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Carlos_Simon_2009.
November 8, 2009. The Brazilian championship is on its 34th round out of 38. The previous round ended with Palmeiras in a narrow lead, two points ahead of São Paulo FC and Atlético Mineiro. The season has obviously been good for Palmeiras, but also challenging and now, toward the end of it, the absence of a couple of key players due to injury and internal issues involving members of the squad are taking their toll. Still, the title is within reach and there’s only a couple more weeks to go. 

Maracanã stadium, Rio de Janeiro, against seriously relegation-threatened Fluminense. In the 29th minute, Palmeiras are awarded a corner and forward Obina opens the scorecard for the Verdão with a clean header. The referee, Carlos Eugênio Simon, quickly invalidates the goal, signalling Obina pushed the defender, positioned behind him, in order to get to the ball. Fruitless protests from Palmeiras players and the bench: the ruling stands. In the second half, Fluminense scores the winner, bagging the three points that will prove crucial in their final sprint, escaping relegation.
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Palmeiras never recover. The feeling is one of utter disbelief, that of a rigged championship. Palmeiras’ final sequence computes one victory, one draw and two defeats, leaving Palmeiras in fifth place overall. Flamengo are crowned champions, followed by Internacional. 

In absolute defiance of the video footage, referee Simon sticks to his story. Palmeiras president at the time, Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo, calls Simon shameless and then some, in addition to promising to slap him around should they come face to face. Simon takes Belluzzo to court and pockets a fair amount.

Simon is the Brazilian Football Federation’s pick to represent Brazil in the 2010 World Cup. Soon after, he retires from refereeing, initiating a new career as expert commentator at a sports TV network. In 2012, when challenged on air about the 2009 incident, he claims Obina, in private, confessed to having committed the foul. Obina immediately refutes the statement. 

Last Monday, on live television, and in the presence of Obina, Simon apologizes to the former Palmeiras striker. Out of the blue, a confession, nine years after the original incident. Simon says he made a mistake, seeking to compensate for a previous error by the linesman, having awarded a corner where it should, he claims, have been a throw-in. “Sorry”, he says with a smile, shaking Obina’s hand.

For Palmeiras supporters, news hit like a bomb, a singular confirmation of something we have always known: that afternoon, at the Maracanã, we were robbed. Deliberately. With consequences that went well past those 90 minutes, those three points.

Obina might have shaken hands with Simon, but palmeirenses certainly will not. His actions on that afternoon in November of 2009 were abominable, and his posture throughout the years the clearest evidence of his lack of character. A lack, no doubt, crucial in the development of his successful refereeing career. 

Football is the passion of millions, followed by billions. Men like Carlos Eugênio Simon, the shameless individuals that shatter dreams while removing the magic of honest competition. Burn in hell, Simon. Burn in hell.

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Right after the draw with Atlético Mineiro at the Independência stadium some ten days ago, coach Cuca set a partial goal for Palmeiras: win the upcoming six games in order to keep the Brazilian championship title in sight. After two consistent 1-0 victories – at home against Coritiba and last Sunday away against Fluminense – the first third of the plan has been successfully fulfilled. “We are looking for those 18 points. It’s a partial goal. Against Santos, it will be difficult, but we’re growing in the competition and need to believe. We were 15 points behind the leader and we’ve shaved four off”, Cuca explains.
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Palmeiras currently rests in fourth place with the same 43 points as Grêmio, with Santos in second, one point ahead of the duo. Cuca believes the next four games will define the championship: Santos (home), Bahia (home), Atlético-GO (away) and Ponte Preta (home). “After this sequence of six games, we will make another mini-project. These partial goals make everything more fragmented and we can mobilize a little better”, the coach argues.

Palmeiras play Corinthians on 5 November. Out of the six rounds before the derby, Palmeiras play four at home, while the rival play only two. Add to this the rather different phases the teams are in, are we are likely to see the gap diminish further.

Palmeiras pre derby
30/9 – Palmeiras vs Santos (Allianz Parque)

12/10 – Palmeiras vs Bahia (Allianz Parque)
15/10 – Atlético-GO vs Palmeiras (Olímpico)
19/10 – Palmeiras vs Ponte Preta (Allianz Parque)
22/10 – Grêmio vs Palmeiras (Arena do Grêmio)
29/10 – Palmeiras vs Cruzeiro (Allianz Parque)

Corinthians pre derby
01/10 – Cruzeiro vs Corinthians (Mineirão)

11/10 – Corinthians vs Coritiba (Itaquera)
15/10 – Bahia vs Corinthians (Fonte Nova)
18/10 – Corinthians vs Grêmio (Itaquera)
21/10 – Botafogo vs Corinthians (Nilton Santos)
29/10 – Ponte Preta vs Corinthians (Moisés Lucarelli)

These next few weeks should be enjoyable. There’s nothing like the hunt, especially when unpretentious and rather relaxed. Not at all like being hunted…

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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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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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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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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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