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clown-alley.
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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jean-gol_nova1611016.
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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flaflu.
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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Yesterday afternoon, Palmeiras successfully concluded negotiations with Chinese club Henan Jianye, purchasing forward Rafael Marques’ federative rights for US$ 800K, signing a two-year contract. The player was very relieved, having loudly and clearly expressed his desire to remain at Palmeiras, even giving up bonuses he was entitled to in order to facilitate the closing of the deal. He immediately packed his trunk and left for Itu – where the rest of the squad is training – making a surprise entry, provoking laughter and applause from his comrades.
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rafamarques
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Rafael had a very good first semester in 2015, then gradually lost space – and seemingly a bit of motivation – in the second semester. Charismatic and clearly identified with the club, I am pleased with the renewed contract, even though I do not see Rafael as fundamentally important on the pitch. He however tends to grow in decisive moments and is part of the family: the fact that Palmeiras went to lengths to keep him emits good vibrations.

jeanYesterday, early evening, Palmeiras also signed defensive midfielder Jean from Fluminense. The 29-year-old was speculated at different clubs throughout December and January, Fluminense trying to play hardball although holding only 10% of the player’s economic rights. Truth is Jean wanted Palmeiras. And got it.

The midfielder, who is comfortable also on the right flank, became Brazilian champion with São Paulo FC in 2008 and with Fluminense in 2012. He did six caps for Brazil in 2012 (under Mano Menezes) and 2013 (Luiz Felipe Scolari). He has signed a four-year contract with Palmeiras and is, rightfully so, considered quite a catch.

And with that, the Palmeiras squad is set for 2016. Eight new faces in total: Keeper Vagner, centre-backs Edu Dracena and Roger Carvalho, defensive midfielders Rodrigo and Jean, offensive midfielders Régis and Moisés, and striker Erik.

The squad currently holds 37 players, but only 30 can be registered for the Libertadores Cup and no more than 28 in the Paulistão. Expect the likes of Mouche, Cristaldo, Allione, Nathan and a few more to find new clubs – either on loan or permanently – within a month or two.

And before I forget it: good work, Alexandre Mattos and Cícero Souza!
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thatsallfolks.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Fluminense 2-1 Palmeiras

As we enter a decisive couple of weeks, my glass is always half full. I have no patience for discussions on what our squad lacks, who should be given the boot and who should be signed for 2016. I am here and now, only interested in what can be done to extract the outmost of our squad – on an individual and collective basis. Marcelo Oliveira’s time is now. Palmeiras’ time is now.

As for classicos, this was one of Palmeiras’ worst in 2015. Fluminense dominated the first half fair and square, although things could have been different had Gabriel Jesus’ header been on target. With 2-0 on the scorecard, Oliveira regrouped in halftime, as habitual promoting Egídio on the left flank, allowing Zé Roberto a more centralised playmaker role. Victor Ramos gave way to Jackson (Vitor Hugo and Jackson must be our central lock) and a little later, Rafael Marques went on for Allione, Palmeiras already having diminished the gap through a penalty converted by Zé Roberto. With a much more open affair as of that, both teams created numerous chances. At the whistle, supporters from both sides cried foul – ours due to a goal by Amaral ruled out for offside, theirs for that penalty they claim never existed. Personally, I found the end result in compliance to what the two teams brought to the game.
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Expect a feverish Allianz Parque upcoming Wednesday. By the regulations of the Brazil Cup, yesterday´s away goal means Palmeiras are through to the finals if beating the tricolor carioca 1-0. If the end result reads 2-1, penalties. Should Fluminense score twice before fulltime, Palmeiras need to brace four. Expect Robinho back in the starting eleven. For Fluminense, the major question mark concerns striker Fred, yesterday leaving the pitch just before halftime with severe discomfort to the knee.

However, first Palmeiras welcome Sport on Saturday and Marcelo Oliveira has already signalled his intention of using a mixed squad. Sport have struggled with away games, showing a much better track record at home, as for example last week’s 4-1 thrashing of runner-up Atlético Mineiro. Oliveira has some difficult decisions to make, striking the right balance. It worked against Avaí. Sport is a much tougher nut. But then again, we have the theoretical advantage of playing at home. I can nothing but look at that half-full cup and smile.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Just like cholesterol, there’s good and bad predictability. We want our rule of law to be predictable, as well as our bureaucrats. Our collective transport. Our investments.

