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The additional wide-angle video footage that have surfaced in the last couple of days shows that Palmeiras were the victim of an outright assault at the Campeón del Siglo stadium, Montevideo. It all starts seconds before the final whistle, Willian going down after receiving a punch to the face, from behind, inside the penalty box. At the final whistle, Felipe Melo raises his arms towards the sky in his characteristic “thank-you” prass_attackedgesture, while several Peñarol players approach him, starts tugging (Melo still with his arms raised, defensively) then initiate a chase. Meanwhile, keeper Fernando Prass (pictured) tries to defend himself from a series of kicks and punches from three Peñarol players. As the debacle unfolds, now generalised, we see invading Peñarol supporters participating and, I kid you not, Uruguayan press (there is video footage of a photographer hitting Felipe Melo with what seems to be his tripod).

Yesterday morning, Palmeiras lawyer Leonardo Holanda personally handed in documents and video evidence at the Conmebol headquarters in Asunción, Paraguay. Piece of cake, right. Think again.

Awaiting trial, Conmebol has preventively suspended four players for three games: Palmeiras’ Felipe Melo and Peñarol players Nández, Mier and Lucas Hernandez. For starters, none of these was responsible for knocking out Willian.

Worse, the official reports from the referee and the Conmebol delegate state that the ruckus started when Felipe Melo, facing the Peñarol bench, made a gesture towards the sky, provoking a reaction from Peñarol players before mutual punches were thrown. The reports imply that “had it not been for Melo…”

On the day, Peñarol’s president stated he had ordered the gates closed out of concern for security (for whom? certainly not for Palmeiras players and staff left isolated on the pitch to face the rage of the crowds). The other day, Conmebol claimed THEY ordered the gates closed.

The signals are extremely worrying. Seems Conmebol will spare little effort to, at least partially, blame Palmeiras for the events in Montevideo. Absurd? Yes, but not that surprising, considering the entity’s stance on previous occasions involving Brazilian clubs and any other Spanish-speaking neighbours.

Considering the above, it is even sadder to register the deafening silence from the Brazilian Football Confederation. Add to that the silence from other Brazilian clubs and the overall lack of support from Brazilian sports journalists.

Seldom has it come through more clearly: we are on our own.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Act 1 – The Game
Freshly eliminated from the Paulistão and with coach Eduardo Baptista under pressure, Palmeiras travelled to Montevideo without Dudu, suspended, to face Peñarol. The away game promised to be every bit as tough as the home game in mid-April, the Uruguayans having already shown their nastier side. However, not their nastiest.

Baptista tried to surprise Peñarol by using the same formation as against Ponte Preta the other week: a 3-5-2, this time with Vítor Hugo operating to the left, Dracena centred and Mina to the right. Promoting Vítor Hugo back into the line-up, Baptista hoped to add both speed and superior aerial cover, both offensively but in particular defensively. He rested Tchê Tchê, populating the midfield with Felipe Melo, Guerra, and Michel Bastos. Jean and Egídio on the flanks, Roger Guedes and Borja up front.

Baptista’s battleplan failed miserably. Although the 3-5-2 turned into a 5-4-1 when pressured, Palmeiras were still unable to stop the crosses from happening, several of them reaching Peñarol’s hovering forwards. When recovering the ball, Palmeiras’ transition was typically a punt up the field, where Borja, completely isolated, faced two or three defenders. Palmeiras created nothing but suffered great pressure, succumbing at 12 (goal should have been void due to a clear foul on Mina) and again at 40. Things looked very grim at halftime.

