Four games stand between Palmeiras and this year’s South America Cup title. Tonight, we’ll know our next opponent: Avaí or Goiás. Avaí is in slight advantage, as they drew 2-2 in the away game; a goalless or a 1-1 draw qualifies the team from the state of Santa Catarina. Another 2-2 will result in a penalty shootout, while a draw with more than two goals for each side qualifies the goianos.
I tend to think that Palmeiras would be better off facing Avaí in the semi-finals: both teams are struggling against the threat of relegation, but the situation is more serious for Goiás. Depending on the outcome of this weekend’s games, Goiás might have to throw the towel altogether, enabling a complete focus on the SA Cup. Avaí is much more likely to be torn between the two competitions and having to balance its forces.
The setting for yesterday’s game was perfect, the atmosphere more contagious than any time before this season. Pacaembu was filled to the brim with optimistic and cheering palmeirenses – a seasonal record of 36.000 – except for the some 2.000 spectators with tickets in hands that were not able to enter the arena until the second half due to bad administration of the stadium gates.
Much speculation on what line-up Atlético would present, as indeed the full squad travelled to São Paulo. In the end, the starting eleven were made up of reserves only. Palmeiras, of course, came as strong as possible with Deola; Márcio Araújo, Maurício Ramos, Danilo and Gabriel Silva; Edinho, Marcos Assunção, Tinga and Valdivia; Kleber and Luan. With the rain pouring down heavily, the game was only 15 minutes old when Valdivia started grimacing and again had to be taken off the pitch, replaced by Lincoln. Puta que pariu! Something is seriously wrong – not only with Valdivia who never seem to heal from what should be a simple little muscular problem to the back of his left thigh – but also with Palmeiras’ team of doctors. Can’t they perform the right tests on the midfielder before the game in order to REALLY know if he is fit to play or not? This is the fourth game in a row that he’s unable to stay on the pitch for more than 30 minutes.
Anyway: first half and Palmeiras showed superiority and calmness. The first goal, at 33 minutes, was a different piece of work: Marcus Assunção took the corner, the ball deflected slightly on an Atlético defender and went straight into the net: a so called Olympic goal (just look at that curve).
Second half, and Atlético had no option but to press for the equaliser. Palmeiras backed home, dangerously so. Although Palmeiras’ defence was well positioned most of the time, a couple of shots came dangerously close. Deola showed class as always, especially knocking away all crosses and corners within his reach. Atlético’s coach Dorival made substitutions, replacing his defensive midfielders with strikers, obviously taking a chance. It didn’t pay off. Instead, Palmeiras in a rapid counter attack sealed the fate of the game after a precise shot by Luan. Watch the highlights below.
The second leg against either Avaí or Goiás will take place at the Pacaembu arena, and so will the second leg in the finals in case Palmeiras goes through to confront LDU. In case Argentine team Independiente becomes our opponent in the final, the first leg takes place at Pacaembu and the second leg at the Doble Visera stadium, city of Avellaneda.