Everyone at Palmeiras – players, directors, even supporters – have the last week adopted the same discourse: our aim in the Brasileirão is the G4, the top four teams that earn a direct qualifying spot to next year´s Libertadores Cup. Never mind that a victory against Cruzeiro followed by another against Corinthians would propel Palmeiras to the lead: coach Alberto Valentim’s approach has trickled down everywhere. “Let’s do this one game at the time”. No doubt, the caution is also a reaction to last year’s pathetic “Can you sense the smell (of the championship title)?” campaign that Flamengo wholeheartedly launched into as they approached the top, only to finish in third, nine points behind the champion.
Yesterday’s Palmeiras vs. Cruzeiro was an excellent game, with two teams honestly looking to bag the three points. That being said, Palmeiras dominated the action start to finish, with superior possession and three times the number of shots taken. The draw was the result of an unfortunate own goal, an incorrectly disallowed goal (which would have taken Borja’s count to three on the night) and one penalty not awarded. Yes, the referee directly influenced the result, and that is a rare consensus, even among sports journalists.
The steady progress under Valentim is clear, and nothing says that louder than Borja’s recent performances. Cuca did not know how or did not want to use the Colombian striker according to his characteristics. A few weeks under the new coach, including three starting eleven appearances, and Borja suddenly resembles the monster that completely took the Latin-American continent by storm last year. In addition, the team is more compact, has transitioned from individual to zonal marking and improved on triangulations.
Did Palmeiras just blow their chance to the title? On the contrary. The draw took Palmeiras one point closer, as Corinthians on the Sunday lost to relegation-threatened Ponte Preta. It should also serve to keep everyone firmly on the ground, continuing to work hard and improve, while keeping the pressure, the “obligation”, firmly on Corinthians’ side for at least a couple of more rounds. Now, Sunday’s derby is crucial: anything but a victory and the gap would remain at five points or even, God forbid, increase to eight. A victory on the other hand would diminish the gap to two points, with Palmeiras strengthened and Corinthians demoralised after a home defeat to the biggest rival and title contender, with six rounds to go. The finish would be epic. Will be epic.
Sunday. Sunday. Sunday.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!