The recipe for the home leg of the Brazil Cup semi-finals – Palmeiras pressuring, Cruzeiro defending – was at large respected, but for two maverick ingredients that bitterly changed the flavour of the outcome: Cruzeiro’s early goal and Palmeiras’ absurdly disallowed equalizer.
Felipão opted for Weverton; Mayke, Antônio Carlos, Edu Dracena and Diogo Barbosa; Thiago Santos (Lucas Lima), Bruno Henrique (Marcos Rocha) and Moisés; Willian, Dudu and Borja (Artur). A rather cautious line-up.
With four minutes on the clock, after an excellent save from Fábio and a rapid counter-attack, former Palmeiras striker Barcos opened the score for Cruzeiro. The goal did not change the expected scenario: Palmeiras patiently exploring spaces, particularly through the flanks, while Cruzeiro concentrating on defending. Palmeiras’ attacking trio moved around a lot, with Moisés acting as playmaker – not his strongest card. Nevertheless, a number of chances were created, including a ball in the woodwork, and Cruzeiro keeper Fábio was put to the test more than once.
In halftime, behind on the scorecard and sensing Palmeiras’ superiority, Felipão swapped Thiago Santos for Lucas Lima, somewhat retreating Bruno Henrique and Moisés. Palmeiras’ pressure increased further and Cruzeiro let go of any offensive aspirations. As in the first half, Palmeiras created several opportunities, Fábio making the difference for the visitors, especially after they went one man short, fullback Edilson having been sent off.
In the very last seconds of injury time, the ball was crossed into the penalty box where Fábio reached for it, in the air with a Cruzeiro defender and Edu Dracena. There was a bit of natural contact between the three players, Fábio failing to control the ball, which offered itself up to Antônio Carlos and the equalizer. Referee Wagner Reway disallowed the goal and quickly blew the whistle, declaring not only the end of the match but effectively killing the possibility of VAR interference. Palmeiras players and supporters were left in utter disbelief.
The Allianz Parque has become the preferred stage for stripping Palmeiras of results. Last year, chasing Corinthians in the Brasileirão, referee Heber Roberto Lopes failed to reward Keno a penalty and disallowed a perfectly fine goal by Borja, declaring a draw against Cruzeiro. Earlier this year, the Paulista debacle. Last Sunday, against Corinthians, two clear penalties not rewarded (Palmeiras have not been rewarded a penalty against Corinthians in the last ten (10!) years). Now, yesterday’s bizarre ruling. Actually, rulings: Dracena committed no infraction and VAR should have been put to use.
No doubt, the referee’s decisions were coloured by Cruzeiro’s incessant complaining during the last week. Unfortunately, in Brazil, raising the tone is what grants you respect. Palmeiras’ directors seem sheepish in comparison. When/if they do take a stance, it’s after the damage is done and to no effect.
Cruzeiro are an experienced side, well trained, counting on nasty Mano Menezes’ leadership. Yesterday’s game was a good one, although individually and collectively, Palmeiras turned out a performance somewhat short of expectations. Yet, in spite of lacking offensive creativity, Palmeiras dominated the action, taking 20 shots at goal – including two in the woodwork – compared to Cruzeiro’s four. Naturally, the scenario will be different on the 26th, but Palmeiras have every possibility to revert the score in Belo Horizonte. Likely with Deyverson back in the starting-eleven, looking to explore those crossed balls from the flanks. A victory by two goals difference at the Mineirão stadium would reverse the advantage and avoid penalties. Remembering that away goals carry no extra weight in the Brazil Cup.
But before all that, a complete resetting of the mind, as three very important away games lay ahead: this Sunday, against Bahia, four points above the Brasileirão relegation zone; Wednesday next week, at the Monumental David Arellano stadium, for the first leg of the Libertadores quarterfinals against Colo Colo; Sunday next week, against relegation-threatened Sport.
One last word, now on attendance. Yesterday, we had just short of 32.000 spectators at the Allianz Parque. This is wrong. Ticketing policy is off, Palmeiras and WTorre still have beef regarding some of the seats. Solutions must be found; Palmeiras need a packed stadium, pushing the team forward and intimidating the adversary.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!