The second half kicked off with Palmeiras back to basics: Vítor Hugo and Egídio out as Palmeiras reshaped into a 4-1-3-2, with Willian as Borja’s wingman and Tchê Tchê adding quality in the middle. The only novelty was Michel Bastos, dislocated to the left flank. The changes had immediate effect, Willian closing the gap with four minutes on the clock and Mina equalising at 18. Peñarol were on the ropes and suffered the third blow at 27, again by the feet of Willian. Palmeiras controlled the game until the final whistle, securing another epic victory.
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Act 2 – The Ambush
Final whistle. Felipe Melo raises his arms in a victorious gesture and walks slowly toward the centre of the pitch, but is intercepted by Peñarol players and the aggression starts, while supporters clash on the stands. Fernando Prass, Willian and others are targeted on the pitch, as havoc spreads all over. Melo defending himself with his fists. As Palmeiras players run for the exit – for the tunnel that leads to the locker rooms – they find the gates shut. Impossible to know what would have happened had not Palmeiras’ directors predicted something of the sort could go down and brought a batch of extra security with them to Montevideo: these men now go to work on the gates, forcing them open, finally permitting our staff and players to exit the pitch. The ruckus continues in the tunnel and down the corridors, but eventually stalls, again thanks to Palmeiras’ guards. No police in sight, outsourced stadium security or anyone else concerned with the safety of the visitors. On the contrary: there are reports of stadium management people, photographers and others attacking Palmeiras players and supporters.

Anything except heavy fines for Peñarol would be a tremendous scandal; CONMEBOL had better act fast and with vigour.
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Act 3 – Relief & Revolt
During the press conference that followed, Eduardo Baptista let the dogs out. He showed initial relief by the fact that no one was seriously injured, mixed with anger at the outrageous behaviour of Peñarol and the stadium administrators. However, an underlying issue quickly surfaced: all the bull written in the press about Palmeiras in general and Baptista’s work in particular. He really laid it out, pitched voice and fist slamming the table. All the frustration of being a serious and dedicated coach, leading a group of equally dedicated professionals, and having to read gossip and outright lies day in and day out, as if football was tabloid material. How much this hurts the sport and how much it damages the work he and others try to carry out. His bottom line: journalists have a huge responsibility, but many ignore that in their increasingly obsessive quest for audience rating and online clicks.

In the words of former Palmeiras director Custódio Dias: “I’d say we just witnessed Eduardo Baptista take command at Palmeiras”. And I agree with him. Things will never be the same between supporters and Baptista after yesterday’s victory and the way he later positioned himself vis-à-vis the press. Many might continue sceptical about his capacity as a coach, but he won the respect of everyone. Yes, I dare say everyone.
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— ooo —

Palmeiras now have 10 points, leading Group 5 four points ahead of Jorge Wilstermann and six points ahead of Atlético Tucumán. Peñarol is at the bottom with three points. In the next round, Palmeiras travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia, to face Wilstermann on 3 May.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Palmeiras were unable to revert the 3-0 from the first leg of the semi-final against Ponte Preta and bid the São Paulo championship farewell. Ponte and Corinthians battle it out in the finals, the latter having eliminated SPFC.

Eduardo Baptista sure tried to shake things up, surprising with a novel 3-5-2 formation, Felipe Melo operating on the left flank of the defensive line completed by Mina and Dracena. The formation allowed for much more aggressive wingplay, with Egídio and Jean frequently driving deep and looking to cross. Sadly, that seemed to be Palmeiras’ only plan: little vertical infiltration, almost no shots from outside the penalty area. Albeit with crushing superiority in ball possession and game control, Palmeiras was too predictable, with cross after cross deflected by Ponte Preta’s compact defence. Borja did not have a great night, neither did Tchê Tchê or Dudu, and we all know that when Dudu is off centre, the whole team wobbles. Guerra and Guedes completed the starting eleven. Keno, Willian and Bastos came on in the second half. Too little, too late. However, this time, no complaints in regard to fighting spirit, the whole squad gave 100%. Not to mention the supporters, who gave 200%. Still, Brazil’s possibly best squad was knocked out by a second division team. That is what happens when your head is somewhere else on gameday.

Physical and emotional wear will have to step aside as Peñarol await on Wednesday. Eduardo Baptista, questioned by some since day one, feel the pressure rising. A negative result against the Uruguayans, and knifes will be sharpened, Brazil style.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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One

Tomorrow Saturday, Palmeiras enter the Allianz Parque with a mission: revert the 3-0 disadvantage against Ponte Preta to proceed to the finals of the São Paulo state championship.

