In the world of Brazilian football, the expression that best translates what we saw yesterday is “coração na chuteira”; the hart, not worn on the sleeve, but rather on the boot. That’s how you play the game, especially if we’re talking Libertadores. That’s how you win the most sceptical spectator over on your side. That’s how you instigate fear and respect in your opponent.
Palmeiras yesterday were heart and soul, but not only that: the young squad showed surprising tactical obedience and coolness. Not even when decimated to ten men and Libertad’s pressure increased, did the nervousness kick in. No, confidence and experience – an experience most of our players do yet not have – best describes what the players transmitted to the opponent, to the 35.000 gathered supporters and to the TV cameras. Now, obviously, tactical obedience presuppose there are tactics to be obeyed. Kleina is the definition of low key, but Palmeiras just might have struck gold big time: our coach is little by little showing there’s more to him than meets the eye.
And so, limited Palmeiras, the ugly duckling, the second division team, yesterday beat the only undefeated team in level-headed group 2, assumed first position and guaranteed a spot in the knockout phase with one round to go.
Coach Kleina has every reason to smile. The unity of the group is uncontested and he seems rock steady in his beliefs and long-term goals. Players and directors are buying it and everyone’s pulling together. Sounds so simple, but heaven knows it’s never been at Palmeiras: one more indicator that times they are a-changing.
Coming Thursday, Palmeiras play already eliminated Sporting Cristal in Lima. Winning would secure first position in the group 2, with home advantages and presumably easer opponents in the knockout phase. The second spot will be decided in the clash between Libertad and Tigre from Argentina. A draw and the Paraguayans are through.
First however, Palmeiras refocus on the São Paulo Championship, as Guarani await on Sunday. Palmeiras, currently in sixth and already qualified, could still use the three points to improve position and secure home game advantage and easier opponents in the knock-out phase that follows in a couple of weeks’ time. Three points, and Palmeiras grow their winning streak to five. It’s hard to believe even when writing it.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!