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“Regardless of Sunday’s result, Cuca stays until the end of the year”, Palmeiras president Galiotte declared the other day. A firm statement with a feather’s weight: anyone remotely familiarised with Brazilian football knows Cuca was under substantial pressure ahead of today’s derby against relegation-prone São Paulo FC.

With Prass between the posts, Cuca initiated in a 4-4-2, repeating Moisés and Guerra together on the midfield, joined by Tchê Tchê and Bruno Henrique.  Michel Bastos on the left flank, Jean on the right. Dracena and Luan centre lock. Willian and Deyverson up front.

Palmeiras were vastly superior throughout the 90 minutes, with three times as many shots fired. Nevertheless, the game was a cardiac test, with The Enemy opening up the scorecard early in the first half, Palmeiras turning the tables after two quick ones by Willian, then the equaliser just before halftime.

Cuca promoted three substitutions during the second half: Keno for Bruno Henrique, Thiago Santos for Deyverson and Hyoran for Guerra. Keno and Hyoran scored the winners. Highlights below.
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After 22 rounds out of 38, Palmeiras rest in fourth with 36 points, 14 points behind leader Corinthians, who are finally showing signs of fatigue. Too bad Palmeiras, and not only Palmeiras, threw in the towel early in the Brasileirão, giving priority to the Brazil Cup and, in particular, the Libertadores cup. Kicked out of both, there are obvious lessons to be drawn from Palmeiras’ 2017 campaign.  

The Brazilian championship now takes a two-week pause due to World Cup qualifiers. Today’s victory brings a certain level of peace to Cuca and the squad. Training and rest, with the right mind-set, will hopefully do wonders. Brushing up on defence is a priority: it has been shaky for weeks and today was no exception, to state it mildly.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Eduardo Baptista picked his starting eleven well in line with what players have shown performance-wise in the last few rounds: Fernando Prass; Jean, Mina, Vítor Hugo and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo; Keno, Michel Bastos, Dudu and Raphael Veiga; Willian.

In spite of Palmeiras’ on paper stronger squad on practically every position, and in spite of Corinthians playing the second half one man short due to a scandalous referee error, Palmeiras did not deliver. The first half was levelled but lacked in quality, with Corinthians applying pressure and hampering Palmeiras’ transitions.

In the second half, Baptista swapped Veiga and Melo – both booked early in the first half – for Guerra and Thiago Santos. Palmeiras took absolute control of the game, but ball possession did not translate into creating chances, the team lacking in pace and determination. With many balls being crossed, Baptista took Willian out, placing Alecsandro as a reference point inside the box, only to see the team give up on crossing. Punishment arrived with only minutes remaining on the clock, turning a sufferable draw into Palmeiras’ first defeat against Corinthians in years.
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No telling where this is going. Many criticize Baptista, but personally, I agree with most of his choices yesterday, both before and during the game. Perhaps, when Felipe Melo asked to come off (tired, and with a gigantic cut to the brow) Baptista could have gone more offensively by promoting Egídio on the right flank, displacing Zé Roberto to the centre. In any case, the absences of Tchê Tchê and Moisés were felt.

“Why Alecsandro and not Barrios?” some might question. Because Lucas Barrios left Palmeiras that same afternoon, his agreement terminated in mutual consent. The 32-year-old striker arrived in mid-2015 thanks to sponsor Crefisa, who also have been paying his salaries. With the signing of Willian and, especially, Borja (the latter also arriving through Crefisa) Barrios expressed his desire to move on. In total, the Paraguayan played 45 games for Palmeiras, scoring 14 goals. Until mid-2018, he will play for Grêmio of Porto Alegre.

In terms of player options, I see no reason to crack down on Baptista. And although tactical execution was not great, the main ingredient lacking yesterday was determination. True, It is “only” the Paulistão, and it is still early in the season, but a derby against Corinthians is NEVER “just another game”. In an attempt to take pressure off, Baptista downplayed the relative importance of the clássico in a way that possibly contaminated our players.

Some serious locker room talk before turning the page and work work work. Already on Saturday, Ferroviária await. Arouca and Tchê Tchê are in their final stages of recovery. Felipe Melo, with 13 fresh stitches, might be left out of this one. Same does not apply to Guerra, certainly dying for the opportunity to start erasing yesterday’s blunder from the collective memory.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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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Barcelona vs. PSG on one channel, Bayern Munich vs. Porto on the other. I’m flicking between the channels, but in all honesty my eyes linger more on the laptop screen, where highlights from last Sunday’s Corinthians vs. Palmeiras loop.

It’s magnetising.

With 15 minutes Victor Ramos opened up the scorecard for the Verdão, forcing our opponent to burn fuel they had expectations of saving for later, even for this week’s Libartadores game against São Paulo FC.

30 games without defeat at home, the Itaqueirão absolutely packed. “The team to beat”. Corintianos were confident. And they had reasons to be, as the equaliser by Danilo – always Danilo – was followed by a brace from Mendoza just before halftime. With the turning of events, coach Oswaldo de Oliveira knew he had to make bold moves.    

He altered both flanks, Lucas and Wellington making way for Cleiton Xavier and Kelvin: Kelvin improvised on the left flank while Xavier occupied a central position, dislocating Gabriel to the right. Then, Valdivia out to promote Gabriel Jesus. Bold with a capital B. An offensive line ready to make or break.

