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With uncharacteristic speed, the Superior Brazilian Tribunal of Sports settled the “external interference” matter of last week. Not surprisingly, there will be no rematch, and the three points have been returned to Flamengo. However, it is surprising that the Tribunal did not even rule on the claim. The president of the entity simply archived the case, justifying his decision with “Lip reading is not proof of anything, and the inspector of refereeing says he did nothing wrong, so… Case closed”.

Case closed, ladies and gentlemen. No investigation, no ruling. Straight to the archives.

The signal is clear: external interference will be tolerated. A precedence has been set. A precedence that is destined to change dynamics on the pitch. In dubious situations, we will see players huddle the referee and simply not allow the game to restart until someone somewhere, with access to a replay, gives the players a thumbs up or down.

“But Flamengo won on the pitch and football should be decided on the pitch, not by a tribunal”, many argue, including quite a lot of sports journalists. I strongly disagree. Flamengo did not win on the pitch, Flamengo drew on the pitch. Flamengo drew, because the referees allowed an offside goal for the opponent – something not uncommon and “part of the game”. The draw only turned into a win for Flamengo due to the external interference; the illegal, off-pitch interference. Where is the justice in that?

The game has changed. Not for the better. And it is all self-inflicted. Congratulations to everyone involved.

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The round could not have shaped up any better for Palmeiras. Figueirense might be in the relegation zone, but are strong at their home grounds Orlando Scarpelli, where they lost only two games this season. Three games now.

Cuca surprised, placing rarely used Fabiano on the right flank, displacing Jean to the middle. Could have worked, but Figueirense populated the midfield with defensive players, effectively clogging things up. However, Palmeiras slowly learnt to master both the slippery surface and the spaces available on the flanks, creating chances in the last third of the first half. Virgin scorecard in halftime.

Palmeiras came out determined, applying pressure and creating several chances within the first minutes. At the seventh, Gabriel Jesus received an arm to his face as he went up heading a ball in the penalty area. Much confusion as the Figueira players applied Flamengo-style pressure on the referee, perhaps buying time in hope of an external interference. No such luck: while Gabriel Jesus received medical attention, Jean tucked the ball away, giving Palmeiras the lead.

Palmeiras continued dominating the game. The referee could have awarded Figuerense a penalty, as Egídio stupidly made contact with an opponent right on the divisor of the penalty area, but did not. Just as he did not reward Dudu with one in the first half, when our forward was taken down inside the area.

At 39 minutes, Gabriel Jesus broke free on the left flank and somehow got the ball into the middle, where a charging Jean found his second brace for the night. The three points seemed in the bag, but no: shortly after, Figuerense scored on a corner, Jaílson completely misjudging the trajectory of the ball. A few minutes of nervousness ended with the final whistle. Major victory.

Simultaneously, we palmeirenses had all been keeping an eye on Inter vs Flamengo and Botafogo vs Atlético. Both games swung back and forth, but ended with defeat for the two title contenders. With that, Palmeiras pulled ahead of Flamengo four points, and Atlético a whopping eight points.

— ooo —

Four points ahead of Flamengo, which today Tuesday, at least momentarily, turned into seven points. The Supreme Tribunal of Sports accepted Fluminense’s claim that their game against Flamengo – which originated the external interference scandal – should be subject to their ruling. As Fluminense are seeking a rematch, the points awarded Flamengo have been suspended, the two teams now featuring one game short compared to the rest. No one knows when the court will decides on the case. It can take weeks.

A special feature on Brazilian TV significantly strengthened Fluminense’s case last Sunday, analysing footage from the game. In the middle of the ruckus, with players from both teams pressuring the referee, a man in a suit, identified as the inspector of refereeing for the game, is seen talking to the referee – which is a violation in itself – lip synch experts affirming he says “TV showed it, TV showed the offside”.

External influence is such a severe breach of regulation, a rematch would be expected in any serious country. I leave it at that.

