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Archive for the ‘Libertadores Cup’ Category

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We all knew facing Peñarol would be tough, both physically and mentally. We were possibly not prepared for the scale. The Uruguayan players did absolutely everything in the book to sabotage the game – excessive use of force, retarding by all means possible, provocations including racial slurs. The Peñarol coach even deliberately provided the fourth referee with wrong numbers while conducting his substitutions, causing further delays.

To the mix, add a referee that was lost at best. He allowing for most of the above, delayed the game flow himself, and responded to our player’s growing frustration by sending Dudu off.

None of this mattered in the end. In a spectacular display of collective and individual determination, Palmeiras – down by the odd goal after the first half – came back in spectacular fashion to turn the game around with goals from Willian and Dudu, then suffer the equalizer before, in the dying minute, secure the three points through Fabiano. An epic, unforgettable night. I am literally speechless, and no doubt share this with most of the other 39.000 supporters who yesterday carried the team from start to finish.

A special mentioning to Guerra, yesterday’s master of the midfield, with an incredible number of passes finding his teammates in position to fire away. Palmeiras could and should have netted at least three more times, including a penalty that Borja sent up the stands.
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The sequence of decisive games continues Sunday, with the first leg of the Paulistão semi-finals: Ponte Preta, who eliminated Santos in the quarterfinals, are on the menu.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Ah yes, should say something about the pitch. Apparently, it was really good. Let’s see how it holds up in the weeks to come and, in particular, after having been covered up during a concert or two. For now, a rare “well done” to the arena administration.

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Palmeiras will have a series of important and decisive games in the São Paulo championship and Libertadores Cup, starting on Sunday (2), away against Novorizontino, for the first leg of the Paulistão quarterfinals. The three other clashes are Botafogo/SP vs Corinthians, Linense vs São Paulo and Ponte Preta vs Santos.

Next Friday (7), the Verdão receive Novorizontino to define who advances to the semi-final phase of the Paulistão. The game will be played at the Pacaembu stadium, as the Allianz Parque is receiving new grass.

On the following Wednesday (12), back at the Allianz Parque, Palmeiras receive Peñarol (URU), for the third round of the Libertadores group stage. Palmeiras currently head group 5 at four points, having drawn 1-1 with Atlético Tucumán in the opening away game before beating Jorge Wilstermann 1-0 at home.

Palmeiras advancing to the semi-finals in the São Paulo championship (anything else would be a disaster) the games will take place on April 16 and 23. Then, on the 26th, refocus on Libertadores as Palmeiras travel to Montevideo to again play Peñarol.

Should Palmeiras advance to the finals in the Paulistão, the first leg is played on 30 April.

A busy month, every game a decisive one.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Must admit I expected an easier task. Jorge Wilstermann proved to be well trained, tactically obedient, a hard nut to crack. Both Tchê Tchê and Dudu suffered strong, individual marking throughout the game and Wilstermann’s line of five defenders recomposed quickly at every turnover, making triangulations at the flanks difficult.

Our line-up consisted of Prass; Jean, Mina, Dracena and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo; Tchê Tchê, Guerra, Dudu and Bastos; Borja.

Palmeiras were in control the whole game, not only enjoying much superior ball possession, but also using it objectively and offensively: numerous clear chances were created, especially in the first half, Borja again and uncharacteristically blowing his share. Close to no shots were fired by Palmeiras from outside the penalty area: a mistake, as this allowed the opponent to compact his defence even further. Even so, on several occasions a Palmeiras player, often Dudu, was inches from breaking free with the keeper, the linesmen having a very busy night. All in all, Palmeiras performed decently well, with plenty of intensity, just not getting that last detail right.

The referee allowed for more than he should but overall kept things (in my opinion) rather balanced. That being said: in true Libertadores style, the catimba was reigning, Jorge Wilstermann delaying the action whenever possible. One of theirs even teared his own shirt in order to render Yerry Mina a yellow card.

At the second half progressed, nervousness kicked in both in the packed stands and on the pitch. Palmeiras dipped a bit in production, but picked up speed in the last 15 minutes, pressuring hard. Guerra and Bastos gave way to Keno and Roger Guedes, the latter much involved in the action evolving toward the end, especially on the right flank, including the cross that Yerry Mina met to declare victory in the game’s dying minute. Relief!
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With four points after two games, Palmeiras (at least temporarily) assume top position in group 5. Later today, Peñarol receive Atlético Tucumán; should the visitors win by two goals or more, they take Palmeiras down a notch.

