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“Hit men inte längre”, as one would say in Swedish. What you risk when placing knockout tournaments in the driver’s seat of yearly planning. Not reaching the semi-finals in the Brazil Cup provides a reality check: Cuca and the squad have much work to do and unless progress is made fast, there is a serious risk the whole year goes down the drain. On 9 August, Palmeiras receive Barcelona de Guayaquil with the one objective: revert the 1-0 defeat suffered in Ecuador to advance to the quarterfinals of the Libertadores Cup. Anything less would be a fiasco, as two rounds short of halfway through the Brazilian championship, Palmeiras rest in 5th place, with 26 points, amazing 14 points behind leader Corinthians at 40 (Grêmio 32, Santos 30, Flamengo 28).

“Expect a great game of football”, I wrote Monday. Not quite. What we experienced against Cruzeiro was an endless staccato, a footballing parody only worth watching for those with any stake in the result. With few scoring opportunities on either side, the draw was fair, although Palmeiras could and should have walked away with victory. Key players performed beyond their capacity: Mina, Dudu, Guedes… Borja deserves a special mentioning, getting absolutely nothing right. Deyverson had better be ready.
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No more excuses. As of now, Cuca will not only have the full squad at his disposal, but also more time to train. Palmeiras have no obligation to win anything, but certainly have the obligation to go all in in both remaining competitions – the Brasileirão and Libertadores.

Keep the faith. It’s the one thing we can do. That, and support the team.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Pumped after yesterday’s important high-odds victory against Sport, all attention is on the Brazil Cup. The Verdão face Cruzeiro on Wednesday, basically needing a victory after the 3-3 home draw in the first leg. Any victory or a 4-4 draw or above would see Palmeiras through to the semi-finals. A 3-3 draw would lead to a penalty shoot-out, while any other result would see Cruzeiro through. In relation to the line-up against Sport, Cuca can draw on some important reinforcements. Playmaker Alejandro Guerra and defensive midfielder Felipe Melo are now available, having recovered from muscular fatigue. Same goes for centre-backs Edu Dracena and Yerry Mina, both expected in the starting eleven on Wednesday. In addition, Dudu, Borja, Tchê Tchê and Michel Bastos are available, all four suspended against Sport.
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However not all is flowers: forward Willian strained his left thigh during last week’s draw against Flamengo and is out for 4-6 weeks. Defender Juninho, right-back Mayke and defensive midfielder Bruno Henrique arrived at Palmeiras after the 24 April entry deadline for the Brazil Cup. Centre-back Luan was already at the club but at the time still recovering from a serious foot condition: naturally, he was not graced with one of the limited spots.

Cruzeiro yesterday fielded a mixed bag against Avaí, parked in the relegation zone, and were beaten by the odd goal. Palmeiras also fielded a mixed bag against Sport but came out much better. Wednesday is anybody’s guess. Expect a great game of football.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Fair and indisputable. Corinthians came focused, confident and tactically obedient to the extreme, executing their game plan ad perfectum. Full merit to coach Fábio Carille and the squad. Also to Corinthian’s directors, who somehow manage to prevent that turmoil from the club’s shady activities influence day-to-day work. Oh, the irony: on the day Corinthians put an end to Palmeiras’ streak of 28 home games undefeated, already on the 13th round placing both hands firmly on the Brasileirão trophy, the club’s most notorious supporter – former President of the Republic Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – is sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for corruption.
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Recognising the merit of the opponent does not mean exempting Palmeiras. Coach Cuca was honestly outspoken at the post-game press conference, admitting not yet having found the recipe. He several times referred to last year’s excellent mesh, lamenting his inability to repeat the formula. He took full responsibility.

It is time for some serious soul-searching and stepping up to the challenge: get Palmeiras ready for the two upcoming, very difficult do or die games against Cruzeiro (26 July, Brazil Cup, away, first leg 3-3) and Barcelona de Guayaquil (9 August, Libertadores Cup, home, first leg 1-0).

Cuca needs to find his starting eleven, define positions and patterns. The rest of the season depends on it. The “no time to train” excuse is dead, it is a matter of priorities: with the Brasileirão title down the drain, he must make time available by sparing key players the competition. The squad at his disposal is qualified and numerous enough to muddle through in the weeks to come, while key players prepare for the task at hand: by any means advance in the two cups.

All this, while Palmeiras president Maurício Galiotte is on a month-long holiday. Absurd.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Update: If you think the outset of facing considerable prison time would dampen the swagger of former president Lula, think again. The architect behind the Itaqueira stunt today tweeted “Forgive me for not talking to the press yesterday. I needed to see Corinthians beat Palmeiras.”
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A game of two halves, if you ever saw one.

Quarter-finals of the Brazil Cup, and Cruzeiro rolled all over Palmeiras in the first half, Cuca really asking for it. Zé Roberto on the flank is not a viable option anymore. Adding insult to injury, Cuca placed Edu Dracena by his side: excellent positioning, little pace. Thus, an open invitation for Cruzeiro to excel in fast transitions with the ball on the ground. Things did not go much better on the right flank either, where Fabiano had a bad night.

Although Palmeiras did create some chances in the first five minutes, with 30 minutes on the clock Cruzeiro were fully deserving their 3-0 advantage.

Thankfully, our commander drew the right conclusions and made modifications accordingly: after suffering the third goal, he sacked Fabiano, displacing Tchê Tchê to occupy the position. Zé Roberto was consequently displaced to the centre. And Egídio came on to fill Zé’s position on the left flank. Palmeiras improved.

At half-time, Cuca swapped Guerra for Borja, the midfielder suffering some physical discomfort. Dudu dropped down, more centralised, while Willian opened wide and left, mirroring Guedes on the other flank. With the Allianz Parque in a feverish state, Palmeiras suddenly meshed and equalised the score within 20 minutes: Dudu twice, then Willian.

