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Yesterday’s Palmeiras vs Cruzeiro was a well-played and intense affair, nevertheless resulting in a goalless draw. I could and should elaborate a bit more on the game, the decision to play in Araraquara (the Allianz Parque not available for having received an Andrea Bocelli show the previous night) and the unusual lengths Palmeiras – or rather Paulo Nobre – is ready to go to have national squad members Gabriel Jesus and Mina present and in playing conditions. Could, should, but will not.

The single most important aspect of yesterday’s round happened during Fluminense vs Flamengo, where the runners-up were ahead on two occasions, before Fluminense scored the equaliser, an offside header, five minutes from stoppage time. The linesman raised his flag, but referee Sandro Meira Ricci overruled him, allowing the goal. A few minutes of discussion, as would be expected, then the entire Flamengo bench poured onto the pitch, affirming goalscorer Henrique had indeed been offside. After some ten minutes of this, the referee reversed his decision, disallowing the goal.
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More than one Flamengo player confirmed they learnt Henrique was offside from external sources, i.e. someone watching TV or listening to the radio passing the information on to the bench. Players brought this to the referee, who succumbed to the pressure. Nothing of this appears in the referee’s post-game report, released only this morning: “game stopped for 10 minutes as players from both teams protested against a referee decision relating to an offside situation” and then, a little further down, “nothing out of the ordinary to report”.

Referees acting upon external sources of information are in clear violation of FIFA regulations and of a magnitude that sets the stage for a rematch. Fluminense president Peter Siemsen says he will demand it, but he does not stand a chance. Just as Palmeiras in 2012, when Barcos’ “Hand of God” brace against Internacional was disallowed due to external interference, contributing to the Verdão’s relegation that year.

justice“Why do you defend an unjust goal? Henrique was clearly offside, and justice was made in the end”, some shallow minds argue, failing to see that “making justice” in that particular moment automatically implied in violating justice on every single previous occasion involving controversial refereeing in the championship.

The correct thing would be a rematch. As many clubs as possible should joint ranks with Fluminense (oh, the irony) to endorse that rules and regulations be followed. “Good luck”.

— ooo —

If yesterday’s results stand, Palmeiras are found at 61 points, Flamengo at 60 and Atlético Mineiro, who beat América Mineiro 3-0, at 56. With eight rounds to go. Buckle up, people.

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It is not for nothing the Brazilian league is considered one of the most difficult in the world. I am obviously not talking quality, but spread. Any given year, a large number of teams have real possibilities of bagging the title, and 2016 is no exception, the difference between the top six teams, after 17 rounds, having never been smaller than this years’ four points.
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Palmeiras seemed nervous yesterday. Perhaps the pressure of closing the round, knowing all direct contenders had won their games, contributed. Moisés was back in the starting eleven, but there was no chemistry between him and Cleiton Xavier, once again underperforming. With Tchê Tchê suspended, Cuca opted for Thiago Santos, who had to double up his efforts, the Rio team cramping up the midfield. Up front, Palmeiras changed it up a bit with Leandro Pereira as a reference point, Erik and Guedes playing wide, leaving Dudu, rather surprisingly, on the bench.

Botafogo on one of those nights when everything run as clockwork… The result was not unfair and, as far as Palmeiras go, a combination of collective and individual failures.

The second consecutive defeat pushed Palmeiras down to third place, with the same number of points as Santos and one point behind Corinthians. Two rounds left in this first half of the championship: a tough away game on Thursday against Chapecoense, then Vitória at home. Cuca needs to take a long, hard look at his men at think outside the box, while at the same time go back to basics. I believe it is time to retract a bit from the optimistic and offensive style as of late, tighten defence and play on the mistakes of our opponents. Our squad has quality, our coach idem, and we all know the well above average working conditions Palmeiras provide. It is just a matter of riding out the storm then set the course straight. Simple. At least in theory. Now, we all know how hard it can be to shake off that negativity and anxiety once installed.

— ooo —

The hellish weekend was not restricted to Sunday’s bout, but actually kicked off on Saturday with the news that keeper Fernando Prass – serving the Olympic team – had been cut from the squad due to a fracture to his elbow.