This is the message supporters – earlier today, outside Palmeiras’ training grounds – conveyed to players, coach and country.
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#UntilTheFinalWhistle

Yesterday, both São Paulo FC and Corinthians were eliminated from the Brazil Cup – the latter by Internacional of Porto Alegre, who today drew Palmeiras as opponent in the group of 16. First leg at the Allianz Parque in mid-May, second at the Beira Rio a week or two later. The dates mark Palmeiras’ entry into the tournament.

Right-defender Lucas Taylor is back at Palmeiras after having spent 2016 at Paraná and Criciúma, before playing the 2017 São Paulo championship for Red Bull. Palmeiras have kept a steady eye on the 22-year-old, raised at the club’s youth divisions. By the looks if it, Taylor has evolved enough to render him a space in the squad.

U17Speaking of the youth divisions, Palmeiras’ U17 and U18 both recently came out victorious from two international tournaments. The U17 bagged the Scopigno Cup, in Italy, beating Dynamo Kiev 2-0 in the final. Palmeiras midfielder Alan was elected best player of the tournament, Daniel was top scorer (4) and Artur Itiro was elected best coach. The other teams in the Scopigno tournament were Pescara, Rieti, Lazio, Cagliari, Zenit, Ternara, Teramo and L’Aquila.

U18Almost simultaneously, the Palmeiras U18 beat Croatian HNK Rijeka 2-1 to lift the Bellinzona trophy in Switzerland; an impressive feat by Palmeiras, as half of the U18 squad stayed in Brazil to compete in the U20 Brazil Cup. Defensive midfielder Matheus Neris was elected best player of the tournament. This was the third time Palmeiras won the Bellinzona tournament (2007 and 2016). Other teams included Grasshopper, Honved Budapest, Brøndby and Inter Milan.

In the last couple of weeks, Palmeiras extended the contract of three players in the youth divisions: aforementioned Matheus Neris (18) and Patrick (17) – both midfielders – and centre-back Fabrício (17). All three are now on contracts until end of 2018 and will play for Palmeiras U20.

Palmeiras have also announced the signing of forward Yan, from Vitória. The arrival of the promising 18-year-old is part of the arrangement that sealed Cleiton Xavier’s transfer from Palmeiras to Vitória at the beginning of the year. Yan comes as a loan until 31 January 2018, Palmeiras having the option to buy. Yan drew attention in 2015 as top scorer in Vitória’s successful U17 Brazil Cup campaign. He has also played for Brazil in youth competitions.

In addition to the aforementioned players, Palmeiras have strengthened the youth divisions with Chilean centre-back Diego González (from O’Higgins), midfielder Gabriel Menino (Guarani) and, from Paraná, centre-back Willian Galvão and defensive midfielder Gabriel Furtado.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Out of this world hungover. No better way to describe the Palmeiras that Sunday came on against Ponte Preta for the first leg of the Paulistão semi-finals. With two goals down after seven minutes on the clock, it became clear our men were mentally still in the aftershock of last Wednesday’s epic victory against Peñarol. Ponte were on the other end of the spectrum, each player maxing out as if an entire career was at stake. Three against nil at halftime, fair and square.

In hindsight, coach Baptista’s error was not rotating the squad, putting some fresh legs and minds in Palmeiras’ starting eleven. His lame attempts to turn the tide in the second half were to no use: actually, we were much closer to 4-0 than anything else.

Although the São Paulo championship is the strongest state tournament in Brazil, it is only a regional competition: a Paulistão title is nothing compared to the Brasileirão, the Brazil Cup or the Libertadores Cup. Top teams tend to considered regional tournaments as workshops, where ideas are tested and the squad tweaked for the bigger challenges ahead. That is, until you f*ck it up, like Palmeiras just did. Then things get serious.

The second leg against Ponte takes place next Saturday, only four days before Palmeiras’ return game against Peñarol in Uruguay. Forget going soft against Ponte, saving up for the Libertadores game: out of respect for tradition and home supporters, Palmeiras must and will go full throttle Saturday in an effort to revert the situation, then embark to face Peñarol in life or death modus. Exhausting, sure. Nevertheless, the grim reality.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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penacropped
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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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