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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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Last week, Palmeiras lost at home to Red Bull before being flattened by Água Santa. Without exaggerating, the double feature can be considered one of the worst moments in Palmeiras’ history, nothing short of total humiliation.

The nightmare could have easily continued into this week. But against Rio Claro, Palmeiras finally showed signs of improvement, compacting more and dominating the weaker opponent as Palmeiras always should. 3-0 at the Pacaembu, with the squad now including players absent as of late, having served their regular or youth national squads – Barrios, Gabriel Jesus and Matheus Sales.

Rio Claro is one thing, Corinthians another. Although a derby is always a derby, of course the odds were in Corinthians’ favour, coach Tite seemingly never failing in extracting the best of his squad.

The game was every bit as level-headed as any palmeirense could have wished for. And if the Verdão showed signs of improvements against Rio Claro, now it was almost as we were observing a different team altogether: the energy, the pressure applied very high up on the pitch, the compacting, even the confidence. It is too early to draw definitive conclusions, but it is nevertheless impressive how Cuca has turned things around in only a few weeks’ time. The collective seems to have found its mesh, which in turn are making the individuals step it up: Alecsandro and Egídio most notably, something completely unthinkable only in mid-March. And Prass… Well, he continues being the absolute reference, the rock. Enjoy the highlights below, you deserve it!
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A week in hell followed by a week in relative heaven. Not for the weak. And this is just the build-up for Wednesday’s absolutely decisive away game against Rosario Central, the Argentinians currently sustaining a streak of 22 undefeated home games. As known, Palmeiras need to break that streak to keep the Libertadores dream alive.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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la_piovraLa Piovra is an Italian television drama miniseries, first aired in 1984, about the Mafia. With the soundtrack signed by Riz Ortolani and later by Ennio Morricone, it was a big success in many countries, including Sweden.

Piovra is Italian for octopus, or squid: here, a reference to the far-reaching tentacles of organized crime. In Portuguese, octopus is polvo, while squid is lula. Like in former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Before we continue, I strongly urge you to refresh your mind reading a post named “Connect the dots”, published here at Anything Palmeiras in 2010. Fundamentally important background information, that is.

Ready?

The “Operation Car Wash” (Operação Lava Jato in Portuguese) is an investigation being carried out by the Federal Police of Brazil since March 2014. Initially a money laundering investigation, it has expanded to cover allegations of corruption at the state-controlled oil company Petrobras, where it is alleged that executives accepted bribes in return for awarding contracts to construction firms at inflated prices. The operation has included the enforcement of more than a hundred warrants for search and seizure, temporary and preventive detention and coercive measures, with the aim of ascertaining a money-laundering scheme suspected of moving more than 10 Billion Brazilian Reais (approx. USD 2.5 Billion in today’s exchange rate). Several ramifications have been discovered and investigations progress fast as more and more of arrested top executives reach plea bargain deals, allowing police to move in on major players that, until now, have enjoyed not pro forma but de facto criminal immunity: politicians.

This morning, former Brazilian President Lula’ house was raided by federal police agents. Lula himself was brought in for questioning, as was a few of his family members. Police say they have strong indications Lula has been involved in the scheme of overcharging contracts with Petrobras, using the money to pay for bribes and electoral campaigns. In addition, Police say Lula received additional and personal benefits from the kickback scheme, amounting to several million Brazilian Reais, channelled through his non-profit organization “Instituto Lula”, companies under his domain, and companies owned by his sons and other close allies.

A high-level political profile like Lula being taken in for questioning is of course huge, especially in Brazil. Still, it does not come as a surprise: federal police and judges involved in the case are doing tremendous good work, methodically closing the net. Considering the magnitude of the corruption scandal – with proven direct involvement of key persons within the Government, the Worker’s Party (PT) and other parties in the Congress – the “I knew nothing” approach deployed by both Lula and current President Dilma Rousseff has long lost credibility.

Back to the ramifications, the construction companies, and the 2010 “Connect the dots” article. No, you do not get a prize for realizing that Odebrecht, the company awarded the construction of Corinthians’ “Itaqueirão” stadium, is one of the deepest involved in the corruption scandal (CEO Marcelo Odebrecht has been under arrest since June 2015). For example, Police says Odebrecht has transferred large amounts to Lula’s son Luis Cláudio da Silva’s enterprises, making Luis Cláudio yet another focal point of investigation. “Lulinha” (little Lula), who at one point was actually working [sic] at Corinthians as a “marketing strategist”…

Anyone is of course innocent until proven guilt. Stay tuned.

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There’s hardly anything more linked to a football club than its jersey. Supporters wear it proudly, crest over heart, many considering it a second skin. As such, a jersey is a natural gift and object of desire.

Palmeiras have always been rock ‘n’ roll. No coincidence the 101th anniversary was set to AC/DC. And with big names in town, it’s inevitable jerseys swap hands.

Legendary Swedish death metal band At The Gates ended a long Latin America tour in São Paulo earlier this months, receiving a tailored Palmeiras jersey – the initiative originating from fans and the Academia Store in Tatuapé.
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Lead singer Tomas Lindberg, At The Gates

Lead singer Tomas Lindberg, At The Gates.

