Palmeiras 1-0 Santos – first leg of the SP championship finals

Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira opted for Leandro Pereira as central reference in the penalty area, exploring the flanks with Dudu and Lucas. The lineup consisted of Prass; Lucas, Victor Ramos, Vitor Hugo and Zé Roberto; Gabriel, Arouca (Cleiton Xavier, 17’/2ºH), Robinho (Kelvin 35’/2ºH), Dudu and Rafael Marques; Leandro Pereira (Gabriel Jesus, 22’/2ºH).

Santos awaited opportunities to counter-attack. We didn’t see many: Palmeiras’ defense was both well positioned and tuned, showing more maturity and giving away less free kicks. Palmeiras looked solid overall, dominated the midfield for most of the game – even after losing Arouca with 15 minutes, having Cleiton Xavier replace him – and created more chances. As against Botafogo in the quarter-finals, a low cross from Lucas found Leandro to open up the scorecard – this time Cleiton Xavier setting up the play in the absence of Valdivia. Just before halftime, Rafael Marques was fouled in the ox while setting up a shot, but the ref dismissed it, receiving the right amount of heat for his decision from players, coach and spectators alike.

Early in the second half, Leandro was breaking free when grabbed from behind, then taken down inside the penalty area. This time the referee acted correctly, signaling the penalty and also sending the Santos defender packing. Unfortunately, Dudu hit the crossbar; he might be a terrific penalty converter during practice, but this is the second one he blows when it counts. Time for a change, Oswaldo.

The rest of the game was a bit of an anticlimax, Palmeiras unable to take advantage of the numerical superiority on the pitch, frustrating a large part of the 39.479 strong crowd setting a new attendance record at the Allianz Parque.

Santos players left the stadium expressing confidence they can revert the situation coming Sunday. Of course they can. But I saw little that makes me believe they will. Palmeiras were a notch better in every aspect. True, Robinho is expected back for the final clash, but at the Vila Belmiro, Santos cannot rely on their favourite tactics: wait for opportunities to launch fast counter-attacks. “The Fish”, as Santos are nicknamed, will need to come out guns (harpoons) ablaze. Which probably will suit the quick Dudu and Leandro Pereira just fine, especially if Valdivia is there to serve them long, penetrating passes upon ball recovery.

I say Palmeiras win this thing.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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