship.

This is the message supporters – earlier today, outside Palmeiras’ training grounds – conveyed to players, coach and country.
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#UntilTheFinalWhistle

Yesterday, both São Paulo FC and Corinthians were eliminated from the Brazil Cup – the latter by Internacional of Porto Alegre, who today drew Palmeiras as opponent in the group of 16. First leg at the Allianz Parque in mid-May, second at the Beira Rio a week or two later. The dates mark Palmeiras’ entry into the tournament.

Right-defender Lucas Taylor is back at Palmeiras after having spent 2016 at Paraná and Criciúma, before playing the 2017 São Paulo championship for Red Bull. Palmeiras have kept a steady eye on the 22-year-old, raised at the club’s youth divisions. By the looks if it, Taylor has evolved enough to render him a space in the squad.

U17Speaking of the youth divisions, Palmeiras’ U17 and U18 both recently came out victorious from two international tournaments. The U17 bagged the Scopigno Cup, in Italy, beating Dynamo Kiev 2-0 in the final. Palmeiras midfielder Alan was elected best player of the tournament, Daniel was top scorer (4) and Artur Itiro was elected best coach. The other teams in the Scopigno tournament were Pescara, Rieti, Lazio, Cagliari, Zenit, Ternara, Teramo and L’Aquila.

U18Almost simultaneously, the Palmeiras U18 beat Croatian HNK Rijeka 2-1 to lift the Bellinzona trophy in Switzerland; an impressive feat by Palmeiras, as half of the U18 squad stayed in Brazil to compete in the U20 Brazil Cup. Defensive midfielder Matheus Neris was elected best player of the tournament. This was the third time Palmeiras won the Bellinzona tournament (2007 and 2016). Other teams included Grasshopper, Honved Budapest, Brøndby and Inter Milan.

In the last couple of weeks, Palmeiras extended the contract of three players in the youth divisions: aforementioned Matheus Neris (18) and Patrick (17) – both midfielders – and centre-back Fabrício (17). All three are now on contracts until end of 2018 and will play for Palmeiras U20.

Palmeiras have also announced the signing of forward Yan, from Vitória. The arrival of the promising 18-year-old is part of the arrangement that sealed Cleiton Xavier’s transfer from Palmeiras to Vitória at the beginning of the year. Yan comes as a loan until 31 January 2018, Palmeiras having the option to buy. Yan drew attention in 2015 as top scorer in Vitória’s successful U17 Brazil Cup campaign. He has also played for Brazil in youth competitions.

In addition to the aforementioned players, Palmeiras have strengthened the youth divisions with Chilean centre-back Diego González (from O’Higgins), midfielder Gabriel Menino (Guarani) and, from Paraná, centre-back Willian Galvão and defensive midfielder Gabriel Furtado.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Out of this world hungover. No better way to describe the Palmeiras that Sunday came on against Ponte Preta for the first leg of the Paulistão semi-finals. With two goals down after seven minutes on the clock, it became clear our men were mentally still in the aftershock of last Wednesday’s epic victory against Peñarol. Ponte were on the other end of the spectrum, each player maxing out as if an entire career was at stake. Three against nil at halftime, fair and square.

In hindsight, coach Baptista’s error was not rotating the squad, putting some fresh legs and minds in Palmeiras’ starting eleven. His lame attempts to turn the tide in the second half were to no use: actually, we were much closer to 4-0 than anything else.

Although the São Paulo championship is the strongest state tournament in Brazil, it is only a regional competition: a Paulistão title is nothing compared to the Brasileirão, the Brazil Cup or the Libertadores Cup. Top teams tend to considered regional tournaments as workshops, where ideas are tested and the squad tweaked for the bigger challenges ahead. That is, until you f*ck it up, like Palmeiras just did. Then things get serious.

The second leg against Ponte takes place next Saturday, only four days before Palmeiras’ return game against Peñarol in Uruguay. Forget going soft against Ponte, saving up for the Libertadores game: out of respect for tradition and home supporters, Palmeiras must and will go full throttle Saturday in an effort to revert the situation, then embark to face Peñarol in life or death modus. Exhausting, sure. Nevertheless, the grim reality.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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We all knew facing Peñarol would be tough, both physically and mentally. We were possibly not prepared for the scale. The Uruguayan players did absolutely everything in the book to sabotage the game – excessive use of force, retarding by all means possible, provocations including racial slurs. The Peñarol coach even deliberately provided the fourth referee with wrong numbers while conducting his substitutions, causing further delays.

To the mix, add a referee that was lost at best. He allowing for most of the above, delayed the game flow himself, and responded to our player’s growing frustration by sending Dudu off.

