Felipão had already warned supporters: “Do not think it’s in the bag; this game against Cerro Porteño will be very difficult”. How right he was.
The starting-eleven against Cerro was Felipão’s habitual of the knockouts tournaments so far: Weverton; Mayke, Antônio Carlos, Edu Dracena and Diogo Barbosa; Felipe Melo, Bruno Henrique and Moisés (Jean); Dudu, Willian (Deyverson) and Borja (Thiago Santos).
The atmosphere at the Allianz Parque was thrilling and expectations were sky high. That is, until Felipe Melo did what he does best: mess things up. With three (!) minutes on the clock, on Palmeiras’ attacking end of the pitch, he challenged a Cerro player for the ball, entering studs-first at knee height, scraping his way down to the ankle, leaving the opponents shin in a sorrow state. The referee flashed Melo a yellow, but after seeing the damage caused, changed his decision and sent him off. Palmeiras one man short and an entire game to play.
Scolari reorganized Palmeiras without making any substitution, compacting two lines of four, with Borja alone up front. And it worked. Palmeiras allowed Cerro but one clear scoring opportunity in the first half, while failing to properly execute three dangerous counter-attacks.
In the second half, Palmeiras returned with the same line-up and attitude. However, in the 11th minute, Cerro opened the scorecard with a freakish cross-turned-shot, pure fluke.
With a penalty shootout becoming a real threat, Felipão replaced Borja with Thiago Santos, looking to put more density on the midfield, while allowing Willian to venture higher up and more centralised. Our players took every opportunity to slow the game down, wasting the clock. After all, the result still favoured Palmeiras.
Cerro’s attempts boiled down to crossing balls, with Palmeiras defensive lines repelling all of them. On the few occasions that one got through, Weverton was well positioned. And as in the first half, the counter-attack was always an option for Palmeiras: Willian had an amazing shot saved by Cerro’s keeper.
The eleven minutes of injury times seemed like an eternity. Dudu worked tremendously, showing maturity and experience, wasting time, locking the ball deep down on Cerro’s half. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Deyverson, who came on late in the game, faked being the victim of aggression, went on throwing gasoline on the flames until the referee had enough and sent him off, together with a Cerro player: all this at a moment when Palmeiras were in control and tried to cool the game down. Deyverson, immature and stupid, having a go at Felipe Melo’s “idiot of the night” award.
At the sound of the final whistle, the Allianz Parque erupted. Supporters, who had chanted from start to finish, recognized the commitment of the men on the pitch and the atmosphere was insane. Tremendous efforts by all and especially Dudu, Antônio Carlos, Thiago Santos, Bruno Henrique, Edu Dracena… Palmeiras got their deserved spot in the Libertadores quarterfinals, for the first time since 2009. The way the game played out brought confidence this team can overcome the most difficult situations. Luiz Felipe Scolari… You are the man.
On Sunday, Chapecoense, away, for the Brazilian championship. A victory is of the utmost importance to remain close to the top. Felipão will certainly use his alternative (as in different, not worse nor better) line-up, fresh and hungry.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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by Augusto Anteghini Oazi and Kristian Bengtson