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On the 27 November, I had the privilege to be in São Paulo, and at the Allianz Parque, and on Avenida Paulista, enjoying every breath of Palmeiras’ 9th League title, with my wife by my side. The buzz surrounding the stadium; the Brazilian hymn, with lyrics exchanged for “my Palmeiras” from start to finish; Fernando Prass replacing Jaílson between the posts, moments before the final whistle; the euphoria on the streets as players and supporters celebrated. It’s all here: shaky, far from professional, but exactly how I experienced it.

I get the goosebumps every time. Hope you do to.
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Although not formally announced, Palmeiras have a new coach in Eduardo Baptista, who last Friday announced he is leaving Ponte Preta one year short of fulfilling his contract. The decision immediately triggered Alberto Valentim’s exit from Palmeiras: our assisting coach had been nourishing hopes he would replace Cuca, but is instead taking the reins at Red Bull Brasil. Anything Palmeiras wishes Valentim the best of luck in his career, foreseeing his return to Palmeiras after acquiring more experience as head coach.

So who is Eduardo Baptista? The 46 years old Campinas-born was a physical trainer for 15 years before picking up coaching, following in the footsteps of his father, Nelsinho Baptista. Eduardo initiated at Sport in 2014, followed by a short stint at Fluminense before joining Ponte Preta in April of 2016, being the prime responsible for the club’s solid campaign.
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Baptista is sober-minded, studious and seeks to apply modern concepts. His teams are normally tactically well-defined and obedient, characterised by strong marking and quick reversal from defence to offense: possibly decisive factors to Palmeiras’ decision to give the comparatively inexperienced coach a shot.

Expect Eduardo Baptista to be announced shortly after the end of the championship.

— ooo —

Due to the Chapecoense tragedy, the CBF postponed all football games by a week. The Brazil Cup final between Grêmio and Atlético Mineiro will be played this Wednesday, while the Brazilian championship final round takes place on Sunday. As Palmeiras are already champions and many players had booked tickets to travel with their families, the club granted several of them their vacations as of this week. Neither Cuca has been confirmed for the final game against Vitória. Most likely, Palmeiras will be made up of a mixed bag from the bench and youth divisions. Serves Vitória just about right, the Bahia team needing but a draw to mathematically escape relegation.

Either Sport or Internacional are likely to join América Mineiro, Santa Cruz and Figueirense in the second division next year. No doubt a large majority of Brazilians nourish the expectation of seeing the gaúcho team go down: Inter directors and players have caused outrage in the last few days, directly and indirectly suggesting the last round of the championship be cancelled due to the plane crash, opening up the possibility of declaring an “incomplete championship” in 2016 and, who knows, a 2017 edition of the Brasileirão with 24 teams… Absolutely disgusting.

I know where my sympathies lie on Sunday.

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Playing before 40.986 spectators, a new attendance record at the Allianz Parque, Palmeiras were Palmeiras like throughout most of 2016: confident, in control, sufficiently efficient to secure the three points against Chapecoense and the 2016 Brazil championship title. The only goal was right-back Fabiano’s, and what a beautiful goal. His first for Palmeiras, one that will be remembered forever.

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Who contributed the most to this title, arriving after 22 long years of waiting?

Jailson, the 35-year-old who had never played a first division game in his life and stepped up in August, when Fernando Prass was injured in late July, to support an 18-games-streak of invincibility?

Dudu, the hotheaded forward who matured after receiving the captain’s armband to become the player with most assists in this year’s edition of the Brasileirão?

Tchê-Tchê, who last year seriously considered abandoning football for the lack of opportunities, today a given on the midfield on any Palmeiras starting eleven?

Moisés, “hidden away” in Croatia, ridiculed upon arriving, today considered the greatest surprise of the championship?

Gabriel Jesus, who’s splendid first half of the championship set the pace for the title race?

Jean, the experienced, polyvalent, hard-working leader?

Yerry Mina, who went straight into the starting eleven, scored, was injured, came back to score more and form a massive centre lock with Vítor Hugo?

Zé Roberto, the living myth, at 42 the heart and soul of the squad, always reminding us of the GIANT called Palmeiras?

Cuca, the prophet, the professional, the father, who knows how to create a family not through external enemies but common aspirations?

Alexandre Mattos, the director of football who contracted all the aforementioned pieces and then some?

Paulo Nobre, the club president who in four years took Palmeiras from rags to riches?

Palmeirenses near and far, tirelessly reinventing the art of supporting the team, standing ground against everything and everyone, including friendly fire?

None. All. That is what is so special about this campaign: it is a truly collective effort like seldom seen. And unbelievably well deserved.
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I still need to come down. Pictures and videos of the magnificent celebration – all over São Paulo and all over the world – only in a day or two.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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How Palmeiras have been conducting this campaign from day one: wary, conscious, meticulous, focused. The team has been impressively regular. Not brilliantly trashing opponents 5-0, not alternating highs and lows. Palmeiras have been consistent like no other. 1-0, 2-1, seldom exciting scorecards, but enough to bag the three points, round after round. Palmeiras support uncontested numbers: most victories, most goals scored, least goals conceived, leader of the championship for a total of 27 rounds and counting.

Against Botafogo, Palmeiras were Palmeiras: aware, in control, running like clockwork. As we have seen numerous times this season, the result materialized, this time through an unlikely header by Dudu. Another Palmeiras characteristic of 2016: when the likely tarry, the less likely is bound to happen, naturally.
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Cuca, at the press conference after the game, highlighted the manner by which players collectively and individually had grown during the season, how boys had become men. “A thing of beauty”, he said.

