Santos players celebrate their SaoPaulo League success

Under the inspired leadership of Neymar, Scotland’s favourite Brazilian footballer, Santos have just completed a hat-trick of Sao Paulo State Championships. Pele was the shining star the last time Santos achieved this feat in the 1960s and it seems young Neymar is fast approaching that level. Neymar scored twice in the 4-2 second leg of the Final against Guarani, adding to the double he scored in the away first leg 4-0 rout. After the match coach Muricy Ramalho, normally a man parsimonious with his praise, said  “Neymar has no limits. No-one knows what he can achieve. He is a sensational player and will continue to improve, so goodness knows what heights he will reach in the years ahead.”

Neymar four goals in the Final confirm his superstar status

So do Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have a legitimate challenger to their status as the two best players in the world? It is only 6 months since Santos, the Copa Libertadores holders and best team in South America, were humiliated by being totally outclassed in the World Club Cup Final. Neymar was anonymous that day as were all his team-mates as the gap between the Old and New World champions proved wider than the insulting odds of 14-1 against the Brazilian club might have  suggested. Neymar had hoped to use the World Club Cup Final to send a message to Barcelona that he was as god as Messi and should be signed to play alongside him in a dream partnership. On the day his team were so outclassed and starved of possession that he never featured, other than one sublime glimmer of skill. It looks like the deal to keep him at Santos until after the World Cup Final in 2014 will hold, but then he will be off to Spain, and both Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to think they have an agreement he will sign for them. Watch this space.

Neymar is not Santos’s only star player. Regular readers of LSA will know all about Paulo Henrique Ganso, the hugely talented midfielder who fortunately seems finally to have recovered from the injuries that have restricted his brilliance in the past 18 months. The Santos midfield also includes international stars Elano, late of Manchester City, and Ibson back from Russia, while another midfield international player Henrique seems to have solved the right back problem. Captain Edu Dracena is also well-known to European football fans after his time in Turkey. His centre back partner Durval is less well known but with this most recent State title he has completed the incredible achievement of winning his 10th State title, won across several states.

While Santos were clinching the Sao Paulo crown, the most prestigious by far of the 27 State Leagues that form the first 4 months of the Brazilian football year,  over in Rio De Janeiro Fluminense  were establishing themselves as the 2012 Rio champions with a 1-0 second leg victory away to Botafogo on top of their 4-1 first leg triumph. The Fluminense success was led by ex Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea super star Deco, well aided in the creative department by Thiago Neves returned home to the club of his heart after a bizarre interlude at deadly rivals Flamengo. Star striker Fred missed the second leg but his replacement Rafael Moura, know in Brazil as He-Man ,lived up to his billing by scoring the only goal.

Internacional Porto Alegre won the Rio Grande de Sol Championship scraping an unsatisfactory 2-1 victory over a stuffy Caxias side that threatened to spoil the IPA party by leading 1-0 at half-time, but led by Leandro Damiao who gained his first cap against Scotland last year, Inter ground out a narrowly deserved win with Leandro scoring the second goal.

Bahia under Falcao clinch State title

In Bahia State, new manager  ex IPA legend and world superstar Falcao led Bahia to their first state title in some while in a tightly fought 2 leg final against bitter local rivals Vitoria. The other state title of any significance, that of Minas Gerais was won by Atletico Mineiro.

With all the State competitions now finished, the serious football can finally begin in Brazil with the start next week of the 2012 Brazilian Championship. The best of the State Champions, Santos, Fluminense and Inter will hope to carry their winning form into the new League, while existing Champions Corinthians and the Rio trio of Flamengo, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama are likely to provide the most likely opposition along with Cruzeiro. With Santos, Fluminense, Corinthians and Vasco still involved in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, then maybe Inter and Flamengo can seek to build an early lead.

LSA will provide regular reports on both the Copa Libertadores and the Brazilian Championship over the next few months.