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In what possibly was the best game of football played so far this year in Brazil, Santos suffered a 2-1 defeat to Palmeiras in the ninth round of the Paulista Championship. Last time Palmeiras walked away with three points from the Vila Belmiro was in 2011.

Palmeiras came strong, the line-up consisting of Prass; Jean, Mina, Dracena and Zé Roberto; Melo; Tchê Tchê, Guerra, Keno and Dudu; Borja.

In spite of the rain, the game was highly paced and technical, both sides playing offensive football. Many clear opportunities were created on both sides, Santos perhaps producing the most, but we went to halftime goalless thanks to absolutely outstanding keeper performance on both sides. The scenario pretty much repeated during most of the second half, until Ricardo Oliveira opened up the scorecard with 29 minutes on the clock, forcing Palmeiras coach Baptista to go all in. Egídio already on the flank, dislocating Zé Roberto to the centre (Guerra out), Baptista now promoted Willian and Róger Guedes on behalf of Zé and Keno. Palmeiras became extremely offensive, but kept cool, working the ball. Santos succumbed to pressure, allowing the equalizer as Jean took an unlikely shot from a bad angle with five minutes to go. A few minutes later, the virada: Guedes, also on the right flank, went deep and crossed low, where Willian materialized to stuff the net. Glorious.
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The result mathematically secures Palmeiras a spot in the quarterfinals. For Palmeiras, the three remaining rounds in the group stage will be used to give bench players more pitch time, while guarding first position in the overall score, as that translates into home advantage in the semi-finals and finals. Next up, Mirassol.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Yet another solid performance by Palmeiras, finally against one of those smaller but well-trained teams our Verdão – much to the despair of the home crowds – have been suffering with lately. Cuca now computes three straight victories. He better keep it up, as Palmeiras only face knockout games until the Brazilian Championship starts on 14 May. Upcoming Sunday Palmeiras and Santos battle away and, if everything goes as planned, the stage will be set for an epic Palmeiras vs. Corinthians (or, less likely, Audax) for the 2016 São Paulo Championship title at the Itaqueirão stadium.

Against São Bernardo, Cuca again made interesting alterations, both before and during the game. Starting with Barrios and Dudu on the bench, he betted on stronger creativity on the midfield with Arouca, Matheus Sales, Allione and Robinho, Alecsandro and Gabriel Jesus reversing as central target up front. Egídio once again had a great night and served up Alecsandro for the header that opened up the scorecard.

In the second half, a rather null Robinho was swapped for Dudu with 15 on the clock, Palmeiras maintaining superiority without exceling. Things improved a bit as Gabriel came on for Arouca. Then, with 15 minutes to go, we saw the debut of youngster Roger Guedes, recent arrival from Criciúma (more on this in a future post), replacing Alecsandro. The offensive trio was responsible for closing the scorecard, Dudu distributing to Guedes on the right flank, in velocity, where a precise cross from the newcomer found Gabriel Jesus. Alecsandro and Jesus are Palmeiras´top scorers in 2016, with nine braces each.
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Cuca, as mentioned, is experimenting with different setups. São Bernardo tired and pressing high in search for the equaliser, Cuca opted for speed, sacrificing his centrally positioned forward, placing Gabriel Jesus and Roger Guedes on each flank, with Dudu and Allione distributing. The formation immediately rendered results. The squad is assimilating Cuca well and will certainly benefit from the week of preparations ahead. Santos, on the other hand, have a Brazil Cup game on Thursday.

Sunday’s semi-final will be a tense affair: the rivalry between players have not died down since the Brazil Cup final last year, with players like Lucas Lima taking every opportunity to fire indirect, sarcastic remarks at Palmeiras on social media. In addition, the single game will be played at Santos’ home grounds Vila Belmiro, where Santos are increadibly strong, and without Palmeiras supporters allowed. Talk about hostile environment. The kind of environment that make the eyes of players like Dudu shine…

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Santos’ coach Dorival Junior was pleased after Saturday’s classic against Palmeiras at the Allianz Parque. “This was the team’s best performance this year, no doubt” he declared, adding that only Palmeiras keeper Prass had stood between Santos and the three points.

Fernando Prass did indeed have a splendid night, but the game wasn’t all that that Dorival saw, neither was Santos particularly superior: both teams created chances, as Marcelo Oliveira again tried something new, this time with Matheus Sales starting instead of Arouca. Using three more defence-oriented midfielders, as also against River Plate, might be an interesting option. Highlights below.
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Dorival has been at Santos since July 2015. His current squad is at large the same that lost the Brazil Cup final to Palmeiras. So far in 2016, Santos have played 5 games, computing 2 wins and 3 draws – 60% of possible points won.

In the last five years, Dorival has bagged one title: the Rio Grande do Sul state championship (the Gauchão), with Internacional.

Marcelo Oliveira has been at Palmeiras roughly the same time as Dorival at Santos, arriving in June of last year. He also works a similar squad as last year, although now with more options: six new players have arrived and most of these can enter a starting eleven. So far in 2016, Palmeiras compute six games, being 1 victory, 4 draws and 1 defeat: 39%.

In the last five years, Marcelo has won 3 state titles (the 2011-2012 Paranaense Championships with Coritiba and the 2014 Mineiro Championship with Cruzeiro) and 3 national titles (the 2013-2014 Brazilian Championships with Cruzeiro and the 2015 Brazil Cup with Palmeiras).

Palmeiras have played 4 games in the last 10 days. I repeat: 4 games in 10 days. The ignorant would say “well, that’s plenty of opportunities to get things right”. I refuse to comment.