After recovering from surgery in 2014, Prass played in 120 out of 124 Palmeiras games, never being out due to injury. Within a week with the Olympic squad, he felt the elbow. Rested for a few days. Was evaluated and declared ALL GOOD by the Olympic team’s medical staff, who put him back on training. Next day, off to the hospital, where a fracture was confirmed.

prass_elbowThe whole thing stinks. Improper training paired with an incompetent medical team managed to screw up Brazil’s best keeper in less than ten days. Prass himself is, of course, devastated: finally called up for the National squad, this was (I believe) his one and only chance to pull on the canarinho jersey. Check out the swollen elbow…

Fernando is not expected back on the pitch this year. Vagner, his designated substitute for eight rounds, must now step up to a completely new challenge: be Palmeiras’ 2016 champion keeper. Anything Palmeiras wishes both men the best of luck in their intertwined but very separate paths in the months to come.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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I am not even going to try. Sure, Palmeiras faced Chapecoense without three key players: Zé Roberto, Robinho, Thiago Santos. And the Santa Catarina side came boosted with moral after having advanced to the quarterfinals of the South America Cup earlier in the week. Not the ideal scenario for an away game. It got worse when we saw the line-up.

Coach Oliveira opted for Amaral besides Arouca and kept Egídio on the left flank. Egídio might have some offensive qualities (although these have been absent as of late) but his defensive qualities is non-existent. An open invitation to advance. Immediately explored. And when Arouca was injured halfway through the first half, our defensive lines fell apart completely.

What about Palmeiras’ strong offense? Dudu, Barrios, Gabriel Jesus and Rafael Marques were all there, but there was no midfield to talk about, no one exercising the playmaker. Again, coach Oliveira curiously opted for keeping both Allione and Fellype Gabriel out of the starting eleven, leaving it to Rafael Marques and Dudu to act out the roles of Robinho and Zé Roberto. No go.

All of the above is however not enough to explain the shamefully inflated score. Our men resigned. They should never. Never. Not only the squad needs an earful: also coach Oliveira must feel a bit of heat.

Now don’t think the absurdities stop there. The referee yesterday put on quite a show. After a duel between Egídio and Barbio, the former was shown a red card and sent off. Minutes later, in his earpiece, referee Jaílson Freitas received word from the fourth referee, trotted over to him and learnt that Egídio did not commit a foul, that he had won the ball cleanly in dispute with the Chapecoense forward. Result: Freitas overturned his decision and brought Egídio back from the locker room.

True, Egídio did not commit the foul, but that is irrelevant considering the much more important question: why did it take the fourth referee several minutes to get his ocular testimony through to referee Freitas? There is only one plausible explanation: the fourth referee did not actually see the Egídio vs. Barbio situation, but was informed about it by outsiders, by people with access to television replays. Obviously, a gigantic breach of FIFA regulations.

It has been discussed here before. The question of whether or not to adopt electronic/external aid for football referees is a necessary (and to a certain extent ongoing) debate, but any implementation of the sort must take place in the open, in full transparency and with FIFA authorization. The discussion [sic] that the 2012 handball incident stirred led absolutely nowhere. Don’t expect different in 2015.
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The Brazilian championship now takes a 10-days break as World Cup classifiers are played. This is bad news for Palmeiras supporters, who will have this last game glued to their retinas with nothing to replace it with. On the other hand, the break is a godsend for Marcelo Oliveira and the squad, who must take full advantage of the opportunity to reflect and correct. Nine rounds to go, Palmeiras in sixth with 45 points, one point from that Libertadores spot and with upcoming semi-finals in the Brazil Cup. No time for regrets.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The Brazilian Championship anno 2015 – one of the most exciting in many years – has been wrecked by the refereeing.

The statement above is not an opinion neither an accusation. It’s a fact. The many errors committed by referees round after round is having a direct impact on the championship and on the position of teams in the tables. Moreover, there is consensus that one team has benefitted more than any other from this sequence of errors: current leader Corinthians.

Perhaps it’s all about poor refereeing. Perhaps. Nevertheless, the only thing people talk about is the refereeing. And whether it’s “only” poor or if there is a hidden agenda.

In Brazil, it’s common knowledge that the road is slightly better paved for a few: Flamengo, Fluminense, Corinthians… The treatment these receive in the rulings of the Supreme Tribunal of Sports is just one of several indicators. The expressive investments Corinthians and Flamengo receive from the largest Brazilian TV network and the difference in airtime, another.

