Yesterday our squad was put to the test, as coach Cuca opted for leaving seven of his regular starting eleven players out of the second Brazil cup quarterfinal leg against Grêmio. Jean, Vítor Hugo, Yerry Mina, Tchê Tchê, Moisés, Dudu, Róger Guedes: none of these integrated the line-up taking central stage before 30.000 spectators at the Allianz Parque. Instead, Palmeiras were composed of Jaílson; Fabiano, Edu Dracena, Thiago Martins and Egídio; Gabriel, Thiago Santos and Cleiton Xavier; Allione, Gabriel Jesus and Barrios. Gabriel Jesus as captain, possibly the youngest in the team’s history.
Palmeiras played surprisingly well, dominating Grêmio in the first half, creating several chances including a header from Barrios hitting the crossbar. As against Figueirense, Fabiano (pictured above) was again a pleasant surprise, working hard on the right flank, participating plenty in offence through triangulations and crosses. Also, Jesus seemed more focused, perhaps a reflection of the increased responsibility as team captain.
Palmeiras returned to the second half with the same aggressiveness displayed in the first, and were rewarded with an early goal through a cool header from young Thiago Martins. Grêmio showed no power of reaction, all seemed very much under control, when at 15 minutes, the game changer: Allione, after an insanely forceful tackle in midfield, was sent off. Cuca tried to regroup his midfield promoting Jean and Zé Roberto, and a bit later Erik up front, hoping that a counter-attack might do the trick. The plan was never really put to the test: Grêmio quickly found the equaliser and for the following 25 minutes held on to the result. With a 2-3 aggregate, Grêmio are through and next week take Cruzeiro on for a spot in the finals. In the other semi-finals, Atlético Mineiro vs. Internacional.
Palmeiras fought hard and certainly showed that the squad is qualified enough. An isolated moment, a piece of bad judgment, sealed the fate this time. 21-year-old Allione will certainly not sleep well in the nights to come.
There are however positive aspects to the elimination. No secret Palmeiras treasure the 2016 Brazilian championship title much more than the Cup title. Sure, Palmeiras were in the race for both – and in good conditions to win them both – but as of now, the focus will be undivided.
In addition, yesterday’s round saw both Corinthians and Santos eliminated, meaning that our local rivals must do well in the Brasileirão if they aspire for a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. Both of them play runners-up Flamengo in upcoming rounds (Corinthians already this Sunday).
Finally, a few words on Atlético, who qualified for the semi-finals. The Belo Horizonte team is currently third in the tables, eight points behind Palmeiras. I feel safe in assuming they will throw the towel in the Brasileirão, now making the Cup their priority.
Palmeiras take on Sport on Sunday, again at the Allianz Parque. Our opponent rests in 14th place, only two point above the relegation zone, with a bad track record as visitor. Anything but the three points would be a serious hick-up.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!