Heavy rains during most of the afternoon and throughout the night left the pitch heavy and unpredictable at the Barueri arena; in theory, more favourable conditions for a defensively oriented team, suitable for Palmeiras due to the excellent advantage created in the first leg of the semi-finals. The weather conditions also increase the risk of injury and muscle fatigue, making Scolari opt for leaving free kick specialist Assunção out of the game, preserving the valuable player anticipating the finals against Coritiba. We saw Márcio Araújo replacing Assunção, with Artur on the right flank (stronger defensively than Cicinho) – and Mazinho, as expected, replacing Luan (injured) up front together with Barcos. Palmeiras’ complete lineup: Bruno; Artur, Maurício Ramos, Thiago Heleno (Leandro Amaro, 40′/2nd H) and Juninho; Henrique, Márcio Araújo, João Vitor (Patrik, 47′/2nd H), Daniel Carvalho (Valdivia, 15′/2nd H); Mazinho and Barcos.
Within minutes the characteristics of the game became clear, with nervous and aggressive players. Palmeiras created two great opportunities in the first half with Carvalho and Maurício Ramos and controlled the action, tactically correct, just like in the first game. However, with 15 minutes to go of the first half, Grêmio started to find their way, especially by exploring Palmeiras’ right flank. The first half didn’t end a minute too early.
Grêmio made modifications in the second half and cranked up the pressure. The team from Porto Alegre found a goal 20 minutes into the second half and the already tough climate on the pitch intensified even more. The referee did little to inhibit the escalation and it was only a matter of time before the red card would come out of the pocket. But before that could happen, a certain Magician did his magic like in the old days: Valdivia alone turned the tide of events – with brilliant technique and just the right amount of arrogance – driving the opponents crazy before levelled the score. The commemoration was heartily, genuine, an explosion of emotions with Valdivia and Felipão glued together in a warm embrace as all the other players joined in (check out the highlights, 13:05 into the action).
Grêmio were in shambles after the equaliser. With spirits down, the aggression escalated. Two Grêmio players saw the red card and, unfortunately and completely unfair, also Palmeiras centre-back Henrique, who misses the first match in the finals against Coritiba on 4 July.
I’m no psychologist and I might be bullshitting now, but by judgment of Valdivia’s overall behaviour – performance on the pitch, commemorating the goal and the post-game interview where he, almost in tears, dedicated the goal to his family – perhaps the kidnapping incident has profoundly changed something inside of him. He seems radiant, hungry, and eager to contribute. Simply put: he’s got the spark back. It’s lovely to witness. Hope it lasts for a long time – for his own sake and for Palmeiras’.
Today, at 2pm, the Brazilian Football Federation will draw the order of the home and away games of the finals: the first taking place on Wednesday 4 July and the second game, exactly one week later. As already mentioned, the opponent are Coritiba, who eliminated São Paulo in the semi-finals. This is Coritiba’s second consecutive Brazil Cup final, having lost in 2011 to Vasco da Gama. Most of last year’s players remain, making the team from Paraná a dangerous and experienced opponent. More on this later.