Make, is we now know. Although there were chances on both sides, Palmeiras had superior ball possession and controlled the midfielder, launching wave after wave of attacks. In the end it was Dudu who reversed left to right with a perfect cross where Rafael Marques had time to adjust the header to his corner of choice for the equaliser. Highlights below (never mind the Flamengo badge; the quality of the video makes up for the absurdity).
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Penalties. Robinho was first out but drove it toward the stands, leaving Palmeiras at a disadvantage for the remainder of the shootout, with everyone convert leaving Corinthians midfielder Elias to seal the deal. 15 million palmeirenses on their knees, as the midfielder accelerated and aimed for the left corner, but Fernando Prass was there to miraculously defend the shot. Alternate penalties. Palmeiras converted, Corinthians, Palmeiras again… Petrus stepped up to the spot and Prass declared “It’s over, Petrus. It’s over.” And indeed it was. Petrus’ penalty was close to perfect, but Prass’ defending was superiour, nothing short of São Marcos quality.

The “Team to Beat” had been beaten, in front of 40.000, now silent, home fans.
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Palmeiras are in the finals of the Paulista championship for the first time since 2008. Seven years. The same seven years that Santos have been in EVERY Paulista championship. So also this one, after having beaten SPFC 2-0.

The final is a two-leg affair: the first game takes place this Sunday at the Allianz Parque, the second the following weekend at the Vila Belmiro.   

Am I confident? Hell yes. Our chances of victory are 100%.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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Most sport journalists don’t need to be hard pressed to say “Corinthians” when asked which team currently is the one to beat in Brazil. When asked who’s the best coach, they flash their Tite Fan Club membership cards.

Considering Corinthians’ streak of 30 games without knowing defeat at the Itaqueirão stadium, this all seems rather discouraging. Or does it?

aroucaExperienced midfielder Arouca doesn’t think so. During a press conference earlier this week, he expressed the opinion that odds are absolutely even and that if someone considers Corinthians favourite, that’s fine. Dudu was asked a couple of days ago which team is the best in Brazil, and didn’t hesitate. “I think my team is the best”.

Players are confident. And not afraid to say so.

Of course Palmeiras could lose tomorrow’s semi-final against Corinthians.

That being said: our chances of victory are 100%.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Cut and paste from Thursday’s game post. “No reason for panic. Training, adjustments, time. We’re only at the very beginning of a long journey with these men.”

One thing is accepting this after suffering a loss to Ponte Preta, another completely after conceding the three points, at home, to arch rivals Corinthians. The stigma continues: in the last 14 clashes against any of the other three major São Paulo clubs, Palmeiras have won but one game: against SPFC in February last year. Painful.

Still, words that were valid after last Thursday’s defeat to Ponte are as valid today: Palmeiras have a squad, not yet a team. Yesterday, we saw a level game, with a fatality determining the outcome, as you can see from the match recap below.
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We will have a few more weeks of up and downs before the squad meshes into a team. Mind you, two key players – Cleiton Xavier and Arouca – have not even debuted yet, and playmaker Valdivia is, as always, recovering from injury. Coach Oswaldo is getting to know his players and their characteristics. Newcomers will need space to prove their worth and get used to the patterns of their teammates. Others, like Maikon Leite, are short stacked: as a player returning to Palmeiras after some time abroad, he will either have to show considerable progress or expect infernal heat from (rightly so) impatient supporters. For Leite, time is running out, if it has not already.

— ooo —

The days anticipating the game, as well as the days now to follow, will be dominated by the once again obvious failure of Brazilian authorities to handle public security.

Three days before the derby, the public prosecutor’s office “recommended” the ban of Corinthians supporters at the Allianz Parque “due to security concerns”, threatening both Palmeiras and Corinthians with legal action if they disobeyed the recommendation. Corinthians threatened to withdraw from the match were their supporters not allowed to enter. The day before the game, the São Paulo Football Federation took a decision: the game would be played and with supporters from both teams.

Come match day, and the apparatus to separate the two organised supporter groups is considerable. Some minor incidents are reported. It could have stopped there, hadn’t it been for the trigger-happy, aggressive and malicious police force, randomly dispersing crowds of supporters – including families with children and retired persons, just hanging around or on their way to the stadium – using tear gas, shock grenades and rubber bullets. The policy clearly does not think derbies should be played at the Allianz Parque; the “right” amount of havoc reinforces this position.

Palmeiras must conduct a thorough investigation and take a firm stance, condemning the violence committed against the club’s most vital asset: its supporters. You want the Avanti supporter programme to grow? It will not, unless supporters feel they have someone looking after them, at least on their way to and inside the stadium. In this chaos called Brazil, that someone has to be the Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras.

President Paulo Nobre, speak up!

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Taboos are taboos for a reason. They prevail against odds and reason. They evoke something special, defy logic, take shapes beyond their importance. That’s where their magic lies. And that’s why breaking taboos is so satisfying.

Three years without victory against Corinthians. 19 years without beating Corinthians at the Pacaembu stadium. That’s one hell of a taboo. Within minutes to be broken yesterday. But he magic – black magic in this case – allowed the taboo to prevail as our opponent, just like Cruzeiro earlier this week, found the equaliser on stoppage time.

The only difference between conceding a goal at 9 or 90 minutes is the “we were so close” bucket of cold water. It hurts more. But that’s just feelings. Looking at our last two games, the draws were not unfair results (if there is anything to be called fairness in football). That says it all. Unfortunately, this particular taboo will last for eternity because – as mentioned in the previous post – Palmeiras and Corinthians will not play another derby at the Pacaembu. Deep breath, refocus, turn the page.
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With seven rounds to go, Palmeiras sum 36 points at 14th place, three points above the relegation zone. With more victories than the current last four (Criciúma, Bahia, Coritiba, Botafogo), Palmeiras’ advantage increases to two rounds. Next opponent are Bahia, away. Needless to say, a victory is fundamentally important. With the game happening only on Sunday night, Palmeiras have enough time to prepare.

After Bahia, the sequence is Atlético Mineiro, São Paulo, Sport, Coritiba, Internacional and Atlético Paranaense. Mixed bag.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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