The last couple of weeks have seen the conclusion of the various State leagues that occupy the first few months of each Brazilian season.

Sao Paulo

Santos do it, but the hard way

Previous Letters from South America “Robinho smiles again” and “Pragmatism 0 Attacking Football3″  reported how Santos did the hard bit well, finishing top of the league stage then knocking out Sao Paulo in the semi-finals with very impressive attacking football. However Santos found doing the easy bit much harder. The previous LSA suggested that final opponents Santo Andre were of the same standard as Partick Thistle. But as Celtic found out in the Scottish Cup just because your opponents are a level below you, doesn’t mean all you have to do is turn up to triumph. The first leg, away from home was an exciting game with an attack-minded Santos finally winning 3-2. Some 35,000 Santos fans including the legendary Pele, turned up for the second leg of the Final at their own Vila Belmiro stadium expecting a leisurely afternoon of joy, goals, victory  and celebration. Manager Dorival Junior once again reverted to a more defensive 4:4:2 formation for the home leg, putting winger/full back Wesley into midfield and bringing in a more conventional full back and leaving young centre forward Andre on the bench.

Santo Andre soon spoiled the party atmosphere scoring in the very first minute. Neymar soon equalised with a goal of usual brilliance but within 20 minutes Santo Andre went ahead again. Once again young Neymar displayed his genius crafting an excellent equaliser  but in the second last minute of the first half Santo Andre took the lead for the third time. With away goals cancelling out, Santos knew that even a 3-2 defeat would see them crowned champions based on their better league performance but one more goal conceded and Santo Andre would be champions. So the scene was set for a tense second half. The Santos left back Leo, of Benfica fame, had been  sent off in the first half along with a Santo Andre forward so both sides were down to 10 men.  Midfielder Marquinhos was sent off towards the end of the first half, so Santos were facing the last 45 minutes with only 9 players.  For the 35,000 present the second half was the longest 45 minutes of their life.  Santos defended grimly but were under intense pressure for most of the time. Dorival took of both Robinho and Neymar, bringing on Andre and a defensive midfield player. The pressure intensified in the 38th minute when Santos had another man sent off leaving them playing with only 8 men, against 10. Dorival immediately took off Andre, meaning  attacking Santos had no forward on the park. Somehow the last 10 minutes passed with no Santo Andre goal and at the final whistle the Santos celebrations were finally able to start. It would have been a travesty of justice if their goal laden campaign had not ended up with them crowned champions.

The players frantic celebrations were led by Neymar. He may only be 18 years old but he is already the natural leader both on and off the pitch. Man of the match for Santos was midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso who probably added another couple of million to the transfer fee needed to take him to Europe. He is a great talent though and surely some big European club will buy him.

(continue reading…)