We don’t want our Saturday nights to be that predictable, neither our love life. And we don’t want to be predictable when we face an opponent. Although we want to be predictably good.

Palmeiras are not predictable as in “easy to read”. But neither are Palmeiras predictably good. Actually, on the contrary: it has never been harder to predict which Palmeiras will come on the pitch. And we’re not talking names and positions, but performance: to some extent individually but in particular collectively.

After the humiliating 5-1 defeat against Chapecoense, Palmeiras had ten days exclusively for rest and training. Result: 0-1 at home against Ponte Preta. True, the team from Campinas are on a roll, with five victories in the last six rounds, but Palmeiras also played very poorly, showing no progress at all. Last Saturday against Avaí, coach Marcelo Oliveira’s response: a starting eleven with João Pedro, Leandro Almeida, and Argentine trio Allione, Mouche and Cristaldo. Almeida was just as horrible as always, but the rest shouldered the responsibility, leading Palmeiras to a no-thrills albeit very important 1-3 victory after goals by Gabriel Jesus, Cristaldo and Dudu. At the conclusion of the 31st round, with another seven to go, Palmeiras are in fifth with 48 points, very much alive in the battle for that fourth place and a Libertadores spot.

Now, the shorter route is also much more pleasant, as it entails a title: the Brazil Cup. Tomorrow, the first leg of the semi-final against Fluminense, at the Maracanã stadium. Palmeiras will… Who the hell knows? Gabriel Jesus says “with all respect for the opponent: we’re going for it”. Palmeiras have indeed played their absolute best against stiffer competition, against traditional teams. In this year’s edition of the Brazilian championship, Fluminense has only tasted defeat, Palmeiras winning 2-1 and 1-4. Would another victory be predictable?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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barriosgolmaracana.
We witnessed a horrendous first half from Palmeiras, completely lacking offensive impetus: only minutes before halftime, a first shot at goal. Palmeiras went into the dressing room losing 1-0, Jackson having failed at clearing a corner, leaving it to Jean to stuff the net. Had it not been for Fluminense’s obvious weaknesses, it could have gotten very ugly.

Coach Oliveira promoted Rafael Marques on Egídio in halftime, Zé Roberto as usual being dislocated to the left flank. Palmeiras improved significantly, but it looked like curtains as Cícero, on a rare venture into Palmeiras territory, expertly folded his knees as Fernando Prass slid towards him, the referee confirming the penalty.

Fred stepped up to the spot. Had he made it 2-0, I guess Enderson Moreira would still be coaching Fluminense – as it happens, 40 minutes after he final whistle he received the boot, the carioca team now looking for their fourth coach this season.

With renewed hope, Palmeiras went for it. Oliveira swapped Arouca for Allione and Alecsandro for Barrios, and in a matter of minutes Palmeiras equalized through the latter. Less than ten minutes later, Gabriel Jesus stole the ball from a Fluminense defender and blasted it passed Cavalieri. Fluminense fell to pieces. On stoppage time, Barrios bagged another two braces.
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barrios8The day before yesterday, Barrios rejoiced as he announced he had come to an agreement with Cleiton Xavier to swap numbers: Barrios has always preferred the 8, and Xavier agreed to let it go, taking the 10 instead. Immediate results: last time a foreigner scored a hattrick for Palmeiras was in 1969 – Argentine centre-forward Luis Artime, against Botafogo-SP.

It has been eight long years since Palmeiras last beat Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro.

Palmeiras, Flamengo and SPFC all have 41 points, our rivals however with one game less played. Depending on today’s results, Palmeiras are a draw from the G4. Not that we can afford thinking about anything but victories: that last spot in the G4 is within the reach of many, and particularly Flamengo and Santos are looking increasingly strong in form.

Coach Oliveira needs to take a darn good look at his starting eleven and how the men are prepared. You cannot even compare Palmeiras’ first 45 minutes to the last 30, the difference is absurd. Oliveira must promote change, both to the line-up as well as psychologically speaking.

Let’s see which Palmeiras come on against Grêmio on Saturday.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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