Finally, the Libertadores Cup debut. Atlético Tucumán, away. Palmeiras with a solid line-up: Prass; Jean, Dracena, Vitor Hugo and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo and Thiago Santos; Michel Bastos, Dudu and Keno; Borja. Stage set.
It should and most like would have been a rather easy victory had not Vitor Hugo, clumsily, gotten himself sent off within twenty minutes after two yellow cards less than minutes apart. Without yet that good a read on the opponent, Eduardo Baptista wisely opted for the safest route: instead of retreating Thiago Santos to the vacant centre-back position, weakening the midfield defensively but keeping Palmeiras’ offensive power intact, he took Michel Bastos out, promoting centre-back Antônio Carlos from the bench.
Shortly after, the Argentine team netted, a combination of skill, opportunism and fluke if I ever saw one. Palmeiras one man down, things could have gotten ugly, but our men quickly recomposed and levelled the action, Keno driving it home five minutes before halftime.
The second half looked mostly like the first, Palmeiras actively looking to turn the game around, creating several clear chances to score, Borja and Dudu in particular.
With the final whistle, divided opinions among palmeirenses. While most recognized the virtue of securing an away draw playing one man short for 70 minutes, others lamented the early sending off of Vítor Hugo and/or Baptista’s choice to recompose the defensive line. Sure, the game was ours to win – even with ten men – but I am much more inclined to celebrate a draw considering the circumstances. Hopefully not only Vítor Hugo but also the whole Palmeiras squad learnt something from the episode: Libertadores is full throttle, but not anarchy. Will and determination, not violence and recklessness.
Saturday, Palmeiras receive São Paulo at the Allianz Parque. Not ideal, as next week another Libertadores game, this time at home and against Jorge Wilstermann, demands full attention. On the other hand, every opportunity to beat The Enemy should be considered ideal.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!