Pacaembu stadium. Before a little more than 7.000 paying spectators, Palmeiras attempt their first victory in the Brasileirão 2012 against Atlético Mineiro. Palmeiras’ starting eleven consist of Bruno; Cicinho (João Vitor, 26′/2ºH), Thiago Heleno, Henrique and Juninho; Márcio Araújo, Marcos Assunção, Daniel Carvalho and Luan (Mazinho, 17′/2ºH); Felipe (Maikon Leite, 9′/2ºH) e Barcos. Atlético, commanded by Cuca, are formed by Giovanni; Marcos Rocha (Serginho, 20′/2ºH), Rafael Marques, Réver and Junior Cesar; Pierre (ex-Palmeiras), Richarlyson, Danilinho (Leonardo Silva, 43′/2ºH) and Ronaldinho; Bernard (Leandro Donizete, 35′/2ºH) e Jô. This is Ronaldinho Gaúcho’s debut at Atlético.
Palmeiras initiate a blitz as soon as the referee blows the whistle, but it lasts for no more than ten minutes. The Verdão show tremendous difficulties in maintaining ball possession and commit many passing errors. Palmeiras’ front men, only occasionally having ball contact, are always receiving with their backs against the goal. Soon enough Palmeiras seem cornered, backing home, forming the first defensive line on their own half of the pitch, allowing Atlético to put pressure as soon as the ball swaps possession. Luan plays a decent first half and Márcio Araújo stays glued on Ronaldinho, preventing him from effective participation, but 0-0 in halftime is an excellent result for Palmeiras, who look like the visiting team.
The 2nd half starts without modifications. With three minutes of clock running, Cicinho does absolutely no effort to block a cross which Jô skilfully and firmly meets with his forehead to open up the scorecard for Atlético.
Scolari doesn’t wait long and promotes Maicon Leite on Felipe, but it is Atlético who score once again: Jô receives another of those long, deep passes, beats Henrique fare and square for possession and nets. The referee thinks differently and nullifies the absolutely legit goal.
At 23′, Bruno saves Palmeiras at another terrific header from Jô. And at 29′, one more (dubiously) nullified goal for Atlético. Palmeiras seem two numbers too small in every aspect. During the whole game, the Verdão create four chances, all four free kicks taken by Assunção, the last two – at 38′ and 42′ respectively – almost splitting the crossbar. But that is all, as you will see from the game recap below.
I feel unable to repeat the “time to refocus on the Brazil Cup” discourse: “focus” doesn’t seem to be the problem, but technical limitations, weak tactics, weak spirit, weak leadership. The team is falling apart, deteriorating game by game. Scolari seems equally lost and – dare I say – almost indifferent. I’m seriously worried.
To finish things off, I’ve taken the liberty to translate a few words by Rodrigo Barneschi as posted on the always passionate and excellent Forza Palestra blog:
Many of us present yesterday night at the Pacaembu will be in Porto Alegre this coming Wednesday. We’re heading south – at least in my mind – not for believing in those who will be entering the pitch but for still remembering glorious nights of knockout rounds in the past.
We’re going because the green jersey (and keep it green, you bastards!) is entering the pitch. We’re going because the jersey (still) carries weight. We’re going because we need to fight and for still allowing ourselves to dream. That’s all there’s left. Palmeiras have four (or two) more games this year. The rest will be torture. Not in sessions of 90 minutes in the cold of a Saturday night, but in one never-ending, strenuous nightmare stretching over the 34 remaining rounds.