Next Libertadores round takes place in little less than a month. Palmeiras now refocus on the São Paulo championship, where we have the four last round of the group phase before the quarterfinals. Santos await at the Vila Belmiro upcoming Sunday: expect another exciting match.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Finally, the Libertadores Cup debut. Atlético Tucumán, away. Palmeiras with a solid line-up: Prass; Jean, Dracena, Vitor Hugo and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo and Thiago Santos; Michel Bastos, Dudu and Keno; Borja. Stage set.

It should and most like would have been a rather easy victory had not Vitor Hugo, clumsily, gotten himself sent off within twenty minutes after two yellow cards less than minutes apart. Without yet that good a read on the opponent, Eduardo Baptista wisely opted for the safest route: instead of retreating Thiago Santos to the vacant centre-back position, weakening the midfield defensively but keeping Palmeiras’ offensive power intact, he took Michel Bastos out, promoting centre-back Antônio Carlos from the bench.

Shortly after, the Argentine team netted, a combination of skill, opportunism and fluke if I ever saw one. Palmeiras one man down, things could have gotten ugly, but our men quickly recomposed and levelled the action, Keno driving it home five minutes before halftime.

The second half looked mostly like the first, Palmeiras actively looking to turn the game around, creating several clear chances to score, Borja and Dudu in particular.

With the final whistle, divided opinions among palmeirenses. While most recognized the virtue of securing an away draw playing one man short for 70 minutes, others lamented the early sending off of Vítor Hugo and/or Baptista’s choice to recompose the defensive line. Sure, the game was ours to win – even with ten men – but I am much more inclined to celebrate a draw considering the circumstances. Hopefully not only Vítor Hugo but also the whole Palmeiras squad learnt something from the episode: Libertadores is full throttle, but not anarchy. Will and determination, not violence and recklessness.

Saturday, Palmeiras receive São Paulo at the Allianz Parque. Not ideal, as next week another Libertadores game, this time at home and against Jorge Wilstermann, demands full attention. On the other hand, every opportunity to beat The Enemy should be considered ideal.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras have announced a fourth reinforcement for 2017, and this time a heavy-hitter: offensive midfielder Alejandro Guerra, of current Colombian Libertadores Cup champions Atlético Nacional.

Guerra was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and is 31 years old. El Lobito – the little wolf – stands 169 cm tall and was elected MVP at this year’s edition of the Libertadores Cup, being decisive in his 13 appearances, scoring 3 goals. In addition to his highly successful earlier years at Venezuelan club Caracas and, more recently, at Atlético Nacional, Guerra totals 60 caps for the Venezuelan squad, including 10 caps this year.
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Guerra arrives to fill a crucial spot in Palmeiras’ starting eleven: the absence of a playmaker has been topic of much discussion in the last years, ever since the departure of Valdivia. The irregular performances put out by the likes of Mendieta, Robinho and Cleiton Xavier had Palmeiras’ coaches look for creative solutions: Cuca occasionally used Zé Roberto, Jean and, in particular, Moisés as the link between defence and offense, making these players abandon their positions of origin. With Guerra in command of the offense, Zé will stay on the left flank, Jean on the right, while Moisés will do what he does best: compose that first line of defence, albeit with much offensive qualities added. On paper, a splendid setup.

The length of Guerra’s contract and numbers have not yet been disclosed: they will be known when the contract has been signed, after completion of medical exams.  

felipe-melo-inter-de-milaoReportedly, Palmeiras are also in advanced negotiations with defensive midfielder Felipe Melo, since 2015 a player at Internazionale, Italy. In the last eight years, the 33-year-old Brazilian have added major clubs like Fiorentina, Juventus and Galatasaray to his CV, in addition to 22 caps for the national squad. Melo is characterized by his energetic and very physical playing style, which sometimes renders him premature visits to the locker rooms. His possible arrival is praised by many, but no doubt his temper should be regarded as a concern.

Palmeiras are clearly looking for experienced players with a bit of an edge, players that do not buckle under pressure, players deemed fit for Libertadores. Alejandro Guerra is the first of these to arrive. Expect a small number of strategic signings – which should include a killer striker – ready to go straight into the starting eleven. In addition, Palmeiras will sign a few younger, promising players – as the three already announced – to provide Eduardo Baptista with options during the very long and exhausting campaign ahead.

Palmeiras’ current firepower is impressive, measured by Brazilian and South American standards. Best thing, it is all carefully calculated, sustainable, based on assets in the club’s savings account and realistic projections of revenues in the year to come. Palmeiras are not taking loans, nor picking up advance payments from broadcasting rights or anywhere else, nor being at fault with other financial obligations. Palmeirenses in the loop understand the shift in paradigm, and rejoice. Adversaries, not so much.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Football Soccer - 2017 Copa Libertadores draw.
Wednesday night, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) carried out the 2017 Libertadores Cup draw. The number of participating teams has grown considerably, from 38 to 47, while one country less is represented, as Mexico opted out. This will be the 58th edition of the tournament and it will span for a whopping ten months – from 23 January to 29 November – the winner qualifying to the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup taking place 6-16 December in the Emirates.