None of this mattered in the end. In a spectacular display of collective and individual determination, Palmeiras – down by the odd goal after the first half – came back in spectacular fashion to turn the game around with goals from Willian and Dudu, then suffer the equalizer before, in the dying minute, secure the three points through Fabiano. An epic, unforgettable night. I am literally speechless, and no doubt share this with most of the other 39.000 supporters who yesterday carried the team from start to finish.

A special mentioning to Guerra, yesterday’s master of the midfield, with an incredible number of passes finding his teammates in position to fire away. Palmeiras could and should have netted at least three more times, including a penalty that Borja sent up the stands.
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The sequence of decisive games continues Sunday, with the first leg of the Paulistão semi-finals: Ponte Preta, who eliminated Santos in the quarterfinals, are on the menu.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Ah yes, should say something about the pitch. Apparently, it was really good. Let’s see how it holds up in the weeks to come and, in particular, after having been covered up during a concert or two. For now, a rare “well done” to the arena administration.

Palmeiras qualified to the Paulistão semi-finals like a breeze, beating Novorizontino 3-1 (away) and 3-0 (home). The team is evolving game by game, Eduardo Baptista clearly understanding the squad he has at hand and players feeling confident about their leader. And although it is still early, there are hints of something else, which we have not seen in a rather long time at Palmeiras: the drive to play well the full 90 minutes and transform a good performance into an excellent one. With Borja and Guerra adapting to their new team and country, Palmeiras look stronger than ever.

São Paulo FC are through, and so are Corinthians. Today Monday, Santos and Ponte Preta battle it out for the last spot. Next weekend sees the first leg of the semi-finals, but who takes on who will only be known after the final whistle tomorrow.

Not that Palmeiras waste any energy thinking about possible upcoming Paulistão opponents: focus is on Wednesday’s bout against Peñarol in the third round of the Libertadores Cup group stage. Jean has been recovering well after the foot injury and is likely to be found on the bench against the Uruguayans.

bieber_allianz_croppedEnd of March, the pitch at the Allianz Parque was completely removed. Three shows took place in the first week of April: two performances by Justin Bieber and one by Elton John. Then, last Friday, some 14.000 square meters of grass was taken from a farm in Tremembé and installed at the arena. The stadium manager promises that the pitch will be ready by Wednesday, thanks to machines imported from the United States and Europe, capable of cutting a thicker slice of grass: 4.5cm instead of 1cm. The thicker cut allows for not only grass and root, but also part of the rooted soil. In theory, three days should be enough to extend the grass rolls, the pitch being ready for play already on the fourth day.
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Compared to the conventional model, where the pitch needs 30-45 days to reach ideal conditions, this is a huge step forward, albeit expensive: each swap costs approximately R$ 300.000 (US$ 95.000), with the arena constructor foreseeing another four swaps during the year. Those Bieber shows are clearly very lucrative. Palmeiras and sponsors cannot complain either: there has been tremendous visibility and branding, as indicated by the picture featuring the Canadian megastar wearing our jersey. That said, Palmeiras forced out of their home grounds time after another is unacceptable and we need better harmonisation of schedules, combined with a permanent solution addressing pitch quality. On the latter, let’s see how far this thick cut technique takes us.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Palmeiras this morning signed 23-year-old defender Luan, from Rio de Janeiro club Vasco da Gama, on a five-year contract, the price tag coming in at R$ 10 million (US$ 3.2 million) for 60% of the player’s economic rights. While getting to know his new club’s training facilities, the 1.88m tall 2016 Olympic champion did not disguise his enthusiasm. “I’m so happy, this is a dream coming true. I am very motivated, I want to help Palmeiras and I want to evolve here at the club. I’m arriving with an open heart, a focused mind, on fire and crazy to play, to make the supporters happy”.

The newcomer, born in the city of Vitória, played with Fernando Prass at Vasco and considers Palmeiras’ keeper a fathers figure to him. “I was 18 when I turned professional, and he always passed on advice, helping me a lot.” Luan also admitted to having called Gabriel Jesus just a few days back: “I had no doubts really, and after Gabriel told me ‘Go, you’ll be very happy at Palmeiras’ I could nothing but sign”, he laughs.

Do Palmeiras need another defender? Yes, absolutely. Yerry Mina leaves for Barcelona after the 2018 World Cup, Vitor Hugo is likely to transfer to Europe in the next window, Edu Dracena is already 35 and Thiago Martins will stay in the medical department for at least five more months. Antônio Carlos and Luan is our future centre-lock. Palmeiras are ahead in the planning, already preparing the squad for the 2018 season.

Welcome, Luan: may you shine brightly at Palmeiras!
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