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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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Gabriel Santoro has done it again. An epic little piece of highly concentrated passion, allowing us to relive the decisive final week of the 2015 Brazil Cup.
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As it had to be.

Palmeiras are so much larger than the sum of the parts, but that seemed long forgotten as Santos were declared virtual champions of the 2015 Brazil Cup by a united press corps. In the ESPN Brasil TV studio, Palmeiras centre-back Vítor Hugo was greeted with a mocking “welcome, runner-up”. A “Santos Campeão” poster was available for purchase in the newsstands the day before the game.

In the end, all this only meant more fuel on the fire, on the desire to crown a difficult year with a national title and the outlook of continental play in 2016.

Those who were at the Allianz Parque and surroundings yesterday, all say the same: never in my life have I seen anything like this. The supporters occupied the entire neighbourhood, greeting players upon arrival in a splendid “Green Corridor” of flares, flags and cheers (pictures below by Ivan Fadel). A sold-out Allianz Parque lifted and carried our men on the pitch from the first to the last minute of the clash.
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Palmeiras’ players all stepped it up. As could be expected from more experienced profiles like Fernando Prass, Lucas Barrios, Dudu, Robinho, Arouca, Vítor Hugo, Zé Roberto, Jackson. But even more impressive was the determination and maturity from the young guns: Gabriel Jesus and João Pedro, but especially Matheus Sales and Lucas Taylor ripped Santos apart. Hats off to coach Marcelo Oliveira, making the right call and trusting the kids to handle the pressure.

Supporters did their part, coach Oliveira and players did their part, as did referee Heber Roberto Lopes and his men, putting up a flawless performance. It did not take more. It did not take less.
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This was Marcelo Oliveira’s fourth attempt at the Brazil Cup title in five years: he was runner-up twice with Coritiba then once with Cruzeiro. On a personal level, he needed this trophy, and deserved it.

The Copa do Brasil title, Palmeiras’ third, brings peace to everyone while preparing the squad for next season. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, neither the outlook of participation in the 2016 edition of the Libertadores Cup. Players have something new to look forward to, increased investments are expected, everything looks brighter.

More than anything, 15 million palmeirenses deserved this out-of-this-world ending to a rollercoaster year.

It is ever so true: Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Coach Scolari took us through the emotions a few years back. Love and hate. Glory and shame. The unlikely combo comprised of the Brazil Cup trophy with a Brasileirão relegation.

It’s not quite the same this year. For good and for bad, Marcelo Oliveira has not the ability to stir the blood of palmeirenses like Scolari. And Palmeiras suffer no risk of relegation. Now, had the championship been another 5-6 rounds…

Today’s 0-2 against Coritiba was as depressing as ever, Palmeiras using nothing from the starting eleven except right-back Lucas, suspended from the last match in the Brazil Cup. Coritiba on the other hand threw in everything they had and through the three points  very close to secured their spot in the first division next year.  The 15.000 strong crowd at the Allianz Parque endured the rain and the poor football, showing loyalty beyond belief, collectively aware of the only thing that matters: the 90 minutes coming Wednesday against Santos.

Palmeiras need revert the 1-0 defeat from the first leg at the Vila Belmiro. And work around the biased refereeing. It’s curious the clear penalty on Barrios, denied by the referee, didn’t even make this otherwise excellent compilation below. But this is how it has always been and how it must always be in order for it to be Palmeiras, against all and everything. 
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True, Palmeiras played badly against Santos. And true, the scorecard could have been much more in Santos’ favour at the blow of the final whistle. But it is what it is. And just like in 2012 – against all odds – Palmeiras on Wednesday lift the Brazil Cup trophy. For the third time in history.

Do not ask me to explain how. I do not even care how.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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