Cruzeiro were at the ropes but used all their experience to cool down the game, holding on to the result until the final whistle.
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Some final remarks:

Cuca is very stubborn. His initial line-up was insane. However, he reads the game well and acts accordingly. Knowing how to use players in different positions allows for much greater tactical tweaking.

Borja and Willian look good together, they grow, they open up space for each other. Borja yesterday was different, more aggressive, and more participatory. In short: instrumental. And more in line with what Cuca envisions.

Dudu is a true leader, captain, the absolute thermometer of the team.

The crowds at the Allianz Parque yesterday were fantastic. Several I spoke with claim it was magical, that never before have the Allianz Parque pulsated like in those first 20 minutes of the second half.

The comeback was spectacular, but the result in itself was not good: in order to advance, Palmeiras will need a victory in Belo Horizonte (or a draw by more than three goals). The second leg is scheduled for end of July: no way of telling in what shape the two sides will be at that point in time.

Grêmio on Saturday, 11th round in the Brasileirão. The current runner-up and Palmeiras are both likely to rest some players ahead of next week’s commitments in the Libertadores Cup. Let us find out who has the stronger squad.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Today’s draw defined the upcoming quarterfinals in the Brazil Cup. Palmeiras face Cruzeiro home and away, the winner taking on either Atlético Paranaense or Grêmio in the semis. On the other side of the grid, Atlético Mineiro face Botafogo, while Flamengo battle it out with Santos.

The dates are yet to be defined, as harmonization with the Libertadores Cup is needed (upcoming continental tournament draw on the 14th). In any case, the first leg will take place late June/early July and the second, roughly a month later.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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By the narrowest margin, Palmeiras went through to the quarterfinals of the Brazil Cup, Thiago Santos scoring the crucial away goal toward the end of the second half, silencing the Beira Rio stadium. Internacional now have six months of second-division play to look forward to.

Palmeiras did not impress in Porto Alegre, although it must be mentioned that Guedes’ goal was incorrectly ruled as offside and that the referee should have rewarded Palmeiras at least one of the two penalties suffered. Nevertheless, what matters is advancing, Cuca now having some time on his hands – albeit in the middle of the ongoing Brasileirão – to tweak tactics further.
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Palmeirenses now eagerly await the result of two draws: on 14 June, the Libertadores draw for how the remaining 16 will battle it out, and upcoming Monday’s definition of the Brazil Cup quarterfinal match-up. The eight teams still in the Brazil Cup are Palmeiras, Atlético Mineiro, Atlético Parananense, Botafogo, Cruzeiro, Grêmio, Flamengo and Santos. All of these are also alive in the Libertadores, except for Flamengo and Cruzeiro.

On Sunday, Palmeiras receive Atlético Mineiro at the Allianz Parque for the fourth round of the Brazilian championship. So far, Palmeiras have three point, having beaten Vasco in the opening game. Naturally, a victory on Sunday would be important to break the negative trend and avoid a too large a gap to the head of the table.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Having “många järn i elden” is a Swedish expression for doing several things at the same time, stemming from how blacksmiths in ancient times carried out their work. Palmeiras are currently administrating three rods: Libertadores Cup, Brazil Cup and the Brazilian Championship.

Yesterday, Palmeiras concluded the Libertadores group phase beating Atlético Tucumán 3-1 to finish top in group 5, with 13 points. Among the 16 advancing to the knockout stage, Palmeiras are likely ending up in 5-7 place overall, a rather modest +4 goal difference being the determining factor.

Again, the transformation in team performance due to Cuca’s return was evident: Palmeiras came out smoking and opened up the scorecard at the 15 minutes mark through a splendid set piece identical to one successfully executed against Coritiba last year. Perfection through practice, as Mina pushed the ball into the back of the net after Dudu, Zé Roberto and Roger Guedes had played their parts in the sting.
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Shortly after halftime, Atlético equalised. Cuca sensed he had partially lost the midfield and made some swift changes, promoting Fabiano on the right so that Jean could take up a centralised position, and swapping Borja for Willian. The changes quickly yielded and Palmeiras controlled the action, with Willian and Zé Roberto decreeing the final score. At 42 years and 10 months, Zé Roberto is the oldest ever to score in a Libertadores Cup game and the second oldest player in the tournament’s history (number one is Peruvian Vicente Villanueva, forward for Sporting Cristal in the 60ies, 43 years and 10 months old at the time).
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Brazil Argentina Soccer Copa Libertadores.
Cuca now has 41 days to prepare for the knockout stage, time he will need: Palmeiras must become more consistent in order to survive the stiffer competition.

— ooo —

Last week, on the Saturday, Palmeiras followed up their excellent 4-0 Brasileirão debut against Vasco with a 1-0 defeat away to Chapecoense. The game was poor in every aspect, Cuca opting for an highly alternative line-up, already eying yesterday’s decisive Libertadores bout. Under ordinary circumstances, a win or at least a draw would be acceptable. Actually, these are ordinary circumstances. But OK, the tournament has just started and so has Cuca. Let us hope these three points will make no difference in December. Next up, this Saturday, are SPFC away.

— ooo —

Finally, the Brazil Cup. In the group of 16, Palmeiras played the first leg against Internacional of Porto Alegre, winning at home by the odd own goal signed Léo Ortiz. That being said, Palmeiras did play well and controlled the action most of the time. The result leaves Palmeiras with a good advantage, as a draw will suffice upcoming Wednesday. Moreover, should Palmeiras score at the Beira Rio, Inter must bag trice.

Two teams are already ready for the quarter-finals: Santos and Flamengo, having eliminated Paysandu and Atlético Goianense respectively.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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