Palmeiras have a good squad. In addition to Brazil’s currently most merited coach (might want to throw Tite in there as well). Naturally, expectations are high and Palmeiras are not meeting them. Not yet. I believe everything will suddenly fall into place, and in a manner that will surprise us all. Patience.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Gabriel Santoro has done it again. An epic little piece of highly concentrated passion, allowing us to relive the decisive final week of the 2015 Brazil Cup.
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As it had to be.

Palmeiras are so much larger than the sum of the parts, but that seemed long forgotten as Santos were declared virtual champions of the 2015 Brazil Cup by a united press corps. In the ESPN Brasil TV studio, Palmeiras centre-back Vítor Hugo was greeted with a mocking “welcome, runner-up”. A “Santos Campeão” poster was available for purchase in the newsstands the day before the game.

In the end, all this only meant more fuel on the fire, on the desire to crown a difficult year with a national title and the outlook of continental play in 2016.

Those who were at the Allianz Parque and surroundings yesterday, all say the same: never in my life have I seen anything like this. The supporters occupied the entire neighbourhood, greeting players upon arrival in a splendid “Green Corridor” of flares, flags and cheers (pictures below by Ivan Fadel). A sold-out Allianz Parque lifted and carried our men on the pitch from the first to the last minute of the clash.
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Palmeiras’ players all stepped it up. As could be expected from more experienced profiles like Fernando Prass, Lucas Barrios, Dudu, Robinho, Arouca, Vítor Hugo, Zé Roberto, Jackson. But even more impressive was the determination and maturity from the young guns: Gabriel Jesus and João Pedro, but especially Matheus Sales and Lucas Taylor ripped Santos apart. Hats off to coach Marcelo Oliveira, making the right call and trusting the kids to handle the pressure.

Supporters did their part, coach Oliveira and players did their part, as did referee Heber Roberto Lopes and his men, putting up a flawless performance. It did not take more. It did not take less.
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This was Marcelo Oliveira’s fourth attempt at the Brazil Cup title in five years: he was runner-up twice with Coritiba then once with Cruzeiro. On a personal level, he needed this trophy, and deserved it.

The Copa do Brasil title, Palmeiras’ third, brings peace to everyone while preparing the squad for next season. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, neither the outlook of participation in the 2016 edition of the Libertadores Cup. Players have something new to look forward to, increased investments are expected, everything looks brighter.

More than anything, 15 million palmeirenses deserved this out-of-this-world ending to a rollercoaster year.

It is ever so true: Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Coach Scolari took us through the emotions a few years back. Love and hate. Glory and shame. The unlikely combo comprised of the Brazil Cup trophy with a Brasileirão relegation.

It’s not quite the same this year. For good and for bad, Marcelo Oliveira has not the ability to stir the blood of palmeirenses like Scolari. And Palmeiras suffer no risk of relegation. Now, had the championship been another 5-6 rounds…

Today’s 0-2 against Coritiba was as depressing as ever, Palmeiras using nothing from the starting eleven except right-back Lucas, suspended from the last match in the Brazil Cup. Coritiba on the other hand threw in everything they had and through the three points  very close to secured their spot in the first division next year.  The 15.000 strong crowd at the Allianz Parque endured the rain and the poor football, showing loyalty beyond belief, collectively aware of the only thing that matters: the 90 minutes coming Wednesday against Santos.

Palmeiras need revert the 1-0 defeat from the first leg at the Vila Belmiro. And work around the biased refereeing. It’s curious the clear penalty on Barrios, denied by the referee, didn’t even make this otherwise excellent compilation below. But this is how it has always been and how it must always be in order for it to be Palmeiras, against all and everything. 
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True, Palmeiras played badly against Santos. And true, the scorecard could have been much more in Santos’ favour at the blow of the final whistle. But it is what it is. And just like in 2012 – against all odds – Palmeiras on Wednesday lift the Brazil Cup trophy. For the third time in history.

Do not ask me to explain how. I do not even care how.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The result surprised no one. It’s notoriously hard to play at the Vila Belmiro. And we all know Palmeiras must progress if they are serious about winning the Brazil Cup. The almost four weeks between now and 25 November, when the first leg of the finals is played, serve that purpose: tweak Palmeiras into something better.

A game of missed opportunities, this one. The rain justifies some of it, for example Dudu’s slip. Other blown opportunities, like Robinho’s poor shot and moments with Ricardo Oliveira and Gabriel, can be blamed on nervousness and arrogance. Highlights below.
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Arrogance. A key word in this context. Personified in veteran striker Ricardo Oliveira. Twenty goals so far in the Brasileirão, well on his way to become the golden boot of the season, which also has rendered him renewed attention from Dunga and a place in the Brazil squad, ending a ten-year absence. A pastor he is, Ricardo Oliveira. Always on his high horse. No different today, and especially after scoring, making faces and pointing toward Prass.

Ricardo Oliveira is just being himself. Which is excellent. If there’s one thing with potential to bring that extra geist into the Palmeiras squad, it’s his stuffed up arrogance. That, and the overall “Santos has got this one in the bag”, commonly transmitted by sports journalists. 2012, anyone?

A week of rest and training before Palmeiras receive desperate bottom-dwellers Vasco da Gama. Then, two games against middle-of-the-tables teams that theoretically have little to fight for: Atlético Paranaense away and Cruzeiro at home. These three games are crucial for Palmeiras’ aspirations for a place in the G4. Anything lesser than seven points and the Brazil Cup becomes our only hope.

For the upcoming sequence, Arouca and Cleiton Xavier should be at Marcelo Oliveira’s disposal. Mind you, Matheus Sales has been very convincing, putting out another solid performance today, this time beside Thiago Santos. Arouca will for sure face some healthy competition. As for Xavier… Better keep expectations low. Actually, might as just forget he even exists.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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