Palmeiras ended up in group 5, together with Peñarol (Uruguay) and Jorge Wilstermann (Bolivia). The fourth team in the group will be the top dog of the knockout prequel featuring Atlético Tucumán (Argentina) vs El Nacional (Ecuador) and Atlético Junior (Colombia) vs Carabobo (Venezuela).

With all due respect to the adversaries in group 5, none of them strike fear in the hearts of palmeirenses. Peñarol are of course a traditional side and should be respected, but have not put together a truly competitive squad in years. Jorge Wilstermann are from Cochabamba, situated 2.500 meters above sea level: a piece of cake compared to La Paz’s 3.700. And the fourth team, yet to be defined… Well.

The group phase, where Palmeiras, Peñarol and Jorge Wilstermann enter the competition, only starts in early March. Our Verdão initiate their Libertadores campaign away, against the still undefined fourth team in the group, followed by two home games, against the Bolivians and the Argentines. The three completing games take place in reverse order.

Below, full tables with the eight groups.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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Apologies for the delay. I needed some time to process recent events. Cool down a bit, stay objective and constructive.

The good news are that Palmeiras keep on winning, undergoing a speedy transformation in the hands of coach Cuca. The collective is clicking and individually, a number of players have in a matter of weeks metamorphosed into their heyday versions. Egídio is perhaps the best example: one of the most criticised players in the squad has turned into one of the best as of late, excelling in passes, crosses, turnovers and possession. In similar fashion, both Alecsandro and Gabriel Jesus are enjoying their new positioning and taking full advantage. Jean is growing on his right flank, with merit displacing Lucas onto the bench. No one imagined Cuca so quickly grasping the situation, implementing solutions and reaping results.

This is all good and sufficient in the Paulistão, where Palmeiras only depended, and depend, on their own strength. Last Sunday’s 2-1 away win against Mogi Mirim – goals by Alecsandro and Lucas Barrios – kept Palmeiras at the top of the group with the prize being a spot in the quarter-finals, first leg this upcoming Monday against São Bernardo. In the other quarter-finals,  Corinthians beat Red Bull Brasil, Santos beat São Bento and São Paulo play Audax tomorrow Sunday.

In the Libertadores Cup, Palmeiras defeated  River Plate 4-0 in an excellent display of offensive aggressiveness and focus, with Egídio, Allione twice and Alecsandro getting on the scorecard. Home supporters recognized the effort and Cuca’s importance, giving the squad a standing ovation at the final whistle, even though Palmeiras at that very moment also said goodbye to the competition due to Rosario Central beating Nacional 0-2, finishing first in the group with Nacional second. This was Palmeiras’ 16th Libertadores Cup and the fourth time the team is eliminated before reaching the knockout phase (previously in 1973, 1974 and 1979).
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Palmeiras eliminated, and this early, is of course a failure. We have discussed the sequence of events leading up to this, all the way from mid-2015: the swap as Oswaldo de Oliveira started to collect a few bad results and Marcelo Oliveira became available; Oliveira’s failure to convince but in the end bagging the Brazil Cup title and securing his stay at Palmeiras; the wobbly first months of 2016, keeping Palmeiras’ directors in a constant  keep-or-dismiss dilemma but with no strong replacement coach at hand; and finally, Oliveira’s dismissal and Cuca making himself available a tad too late to salvage the Libertadores campaign.

“Palmeiras hung on too long to Marcelo Oliveira”. Yes, perhaps. But Palmeiras tried to break a Brazilian paradigm, and a heavily criticised one, of firing the coach as soon as a handful of bad results occur. Marcelo Oliveira is Brazil’s most successful coach in the last 3-4 years. At Palmeiras he was given time, a more than decent amount of time, but he failed to improve. Perhaps Nobre and Mattos could have put more pressure on him, and earlier, but in the end, these are mere details: I sustain that Palmeiras, on the whole, did the right thing and acted coherently. Unfortunately, doing the right thing is no guarantee for success.
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Palmeiras are two games from deciding the São Paulo Cup title. Then the Brazilian championship kicks off, and the Brazil Cup. Cuca needs to get plenty of things right if Palmeiras are to win any of these titles. But the squad is qualified enough, and Cuca is qualified enough. Judging by the last couple of weeks, Palmeiras have every possibility to be a main contender in 2016.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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*picture credits: Cesar Greco

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