As expected, Atlético Mineiro came with only three regular pieces, choosing to prioritise the Brasileirão. On the bench, a backup plan in the shape of striker Obina and midfielder Diego Souza, both former Palmeiras players.
The initial 20 minutes looked very promising, with Palmeiras putting pressure on Atlético high up on the pitch and El Mago distributing passes to Tinga, Marcos Assunção and Kléber. It seemed only a matter of time before the Atlético goalie would have to fetch the ball from the back of the net.
No such luck. Valdivia, already during the warming up, carried a worried expression. Within minutes of the game, he was massaging the troublesome back part of his left thigh. And at 20 minutes, Scolari had no choice but to make the substitution, putting Lincoln on the Chilean midfielder.
It’s amazing how crippled Palmeiras is without Valdivia. It was like watching a different game altogether. All creativity disappeared, no scoring chances surged. Atlético grew and started to like the look of things, but we went to half time with 0-0 much thanks to Deola, a true successor to São Marcos.
Second half, and Scolari obviously had a chat with the players in half time. The team came out differently. With ten minutes,of play Lincoln served Kléber, who found Tinga who chipped it back perfectly to Kléber, driving it home. A beautiful goal, where Kléber’s speed and determination made him look like a hot knife cutting through butter when passing the Atlético defense line. Atlético’s coach Dorival felt obliged to make substitutions, letting Obina and Diego Souza in on the action.
Then, two polemic events: in the first, the referee conceived a penalty when Lincoln was tripped in the zone, but then changed his mind. Lincoln indeed was in the offside position when receiving the pass, but the lineman didn’t signal it. It seems as someone whispered in the linemans ear, who then quickly ran to the referee and had him revert the situation (Palmeiras has already signalled that a formal complaint will be handed in to CONMEBOL). Shortly after this intermezzo, Atlético was rewarded a very dubious penalty when Márcio Araújo (supposedly) blocked Obina’s passage in the penalty zone, perhaps contributing to him falling over in a spectacular fashion. Obina himself put the penalty away, making it 1-1.
The rest of the game saw two teams giving it all they had, showing a lot of heart. Many opportunities were created but stopped short due to great displays by both goalies. In the end, the draw wasn’t a bad result for the away team but still utterly disappointing considering that Palmeiras put out its strongest formation against a much weaker opponent, at certain moments was dominating the game and could have scored more goals, but then picked the shortest straw in a consecutive chain of events. In addition, five Palmeiras players were booked (and only one Atleticano).
The second leg is in two week’s team, at the Pacaembu stadium. Let’s hope that Atlético will still be struggeling with the Brasileirão. And also that Valdivia is back and 100 per cent fit for fight on the day. He is much needed.