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Mike Patton, front man of Faith No More, is a Palmeiras fan since the 90ies. “I love this club and the culprits for this are Igor and Max Cavalera [original band members of Brazilian class act Sepultura]. Words fail me, I am very thankful for this present.” he exclaimed upon receiving a jersey, handed over by Palmeiras’ marketing department last Thursday in São Paulo – one of the stops on the band’s Brazil tour.
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No need to be a rock star though: this week, Italian General Consul to São Paulo, Mr Michele Pala, visited the Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras. Joined by the Director for Italian Language Mr Augusto Bellon, the two diplomats met with president Paulo Nobre, learnt more about the club and its Italian roots, and each received a jersey.
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Earlier this year, in March, the Irish Minister for Education and Skills, Mrs Jan O’Sullivan, received a signed Palmeiras jersey while visiting São Paulo during Saint Patrick’s Day. The Irish General Consul, Mrs Sharon Lennon, has been at the Allianz Parque on several occasions, rooting for the Verdão.
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left: Minister O'Sullivan; right Consul General Lennon and yours truly.

left: Minister O’Sullivan; right: Consul General Lennon and yours truly.

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You remember Kevin, the Celtic supporter who in 2012 was escorted out of the Pacaembu by the police, facing the rage of Corinthians supporters for wearing a Celtic top? This summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin and his family for the first time, in Edinburgh, Scotland. With the collaboration of Palmeiras, I could personally hand him a jersey, signed by the squad, and also a jersey for his son Oscar. Kevin, who wants to become an Avanti supporter but for the moment is held back by not possessing the compulsory CPF identity card (it is for Brazilian citizens only), has framed the jersey and hung it on his wall.
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And that is Palmeiras and the palmeirenses – through acts large and small – winning hearts and minds, making friends all over the globe.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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ps. Have you graced someone “famous” with a Palmeiras jersey? Got pictures? If yes, you’re more than welcome to submit your story (in English or Portuguese), sending it to anything.palmeiras (at) gmail.com

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Not since 1997 have Palmeiras beaten Internacional at the Beira-Rio stadium. Never have Internacional done so little to maintain such an expressive taboo.

This Wednesday’s game was in stark contrast to last Sunday’s derby. Against Corinthians, Palmeiras three times took the lead, always conducting and pushing forward, being punished by that which has become the stigma ever since Palmeiras lost Gabriel and – from time to time – Arouca on the midfield: aerial balls. Nevertheless, the game was highly entertaining and one of the best so far in the Brasileirão, although for Palmeiras leaving with only one point was a major setback.
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Against Internacional, a completely different ballgame. The Palmeiras squad was eleven players short, computing injured, suspended (against Corinthians, the referee managed to surgically book all four Palmeiras players with two yellows already: Lucas, Robinho, Gabriel Jesus and Dudu) and otherwise left out (most notably, Victor Ramos). You can imagine what that starting eleven looked like.

The game was horrible and sleepy. As such, less annoying, as no one really expected anything much. But when the weakness of Internacional became ever so apparent, the urge to break that taboo grew stronger. With roughly 25 minutes on the clock, Inter got a one-off goal through a beautiful header. With two minutes in the second half, Leandro Almeida was sent off (why is he allowed to wear our jersey?) and Palmeiras’ mission became much harder. Nevertheless, as Allione and Mouche came on, it seemed as Palmeiras had the numeral advantage. Jackson had the best opportunity in the final minutes, but the scorecard remained unchanged.
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The results from the round naturally pushed Palmeiras further down in the tables, to eight place, three points from fourth place. Upcoming games are Figueirense home and Fluminense away: both teams rather rocky right now and exactly the kind of games Palmeiras need to win (but haven’t) in order to realistically compete for a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup.

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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With the distance to the leader increasing to 15 points, Palmeiras might just as well throw in the towel. Finishing in the top four must however remain an absolute goal, as well as winning the Brazil Cup. Goals only achievable if Marcelo Oliveira is able to transform his dissatisfaction into concrete improvements on the pitch.

This 2015 has seen Palmeiras play well against good opponents and badly against weak opponents. It’s exactly when you think “this is the game to win”, that Palmeiras will let you down, repeatedly. Against Goiás was no different.

Yesterday, I felt an acute desire to see Leandro Pereira back in the squad. Leandro receives, turns, shoots – that’s it. Yesterday, our players seemed to think they were all Gabriel Jesus: tricking and dribbling and turning to find that perfect angle, opening, opportunity… Thing is the kid Jesus – yesterday again one of the few good players out there – knows how to, while most others don’t. I caught myself repeatedly screaming “take the shot, just take the damn shot”, always in vain.

Add to this the terrible phase of Egídio, Rafael Marques, Robinho… How can players sink so much in terms of productivity in less than a month’s time?

Let’s not forget Barrios’ goal, incorrectly ruled out for offside. Game-changing moment, that was.

But hey, although the end result might not have been fare, Palmeiras actually did little to deserve anything else. Slightly biased refereeing or not: this game was ours to win.
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The Championship is gone. But not only for Palmeiras: it’s dying in the hearts and minds of Brazilians. Yesterday Corinthians beat Fluminense, the latter crying foul at the top of their lungs. So does Atlético Mineiro, claiming they were shamefully robbed against Atlético Paranaense. Ponte Preta idem, against Cruzeiro. Needless to say, palmeirenses are furious but equally resigned, feeling they have lived this script one time too many. Regardless of club preferences, all people talks about is the refereeing, how badly it influence results, and to what point this influence is deliberate. While CBF sticks its head in the sand. It’s killing football.

Meanwhile, Corinthians are flying high. Tite has his squad in a firm grip, with tactics implemented and the pitch well covered: a coverage which includes, the joke goes, two linesmen on the flanks and a centralized referee, articulating the action.

Where do we go from here? To the Allianz Parque, where on Sunday we battle the 2015 National Champions in a derby that will go down in history. Sunday, believe you me, the whole of Brazil is Palmeiras.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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