Palmeiras are very, very close to the title. Santos but drew with Cruzeiro, the gap to Palmeiras increasing to six points. Also Flamengo conceded the draw to Coritiba, kissing championship aspirations goodbye. Santos can still snatch the title, but for that to happen, need to win their two remaining games, while Palmeiras lose both. In other words, Palmeiras are one draw away from the title.

Coming Sunday, the stage is set for a grand finale before a packed Allianz Parque against Chapecoense, Palmeiras’ last home game this season. Yours truly will be there, in loco, one of the many representing millions, carrying Palmeiras toward the club’s ninth Brazilian championship title. A 22 year long wait is coming to its end.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Stepping into the Congonhas airport on Tuesday, heading for Belo Horizonte and Thursday’s game against Atlético Mineiro, the Palmeiras squad was greeted to a sending-off of the kind few of the players, if any, had witnessed before: an estimated 3.000 supporters had gathered to show their appraisal and encourage the men. Emotionally touched and honoured, players joined in in the choir – singing, filming, becoming one with the crowd. A rare moment of symbiosis, a thing of beauty.
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The game itself was every bit as tense as expected, Atlético applying customary pressure and exercising greater possession, our players closing ranks, biding their time and launching rapid counter-attacks, one of which saw Gabriel Jesus on target, ending his eight-game streak without finding the net. His tears of joy and relief say it all.
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In the second half, Atlético found the equalizer through Lucas Pratto, the Argentine striker enjoying a splendid moment at the club and national squad, just like our Gabriel Jesus. Tactical obedience loosened up slightly as fatigue kicked in on both sides, numerous chances being created. It could have gone either way, but the draw was fair and just about right for Palmeiras, now only needing two victories in remaining three rounds to mathematically secure the title.
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Two home games remain – against Botafogo on Sunday and Chapecoense the following Sunday – then Vitória away, before the club’s top scorer (12) in this year’s edition of the Brasileirão joins Manchester City. “I got emotional, because these are my last games for Palmeiras”, Gabriel Jesus explained after the final whistle. “Ever since I first pulled on this shirt, I have honoured it, in all the games. Of course, sometimes you lack in technique. Today, I felt tired, which is normal, but the sacrifice was worth it. Not only because of the goal, but also for being with my comrades. This is a united group, of which I am proud to be part”, he concluded.

In the wee hours of Friday, Palmeiras left Belo Horizonte for Atibaia, where conditions are ideal for concentration, rest and practice ahead of Sunday’s clash with Botafogo. A combination of results can actually seal the competition already this week: victory for the Verdão, paired with Cruzeiro defeating Santos and Flamengo losing points to Coritiba, will set corks shooting through the air.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Most often, anxiety keeps us from getting a correct reading on things. However, not even the blind are oblivious to what is happening right now at Palmeiras.

# Squad is 100% united.

# The goal is set: the Brazilian championship title, last won by Palmeiras in 1994.

# Players and coach Cuca display complete synergy in every act and speech.

# Supporters – all supporters – are behind the team in every sense of the word.

Saturday morning, hundreds of supporters gathered outside Palmeiras’ training facilities with instruments, banners, smoke and fireworks in a magnificent display of love and affection. As gates opened up to release the player’s bus after training practice, it stopped, and the squad got out, giving the gathered supporters a standing ovation.
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Everyone in the squad wants this title badly. For themselves, and for the collective. Dudu, after yesterday’s clash against Internacional – one more of those hard-fought crucial victories – cried on the pitch. There is a genuine, emotional bond here, and it grows stronger by the day. Our players know how much this title means to us supporters, and they truly want us to have it.

squad_circle2016As the final whistle blew and the Allianz Parque erupted in cheers, the squad formed a kneeling circle, at the centre of the pitch, taking a moment of serenity in the middle of all the havoc. A moment of serenity, giving thanks to one more victory, while also reminding themselves that there are four more rounds to go, and that nothing is yet won.

Which is not quite correct. This squad, Cuca, all the staff, the directors… They have all won our respect.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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It was beautiful in theory, in the imagination of palmeirenses near and far: a draw between Atlético and Flamengo, then Palmeiras beating Santos at the Vila Belmiro – something we have not seen in five years – to virtually secure the title. The first part of the script went as clockwork, our direct contenders drawing 2-2. Santos vs Palmeiras proved an affair every bit as even, but the odd fluky goal awarded the three points to our opponents, maintaining the Vila taboo. An absolutely normal result, under any circumstance.

For most Palmeiras supporters, momentary frustration gave way to the recognition that the outlook continues excellent. Although the gap narrowed from six to five points, with five rounds to go, the odds in our favour actually increased. Especially considering Palmeiras play three of remaining five games at the Allianz Parque.

Also coach Cuca chose to minimise the defeat, acknowledging that Palmeiras might not have played that well, but that no time would be wasted contemplating what could have been. Cuca, the squad, and most of the supporters know how to shrug this off, focusing on an intense week of preparations ahead of upcoming Sunday’s clash at home against relegation-threatened Internacional. Only absentee on Palmeiras’ side is Moisés, who yesterday received his third booking.

Below, the game highlights. You will find Vinícius Silvestre between the posts, the 22-year-old’s debut in a starting eleven, filling in well for Jaílson. Promising kid, this one.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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