After 14 long years since the last national title – exactly the Copa do Brasil anno 1998, with Luiz Felipe Scolari commanding the team – Palmeiras are back. And what a comeback. Discredited and criticised, the squad united in such a way that not even the chaotic environment, the frequent injuries and the assault from mainstream media were able to change the path to victory. It was written, it had to be. Palmeiras yesterday overtook Santos as the team with most Brazilian national titles: 10 (eight Brazilian Championships and two Brazil Cup titles). This year’s campaign was the best in the history of the Brazil Cup (in the current format, since 1989): 11 games, 8 victories and 3 draws; 23 goals scored and 6 goals conceded. Palmeiras, undefeated champion!
Yesterday’s line-up: Bruno; Artur, Maurício Ramos, Thiago Heleno (Leandro Amaro, 37′/1st H) and Juninho; Henrique, Marcos Assunção, João Vítor (Márcio Araújo, 29′/2nd H) and Daniel Carvalho (Luan, 11′/2nd H); Mazinho and Betinho.
We recognised Palmeiras from previous games in the Copa do Brasil: cautious, confident, biding their time. The rain and the poor state of the pitch helped the Verdão slowly cook Coritiba and Palmeiras actually create more chances then the opponent. We went goalless to the halftime break, with Coritiba returning naturally more eager to push the offense due to a need to score at least two goals. And it was Coxa who opened up the scorecard with a perfect free kick taken by Ayrton 16 minutes into the game. Before tension could set in, Marcos Assunção (who else) took a free kick which was beautifully timed by Betinho (who had lost a golden opportunity in the first half), deflecting it just enough to see the ball squeeze in by the farthest goalpost. Mission accomplished.
At the blow of the whistle, every Palmeiras player was crying with emotion. Bruno, who later was to receive the award for best keeper in the tournament, was actually on his knees even before the final whistle, letting it all out. Scolari, when handed the trophy, took it straight to the edge of the field, in front of the Palmeiras supporters, and presented it to them in the clearest gesture of recognition and pride. Beautiful. Majestic. Dignifying.
The importance of this title cannot be underestimated, especially if considering the newest generation of Palmeiras supporters. 14 years of mockery from rivals is a long time and for our youngest supporters, actually a lifetime.
The Brazil Cup title, next year’s participation in the Libertadores Cup, the inauguration of the New Arena, then the club’s 100th anniversary… There is a lot to look forward to. I still get cold shivers when imagining where we would be had we not triumphed yesterday.
It’s time to commemorate, but there are two things that need special attention: one short termed and one medium/long termed. 1) the Brasileirão. Palmeiras are in the relegation zone and need to refocus immediately. 2) the club’s statutes and other political reforms. Palmeiras won this title because of the determination of the squad, Scolari (and all his staff) and the supporters. Palmeiras won in spite of the club’s directors. Change is no less needed today than yesterday. And it’s up to us to make it happen.
— ooo —
Ending on a personal reflection: I’ve lived in Brazil for 14 years; I’ve been a palmeirense for 14 years. This was my first national title. And yes, I say “my”. I wouldn’t have used that expression a few years back, but today I feel – I KNOW – that I belong to a family, that I’ve done my part, that I – be it in whatever small and immeasurable way – have contributed to Palmeiras, to this victory, to this title. This is also MY Copa do Brasil title, and I’m immensely proud of it.