There are expressions in the context of Brazilian football – “a força da camisa”, “influência nos bastidores” – used without shame to point out the importance of working backstage in order to secure things go your way, or at least not against you. Including influencing the outcome of draws.
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Of course you get suspicious. We live in a dishonest country – Atlético Mineiro coach Levir Culpi 

It’s hard to blame Levir Culpi. Especially when considering that Corinthians’ ambitious former president is part of the inner circle of the Brazilian Football Federation and also has political influence. Refresh your memory, if necessary, reading first about the Itaqueirão and then about the shameful (and luckily failed) attempt to cancel 90% of football club’s tax debts

Still, many are skeptical. Who would be coordinating this unlikely scheme, paying off the many referees and linesmen for it to come together? It’s easier to envision if you forget about the money. This is not match fixing for profit (not like in 2005, when that was actually the case and people ended up in jail). Think of it as a culture, where referees quickly learn that if they want to have a career, they better not get on certain team’s black list. Where a phone call from the head of the National Association for Referees on the night before an important game, wishing good luck, is like a shout through a megaphone.

So what is the sports journalists’ take on all this? They normally stay within three arguments: 1) the refereeing quality is bad, and has been for a while. 2) mistakes are committed all the time, but that evens out over time. 3) there could be foul play involved, but suggesting this without proof would be frivolous, and they have seen no proof. With that, they lean back and continue business as usual.

Seems like Brazilian sports journalists have collectively forgotten one of the fundamentally important pillars of good journalism: investigation. They are waiting for the police to arrest people, for the prosecutor’s office to press charges, for someone to invite them to a press conference and lay out evidence. If none of the above happens, they seem happy to conclude that everything is fine. 

I’m not saying there is foul play involved. I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m saying sports journalists have a goddamn obligation to initiate investigations of their own.

Investigation concluded, they could say “no, we found absolutely nothing”. Or they could say “yes, this championship is corrupt”. Either way, they would have done what is expected of serious journalists.
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Yesterday, the Brazilian Football Confederation released the fixtures for this year’s Brasileirão – the National Championship. Palmeiras, this year living it up in the second division, enter the pitch on 25 May, at home, against Atlético Goianense. Time and place to be announced. Complete fixtures below.

1º half
25.05 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Atlético/GO
28.05 (TUE) – ASA/AL x Palmeiras
01.06 (SAT) – Palmeiras x América/MG
04.06 (TUE) – Palmeiras x Avaí/SC
08.06 (SAT) – Sport/PE x Palmeiras
11.06 (TUE) – América/RN x Palmeiras
06.07 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Oeste/SP
13.07 (SAT) – Palmeiras x ABC/RN
20.07 (SAT) – Figueirense/SC x Palmeiras
27.07 (SAT) – Guaratinguetá/SP x Palmeiras
30.07 (TUE) – Palmeiras x Icasa/CE
03.08 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Bragantino/SP
06.08 (TUE) – São Caetano/SP x Palmeiras
10.08 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Paraná/PR
13.08 (TUE) – Joinville/SC x Palmeiras
17.08 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Paysandu/PA
24.08 (SAT) – Boa Esporte/MG x Palmeiras
31.08 (SAT) – Ceará/CE x Palmeiras
03.09 (TUE) – Palmeiras x Chapecoense/SC

2º half
07.09 (SAT) – Atlético/GO x Palmeiras
10.09 (TUE) – Palmeiras x ASA/AL
14.09 (SAT) – América/MG x Palmeiras
17.09 (TUE) – Avaí/SC x Palmeiras
21.09 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Sport/PE
28.09 (SAT) – Palmeiras x América/RN
01.10 (TUE) – Oeste/SP x Palmeiras
05.10 (SAT) – ABC/RN x Palmeiras
08.10 (TUE) – Palmeiras x Figueirense/SC
12.10 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Guaratinguetá/SP
15.10 (TUE) – Icasa/CE x Palmeiras
19.10 (SAT) – Bragantino/SP x Palmeiras
26.10 (SAT) – Palmeiras x São Caetano/SP
02.11 (SAT) – Paraná/PR x Palmeiras
09.11 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Joinville/SC}
12.11 (TUE) – Paysandu/PA x Palmeiras
16.11 (SAT) – Palmeiras x BOA/MG
23.11 (SAT) – Palmeiras x Ceará/CE
30.11 (SAT) – Chapecoense/SC x Palmeiras