— ooo —

Palmeiras now switch attention to the Brazil Cup, where Grêmio await tomorrow Wednesday. Having lost the away leg 2-1, a simple 1-0 victory would see Palmeiras through to the semi-finals. That being said: Cuca will opt for sparing roughly half of his ordinary starting eleven, letting players like Moisés, Dudu, Roger Guedes, Edu Dracena and Yerry Mina rest ahead of the game against Sport on Sunday. No doubt the Brazilian Championship it the top priority. And I completely agree, although I believe Palmeiras have the quality and the manpower to win both titles this year.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

*photo by César Greco

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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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After beating Corinthians 2-0 at the Itaquera, Palmeiras went on to secure another three points against Coritiba at home. Naturally, Palmeiras remain in the lead, as has been the case in 18 out of the 27 rounds so far played. The 28th round got underway yesterday, and as Flamengo only drew with São Paulo, Palmeiras are guaranteed the top spot regardless of tomorrow Monday’s result against Santa Cruz, away. No games are being played in Brazil today, Sunday, due to the municipal elections.
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19 rounds in the lead. A strong and numerous squad, giving coach Cuca many options. Nevertheless, it seems as runner-up Flamengo is the team to beat. The press cannot get enough of the “smells like the seventh title” slogan Flamengo supporters recently adopted to describe the team’s campaign.

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Observer turned protagonist?

Press describing supporter’s enthusiasm is one thing. Having to put up with certain journalists’ biased opinions is something very different. The illness is spreading like wildfire in Brazilian sports coverage, where infotainment and controversy is the name of the game. It has reached a point where ESPN expert commentator Mauro Cezar Pereira, week after week, tells his audience why Palmeiras are limited and vulnerable – using statistics that he does not apply to other teams, and certainly not the one close to his heart – before last week actually placing a phone call (!) to the Palmeiras coach, laying out what kind of play he would expect from a team of Palmeiras’ calibre.

In addition we have the constant flood of rumours and negative headlines. “Cuca set for China in 2017”. “Rafael Marques and Cuca cause split in squad after locker room argument”. “Palmeiras seek to avoid 2009 campaign, when a championship title already in the bag turned to dust in the last 10 rounds”. “Palmeiras players don’t score with their left foot”. At least, there are some sports journalists openly questioning what the heck is going on, indicating a slight crack in the normally solid corporativism.   

The icing on the cake is called STJD – the Supreme Tribunal of Sports. As you already read here, Palmeiras were heavily punished after ultras clashed in an away game against Flamengo in Brasilia earlier this year: five home games with the North Sector empty and five away games without any ticket rights – the idea here clearly depriving the club of its most powerful ally, it’s supporters. What is the STJD’s ruling after Corinthians ultras fight with the police during the recent derby at the Itaquera? Just a small fine for our rivals.

A few weeks back, during Palmeiras vs. Flamengo at the Allianz Parque, the visiting club’s directors watched the game from a designated box. This setup has never before been the root of any problems, but this time insults flew between supporters below and the visitors, and apparently also some ice cubes. There are plenty of footage showing the visitors laughing and provoking the Palmeiras supporters. After the game, Flamengo filed a complaint with the STJD, seeking a punishment for Palmeiras due to “the clubs inability to provide safety and well-being”, or something along those lines. Do not be surprised if this farce generates another punishment. Palmeiras against all and everyone, as always.

— ooo —

The first leg of the Brazil Cup quarterfinals took place this week, with the following results:

Grêmio 2-1 Palmeiras
Atlético Mineiro 1-0 Juventude
Santos 2-1 Internacional
Corinthians 2-1 Cruzeiro

Due to the away goal, a penalty converted by Zé Roberto after Gabriel Jesus having been clipped inside the box, Palmeiras are very much alive in the competition. The second leg is scheduled for Wednesday 19 October.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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We hit the big 100 while enjoying an overseas vacation, with less time and opportunity to closely follow Palmeiras. That means less individual game reporting, but certainly a weekly compilation of news, your well-known “sonar pings”.

