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On one side, a rested bunch, eager to show improvement after a week of training. On the other, a team that played in Japan on Tuesday, returned to Brazil on Thursday after a 30-hour ride, daydreaming about getting out of the relegation zone.

Nothing but a perfect setting for Cuca and Palmeiras to show evolution, pleasing the crowds with Moisés and Guerra together for the first time on the midfield, and with Willian back in offense after four weeks in the medical department.

As expected, Chape played defensively, exploring the occasional counter-attack. Palmeiras showed their habitual difficulty in penetrating two compact lines of four, not helped by Chapecoense taking every opportunity to delay the game, including the use of excessive force. We were heading toward a goalless first half, but a badly positioned defence accepted a set piece from Chape, leaving Fernando Prass to scoop the ball out from the back of the net.

Palmeiras came back more aggressive, with Tchê Tchê and Keno replacing Thiago Santos and Roger Guedes respectively, and things improved somewhat. In the last 20 minutes, Borja came on for Willian. It was play against one goal, pressure a plenty, but with a pinball feel to it, the fluke factor reigning. Far from impressive.

In the dying minute, another moment of inattention from our defense to further drive the point home.  
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The result is unacceptable. Palmeiras’ performance is unacceptable. Nine months ago, there practically was no Chapecoense, team and staff wiped out in the dreadful plane crash in Colombia. Palmeiras’ excuse for less than expected performance throughout the year has been the coach swap, Cuca for Baptista, in early May (mind you Chape swapped coach some two months ago). Put those two club realities – Palmeiras and Chapecoense – into perspective.

Cuca has no credit left, no more fat to burn. Next Sunday, Palmeiras receive relegation-threatened São Paulo FC at the Allianz Parque. Anything but victory against the archenemy will see Cuca in a very uncomfortable position. And yes, that is quite the understatement.

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An early exit from the Brazil Cup combined with an overall decent performance in the Brasileirão – albeit nowhere near Corinthians’ splendid run – have funnelled down Palmeiras’ year to Wednesday night’s clash with Barcelona de Guayaquil.

Palmeiras created a bit of momentum after the Brazil Cup elimination to Cruzeiro, beating Avaí 2-0 and Botafogo 1-2 in the Brasileirão. Yesterday, welcoming Atlético Parananense at the Allianz Parque, Cuca fielded a completely alternative line-up, correctly opting for resting all his strongest players. The game turned out a lame affair, Palmeiras’ long streak of undefeated home games interrupted. Only positive aspect was the return of Moisés after close to six months of rehab due to a severe knee injury. Yesterday, the midfielder showed surprising vigour, making him a force to reckon with possibly even on Wednesday, if necessary.

Halfway through the Brazilian Championship, the table stands as below. Snatching the title from Corinthians will be extremely hard: they are surprisingly consistent this year – in part a consequence of not having any other competitions to worry about. Grêmio might still put up a fight, but for the rest it is all about finishing in the top six (and preferably top four) in order to secure a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup.
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Cuca and the squad are secluded in Atibaia, seeking that little extra level of concentration ahead of Wednesday’s task of reverting the 1-0 score from the first leg, advancing to the quarterfinals. Any victory by a margin of two goals does the trick. Another 1-0 and there will be a penalty shootout. Naturally, not conceding a goal to Barcelona is imperative.

Expected line-up on Wednesday: Jaílson; Egídio, Luan, Mina and Mayke*; Bruno Henrique, Thiago Santos and Guerra; Dudu, Deyverson and Roger Guedes.

*Mayke twisted his ankle on Sunday’s practice and will be under observation for the next couple of days; Jean, Fabiano and Tchê Tchê are options.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Sold out, pulsating, but not for long; lions turned into cubs before halftime.

Palmeiras, seven men short, turning in the A game true Cuca 2016 style.

Souza? Zipped up and pocketed by Santos, alpha of the midfield.

21 games undefeated with Jailson; hero of the masses hardly broke sweat beneath the crossbar.
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In the rented circus tent, cocky vultures eager to reach new heights.

Insane turn, chaos scoring twice times two.

Return in the trenches, every inch a battle, Jailson beating Diego eye to eye.

Nine greens shown the yellow… Sport no sport Sunday.
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Supporters in alliance with Allianz, filled again close to the brim.

Pressure with potential to transform green peas into popcorn.

Turns out Vitória was just the right size for victory, Dudu commanding like in days passed.

Plenty of work ahead but hope, faith and spirit halfway restored.
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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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Former Palestras, not worlds but states apart.

Older of the two, disfigured once again.

Fox strikes twice while scale is tipped by blind who sees.

“It’s all over” the soft say, “It starts Wednesday”, the crazy say.

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