— ooo —

adrianoOn a complete side note: striker Adriano aka “the emperor” (sic) gave Brunoro a call early this year, looking for some sort of arrangement. Our football manager politely said “Thanks for calling. If you get in shape, then show us some real motivation, we can talk”. Adriano has not been heard of since.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Not that anyone really expected that Palmeiras would get a rematch against Internacional, forcing the Brazilian Football Federation CBF to abide by FIFA regulations. Still, the massive opposition from the Brazilian Superior Tribunal for Sports experienced this morning was rather overwhelming, if not humiliating. Palmeiras had evidence ready – including statements from lip readers – but these were denied by the Tribunal. Another setback was the absence of journalist Taynah Espinoza from TV Bandeirantes, the one who asserted that the CBF representative Gérson Baluta indeed checked with journalists before passing the word on to the fourth referee who in turn proceeded to have Barcos’ goal disallowed. Curiously enough, Mrs Espinoza did not receive permission from her employer to appear before the Tribunal.

In the end, it was word against word. And the judges of the STJD explicitly declared they had no reason to doubt the honour of the referees or CBF representative Baluta. On the contrary: wouldn’t it be absurd if these gentlemen all came before the Tribunal and lied? End of story.

In any serious country, the Football Federation would have conducted their own, independent investigation. In any serious country (and of course provided that external interference had been proven), not only would the match be rescheduled but the fourth referee and the CBF representative severely punished to set an example.

The pictures from the spectacle were snatched from the STJD online live coverage. What a circus.

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The handball incident is certainly leaving its mark on Brazilian football and society, but unfortunately not in a very impressive way. One would perhaps think that the use of electronic aid to determine the outcome of a goal situation would raise serious questioning about the integrity of Brazilian referees, the role of the CBF, the rule of law. Rather the contrary, it seems.

Following Palmeiras’ formal protest with the Superior Tribunal for Sports (STJD) and the Tribunal’s decision (actually, standard procedure) to temporary “freeze” the points dealt to Internacional until presenting a ruling on the case, there’s been a moral outcry: Barcos and Palmeiras are being virtually crucified under the general understanding – and this by the man on the street as well as experienced and respected [sic] sports journalists – that justice was done when the goal was disallowed through external influence. Along the same lines, Barcos should be ashamed and should officially apologize. Palmeiras are desperate and playing a foul game, trying to direct the supporter’s frustration against external actors, i.e. the CBF and the STJD. By “seeking to validate an irregular goal” [sic], Palmeiras show just how low it is possible to sink, smudging the traditions of the club.

Journalists are voicing these “concerns” and others, being openly ironic and sarcastic, mocking Palmeiras on social media and elsewhere. Very few see the bigger picture. Or perhaps they deliberately choose not to?

One of the few who state the obvious is Alessandre Abate of the Lance! football magazine, arguing we live in a society of rules and regulations and that even if a replay clearly shows an irregularity, that replay can never be used to influence the sovereign decision of the referee in a game of football. The question of whether or not to adopt electronic/external aid for the football refs is a necessary debate, but any implementation of the sort must take place in the open, in full transparency and with FIFA authorization.

Palmeiras and palmeirenses are NOT outraged by the disallowance of a handball goal, but rather that the rules of the games suddenly “changed”, the referee allowing himself to rely on a reply to support his decision-making: a much more serious breach of regulations that the handgoal in itself and something that threatens opening up Pandora’s box if not properly dealt with by the CBF and the STJD.

In addition to the above, journalists are showing a blatant lack of consistency. Some excellent research done by Tania of the Clorofila blog exemplifies how handgoals – when committed by players from other teams and especially when playing for the Brazilian national team – have been subject to outright praise by the same journalists who now demand Barcos’ public apology.

I’m not endorsing conspiracy theories. I’m however sick and tired of the double-standards, hypocrisy and stupidity surrounding us. Equal treatment is all we wish for. Rule of law. Would that be asking too much?

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