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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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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.

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Today Sunday, Palmeiras might secure the Brazilian championship title. Nothing like Palmeiras’ official photographer Cesar Grecos’ 2015 Brazil Cup picture book to get you into the right spirit!

With more than 400 pictures spread over some 200 pages, this piece of art gives you the expected and unexpected, the official and the unofficial, the glamourous and not so glamourous moments of Palmeiras’ 2015 Brazil Cup campaign, leading up to the club’s third Cup title. Cesar Greco keeps it simple, with clean framing of the subjects, leading us into and through the day-to-day of the squad and everything surrounding it: training, travel, gearing up, play, post-game, medical, training, travel… Like in the best moments of TV Palmeiras, we come a bit closer to the actual human beings behind the celebrity mask: their anxieties, beliefs, superstitions.
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Photographer Cesar Greco with Zé Roberto at book launch

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Currently sold out at Amazon, the book is available on Netshoes.com.br for approximately US$25, but they only offer domestic shipping. If you live outside of Brazil, let me know and we’ll try to work something out.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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Yesterday our squad was put to the test, as coach Cuca opted for leaving seven of his regular starting eleven players out of the second Brazil cup quarterfinal leg against Grêmio. Jean, Vítor Hugo, Yerry Mina, Tchê Tchê, Moisés, Dudu, Róger Guedes: none of these integrated the line-up taking central stage before 30.000 spectators at the Allianz Parque. Instead, Palmeiras were composed of Jaílson; Fabiano, Edu Dracena, Thiago Martins and Egídio; Gabriel, Thiago Santos and Cleiton Xavier; Allione, Gabriel Jesus and Barrios. Gabriel Jesus as captain, possibly the youngest in the team’s history.

Palmeiras played surprisingly well, dominating Grêmio in the first half, creating several chances including a header from Barrios hitting the crossbar. As against Figueirense, Fabiano (pictured above) was again a pleasant surprise, working hard on the right flank, participating plenty in offence through triangulations and crosses. Also, Jesus seemed more focused, perhaps a reflection of the increased responsibility as team captain.

Palmeiras returned to the second half with the same aggressiveness displayed in the first, and were rewarded with an early goal through a cool header from young Thiago Martins. Grêmio showed no power of reaction, all seemed very much under control, when at 15 minutes, the game changer: Allione, after an insanely forceful tackle in midfield, was sent off. Cuca tried to regroup his midfield promoting Jean and Zé Roberto, and a bit later Erik up front, hoping that a counter-attack might do the trick. The plan was never really put to the test: Grêmio quickly found the equaliser and for the following 25 minutes held on to the result. With a 2-3 aggregate, Grêmio are through and next week take Cruzeiro on for a spot in the finals. In the other semi-finals, Atlético Mineiro vs. Internacional.
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Palmeiras fought hard and certainly showed that the squad is qualified enough. An isolated moment, a piece of bad judgment, sealed the fate this time. 21-year-old Allione will certainly not sleep well in the nights to come.

There are however positive aspects to the elimination. No secret Palmeiras treasure the 2016 Brazilian championship title much more than the Cup title. Sure, Palmeiras were in the race for both – and in good conditions to win them both – but as of now, the focus will be undivided.

In addition, yesterday’s round saw both Corinthians and Santos eliminated, meaning that our local rivals must do well in the Brasileirão if they aspire for a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. Both of them play runners-up Flamengo in upcoming rounds (Corinthians already this Sunday).

Finally, a few words on Atlético, who qualified for the semi-finals. The Belo Horizonte team is currently third in the tables, eight points behind Palmeiras. I feel safe in assuming they will throw the towel in the Brasileirão, now making the Cup their priority.

Palmeiras take on Sport on Sunday, again at the Allianz Parque. Our opponent rests in 14th place, only two point above the relegation zone, with a bad track record as visitor. Anything but the three points would be a serious hick-up.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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After beating Corinthians 2-0 at the Itaquera, Palmeiras went on to secure another three points against Coritiba at home. Naturally, Palmeiras remain in the lead, as has been the case in 18 out of the 27 rounds so far played. The 28th round got underway yesterday, and as Flamengo only drew with São Paulo, Palmeiras are guaranteed the top spot regardless of tomorrow Monday’s result against Santa Cruz, away. No games are being played in Brazil today, Sunday, due to the municipal elections.
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19 rounds in the lead. A strong and numerous squad, giving coach Cuca many options. Nevertheless, it seems as runner-up Flamengo is the team to beat. The press cannot get enough of the “smells like the seventh title” slogan Flamengo supporters recently adopted to describe the team’s campaign.