Since last time, Palmeiras played Grêmio away and Flamengo at home, both games ending in draws. Playing the gaúchos away is always hard and this time was no exception, even with the Porto Alegre team free falling. Considering what the two brought to the pitch, the draw should be considered a good result. In addition, no Palmeiras player saw the third yellow, meaning full strength at Cuca’s disposal against runners-up Flamengo previous Wednesday – by many (incorrectly) considered a decisive game, the game to define the championship. With 13 rounds to go, only a few points separating Palmeiras and Flamengo and several other major clubs fighting for title and/or a Libertadores spot, anything is possible, regardless of how last Wednesday did or did not play out.

The Allianz Parque was not packed against the cariocas, as the Supreme Tribunal of Sports have slapped a penalty on Palmeiras for the clash between Flamengo and Palmeiras ultras in Brasilia earlier this year: 5 home games with the North Sector empty (the most popular prized sector, and where Palmeiras’ organised supporters traditionally attend the games) and five away games without any ticket rights. Never mind Flamengo, as home team, were responsible for security at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia. Never mind there are uncertainties regarding how the fighting started. True, Flamengo were also punished, but not as severely.
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The game itself was a tense affair. Apart from the initial 15 minutes, Palmeiras had the upper hand, creating more chances, especially after the sending off of Márcio Araújo. Even so, lack of attention permitted Flamengo to open up the scorecard, the Lex Ex again taking its toll after a well-placed shot by former Palmeiras player Alan Patrick. Coach Cuca acted rapidly, promoting Barrios and Marques on Gabriel and Guedes, and later Cleiton Xavier on Tchê. The all-or-nothing approach resulted in tremendous pressure and with ten minutes left, Gabriel Jesus scored the equaliser. Palmeiras looked set on turning things around, but the sand ended up running a bit too fast through the hourglass.

The result maintains Palmeiras in the lead, one point ahead of Flamengo. Yesterday, the 25th round was completed as third-placed Atlético Mineiro beat Sport to close in on the leader, now only three point ahead. Palmeiras’ much superior goal balance could prove decisive (knock on wood: we need no heart attack scenarios).

Palmeiras have withdrawn to the training grounds in Atibaia, all focus on Saturday’s derby against Corinthians. Cuca has already signalled Edu Dracena as Vítor Hugo’s replacement, the centre back suspended after receiving his third yellow against Flamengo. Also Gabriel Jesus saw his third yellow, but Cuca has not yet indicated his preference, likely keeping it a secret until the last minute. My guess is we will have Erik back in the starting eleven.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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What a glorious sight, the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasília yesterday. Long but mostly orderly cues outside, friendly and relaxed atmosphere inside. 55.000 supporters (yes, fifty five thousand) sat together, flamenguistas and palmeirenses, in surprisingly even numbers, watching a good game of football. 1-1 in halftime after two early goals, and everything was fine.

Then the usual suspects hijacked the scene, the few but furious. I do not know which side started it, and frankly, I do not care. What I do know is that all of us, orderly spectators, heard a few chock grenades go off on the superior level and then, within minutes, felt the sharpness of teargas invading the stands, provoking cough and sullen eyes. The gas reached all the way to the pitch, where the referee delayed kick-off by some 10 minutes in order to let the air clear, while police were busy keeping organised supporter groups from both teams at bay.

The teargas especially frightened the many children present and some parents opted for leaving. Among these, friends of mine from Sweden, who were there with their three kids. I feel sad for them, I feel ashamed. They were there because I had told them it would be a beautiful day, a beautiful game, and that they would be initiating their ritual of becoming palmeirenses. Rest assured they will think twice before returning to a Brazilian football match.

There are images of this father, in tears, carrying his disabled son away from the game, away from the stadium…

I feel sad. Ashamed. And very angry. Angry at selfish individuals who completely disregard others while in search for their own kicks, driven by a twisted logic of “love”, “devotion” and “defending their club”. Angry at authorities unable to arrest and put these criminals away. Angry at clubs who at best are passive, but more often than not nurture these vandals with tickets, transport and other treats in exchange for political support (not the case at Palmeiras, where president Paulo Nobre has taken an inflexible stance against organised supporter groups and will pay the price for as long as he live).