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Observer turned protagonist?

Press describing supporter’s enthusiasm is one thing. Having to put up with certain journalists’ biased opinions is something very different. The illness is spreading like wildfire in Brazilian sports coverage, where infotainment and controversy is the name of the game. It has reached a point where ESPN expert commentator Mauro Cezar Pereira, week after week, tells his audience why Palmeiras are limited and vulnerable – using statistics that he does not apply to other teams, and certainly not the one close to his heart – before last week actually placing a phone call (!) to the Palmeiras coach, laying out what kind of play he would expect from a team of Palmeiras’ calibre.

In addition we have the constant flood of rumours and negative headlines. “Cuca set for China in 2017”. “Rafael Marques and Cuca cause split in squad after locker room argument”. “Palmeiras seek to avoid 2009 campaign, when a championship title already in the bag turned to dust in the last 10 rounds”. “Palmeiras players don’t score with their left foot”. At least, there are some sports journalists openly questioning what the heck is going on, indicating a slight crack in the normally solid corporativism.   

The icing on the cake is called STJD – the Supreme Tribunal of Sports. As you already read here, Palmeiras were heavily punished after ultras clashed in an away game against Flamengo in Brasilia earlier this year: five home games with the North Sector empty and five away games without any ticket rights – the idea here clearly depriving the club of its most powerful ally, it’s supporters. What is the STJD’s ruling after Corinthians ultras fight with the police during the recent derby at the Itaquera? Just a small fine for our rivals.

A few weeks back, during Palmeiras vs. Flamengo at the Allianz Parque, the visiting club’s directors watched the game from a designated box. This setup has never before been the root of any problems, but this time insults flew between supporters below and the visitors, and apparently also some ice cubes. There are plenty of footage showing the visitors laughing and provoking the Palmeiras supporters. After the game, Flamengo filed a complaint with the STJD, seeking a punishment for Palmeiras due to “the clubs inability to provide safety and well-being”, or something along those lines. Do not be surprised if this farce generates another punishment. Palmeiras against all and everyone, as always.

— ooo —

The first leg of the Brazil Cup quarterfinals took place this week, with the following results:

Grêmio 2-1 Palmeiras
Atlético Mineiro 1-0 Juventude
Santos 2-1 Internacional
Corinthians 2-1 Cruzeiro

Due to the away goal, a penalty converted by Zé Roberto after Gabriel Jesus having been clipped inside the box, Palmeiras are very much alive in the competition. The second leg is scheduled for Wednesday 19 October.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras’ debut in the Brazil Cup also marked the debut of the new third jersey, a homage to Fernando Prass and the jersey our keeper wore when Palmeiras bagged last year’s Cup title against Santos. 

Not by accident, third division Botafogo/PB have reached the quarterfinals of this year’s edition of the  Cup: they are tactically obedient, have a well-designed gameplan – based on strong, individual marking and rapid counter-attacks – and a dedicated squad. It took a while for Palmeiras to adjust, the first half being a level affair, the Verdão with more possession but unable to create any real scoring opportunities. In fact, had Botafogo’s forwards been a tad more efficient, Palmeiras would have gone inte halftime behind on the scoresheet.

Things changed rapidly in the second half: Cuca clearly told his players to start challenging more, to use their individual skill in one-on-one situations. He also promoted Allione on Cleiton Xavier, increasing intensity and speed to Palmeiras’ offense. With Tchê Tchê also venturing a bit higher up on the pitch, Palmeiras suddenly were in complete control, coming in wave after wave. At 10 minutes, Rafael Marques was clipped on the verge of the penalty area and Jean converted. Shortly after, same Marques received from Erik, dribbled and securely stuffed the net, becoming top goal scorer (11) at the Allianz Parque alongside Cristaldo.

As predicted, the Botafogo players got increasingly tired and the third brace game naturally: great interaction between Dudu and Allione, who served Tchê Tchê, coming from behind, turning both once and twice before placing the ball behind the Botafogo keeper. Tchê’s first brace in the Palmeiras jersey that was, much awaited. The 24.500 strong crowd certainly left the Allianz Parque confident for the second leg, scheduled three weeks from now.
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Palmeiras now have a week of training before facing São Paulo in the 23rd round of the Brasileirão. Only concern is Moisés, who felt his ankle yesterday and had to be replaced by Gabriel already in the first half.

Well, there is also that collection of yellow cards hovering above everybody’s heads…

Ah yes, and today’s ruling in the Supreme Tribunal of Sports…

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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