We have seen it all before. The troublemakers will be fine. The authorities will cry “this is an outrage” and solve [sic] the problem by prohibiting supporters of the visiting team to enter the stadiums. And the Brazilian Supreme Tribunal for Sports – the infamous STJD – will arbitrarily hand out punishments for the clubs involved. Never mind Palmeiras were the visiting team, never mind security at the Mané Garrincha were the responsibility of Flamengo and the police: just watch how Palmeiras will be stripped of their home games or their supporters, being forced to play before empty stands. You see, the STJD are not only arbitrary, but also biased.

Fabrício made his debut for Palmeiras as left-defender. Forward Luan made his re-entrance, for good or for worse. Gabriel Jesus was lethal and once again showed why it is only a matter of time before he is called up for the National squad. Cuca again showed he is not afraid to mix and match, try creative solutions and give every man a chance to prove his worth. Even with a dreadful referee doing his best to thwart it all, the victory saw Palmeiras jump one position in the tables and considerably close the gap to the top. All this and so much more, overshadowed by yesterday’s havoc.
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Meanwhile, Cuca and the men must refocus on Sunday’s derby against Corinthians. Following up the victories against Grêmio and Flamengo with another three points would definitely put Palmeiras in the driver’s seat in the race for the title.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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After suffering three defeats in a row (Atlético Paranaense, Cruzeiro and Coritiba), Palmeiras last Sunday beat Flamengo 4-2 halfway through the Brazilian championship, then yesterday proceeded with a 2-1 victory against Cruzeiro in the first leg of the Copa do Brazil group of 16. Losing streak broken, Palmeiras back on track and all blue skies? Not quite.

Previously analyzing recent defeats, the most disturbing factor was the expressive drop in quality and overall mood. Although victories against Flamengo and Cruzeiro certainly have changed the mood to the better, technical issues largely remain the same: Palmeiras of today are characterised by inferior ball possession, bad passing, confused defensive positioning and inattentiveness. Against Flamengo, fluke and questionable refereeing limited initial damage, allowing Palmeiras to recover and dominate the last 25 minutes of the game. Yesterday, Palmeiras were saved by individual brilliance displayed in short bursts. In both games, Palmeiras initiated the second half in a zombie state, conceding goals before acting under pressure and turning things around. Highlights below (starting with yesterday’s game against Cruzeiro).
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In a previous post, I wrote that Cleiton Xavier was stirring my temper like Wesley in 2014. Against Flamengo, the crucial (and lucky) equalizer was Xavier’s feat and against Cruzeiro, he opened up the scorecard following a terrific setup by Egídio and Barrios. Go figure.

Yesterday, Arouca left the pitch already in the first half, feeling the back of his thigh. If injury confirmed, both central pieces of Palmeiras’ midfield defence are out (Gabriel for the remainder of the season, mind you). In Brazil, the importance of having multiple quality options on the bench cannot be underestimated. Coach Oliveira will have to find a way.

Upcoming Sunday, Palmeiras travel to face Atlético Mineiro. The team from Belo Horizonte, until recently top dog, come from two defeats in the Brazileirão and yesterday drew with Figueirense in the Brazil Cup. Thus, both teams have been underperforming as of late, although more pressure will be on Atlético due to home advantage and more recent defeats. Let’s see if Palmeiras are able to explore this advantage.

Overall, the Brasileirão anno 2015 is an exciting and open affair: teams have been oscillating a plenty and will continue to do so, especially as fatigue and injuries increasingly become important factors. Again: a numerous squad of decent overall quality is fundamentally important and in this aspect, Palmeiras seem to be reasonably well prepared for the remainder of the season. Even currently trailing nine points behind Corinthians, the title should be our goal.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

ps. Did I mention that Monday was Valdivia’s last day as a Palmeiras player? Hallelujah.

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