Letters from South America

Inter seek historic double

Copa Libertadores Final to be settled tonight

Several months ago LSA predicted that Inter would win both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores in the same year. Tonight Inter PA should turn that prediction into reality when they face Guadalajara Chivas in the second leg of the final of the Copa Libertadores in their own Beira Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre. 

Inter won the first leg in Mexico by a 2-1 scoreline that underestimated their superiority on the night. Although Guadalajara took the lead on the stroke of halftime Inter did not panic and kept playing their disciplined organised brand of football. Giuliano equalised in the 72nd minute and four minutes later captain Bolivar clinched a well-deserved victory.

Before the game Inter had expressed some worries about having to play on Chivas’s new synthetic grass pitch. But afterwards they were full of praise for the smoothness and trueness of the surface. In a lesson to his soon to be teammates at Spurs, excellent young midfielder  Sandroadmitted that the surface was ideal for playing good football on and that their fears had been groundless.

This 2-1 victory should be enough to guarantee Inter their second Copa Libertadores title in 5 years, having won the crown in 2006 with a two leg victory over Sao Paulo, the side they beat in the semi-finals this time. Several of that 2006 winning team squad, Bolivar, Indio, Fabiano Eller , Tinga, Rafael Sobis and Renan are still with Inter and are likely to feature at some point. Indeed Fabiano Eller is on course to get his third Libertadores winners medal having been part of the Vasco triumph in 1998.

Bolivar, Fabiano Eller, Tinga, Rafael Sobis and Renan were sold after the 2006 triumph but the first two returned  a while ago and the latter three were signed over the summer to be available for the assault on the Copa Libertadores.

Roth - too experienced to allow his side to be complacent

Highly experienced manager Celso Roth will not allow his players to make the mistake of assuming they only have to turn up to win. He will no doubt make them watch the video of Guadalajara winning in Chile in the second leg of their semi-final against Universidad de Chile after a poor performance at home. Under Roth, Inter PA are not an adventurous attacking side in the classical Brazilian style. They are more a well organised, hard working, business-like side who play a cautious 4:4:2 system. In goal Renan is regaining his confidence after a failed adventure in Spain and should keep Abbondancieri on the bench. Right back Nei is solid and left back Kleber is a classy experienced internationalist. At centre back Bolivar and Indio are very sound and are backed up by Fabiano Eller who has seen and done it all in two continents.

It is the midfield that makes them such a successful team. In the more withdrawn middle spots are young  Sandro, already an internationalist and old Tinga just back from Germany and ready to star. Giuliano who will take Sandro’s place when he flies out to join Spurs on Friday has already scored crucial goals in the last two rounds. Two Argentineans Guinazu and D’Alessandro provide the creative genius and playmaking. Up front young Taison plays off the big centre forward Alecsandro and drops back to make a 5 man midfield when Roth wants to consolidate. Rafael Sobis is not yet fully match fit but has more skill and class than Alecsandro and may appear at some point.

This team should be good enough to see off Guadalajara and make their capacity crowd very happy. Even if they blow it, they will be going to the World Club Cup in Abu Dhabi in December since Mexican clubs, playing in the Libertadores by invitation not right, are not eligible to qualify for the World Club Cup representing South America. Inter Milan will be strong favourites to beat Inter PA in the Final of the World Club Cup. But then that’s what the bookies thought in 2006 when they favoured Barcelona to take the crown, but Inter PA beat them 1-0

LSA will report the outcome of the Copa Libertadores Final in the next few days.

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Mano and the Santos Boys restore the smile to the face of Brazilian football

Dunga the scowl on the face of Brazilian football

Most Brazilian football supporters, which is about 180 million people, found the recent World Cup even more disappointing and depressing than the rest of us. Not so much because of the failure of their team, because that’s what a quarter final loss was to them, but by the unwillingness of their team to play the ‘jogo bonito’ (beautiful game) that they believe is their natural birthright. The blame for this double failure is generally placed by most Brazilians squarely on the shoulders of coach Dunga, but it might more fairly belong with the people who appointed Dunga in the first place. Although Dunga had no previous coaching experience he turned out actually to be a very good coach, no surprise to those who knew his game as a very thoughtful, if very hard player. But his personality, as hard as his play, was never going to lend itself to an approach that placed entertainment above success. With his reputation as a player based mainly on his hardness and defensive qualities it came as a surprise to many that as Xavi of Spain broke World Cup passing record after passing record in South Africa, it was Dunga’s records he was breaking. Dunga was a very influential player for Brazil, leading the play from the back. Dunga played in 3 World Cups, lifting the trophy as captain in 1994.

Dunga proved a successful coach with victories in the America Cup in 2007 and the Confederations Cup in 2009. For most of his time in charge Brazil were in the number one ranking produced by FIFA. Nor was he as negative and defensive a coach as his public image would suggest. He generally played with two forwards up front supported by at least one attacking midfielder, usually Kaka. He sometimes even flirted with two forwards and two attacking players, before he ran out of patience with Ronaldinho. But generally there was a cautious element both to his selections and to the style of play of his team, with always two defensive midfielders carrying out the duties he used to perform. Most Brazilians had their worst pre World Cup fears confirmed by Dunga’s selection of players for the trip to South Africa. He stuck with the unloved Felipe Melo and veteran Gilberto Silva in midfield and left out the best defensive midfielder in Brazil, Hernanes, a far superior player. He left out Adriano up front, probably correctly given his renewed problems with drink. But more controversially he omitted young AC Milan star Pato and plumped for the more pedestrian Grafite. He omitted Ronaldinho no longer the World’s greatest player of 4 years ago but still capable of flair and magic. But worst of all he left out the two brightest new stars of Brazilian football midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso and forward Neymar who had driven Santos to Sao Paulo State triumph alongside their loan signing Robinho who Dunga did include. A great campaign had been launched in Brazil to take a chance on these two. It was supported by Pele amongst others. The very volubility of the campaign probably doomed it, since Dunga with his perverse streak was not going to be seen to be dictated to by anyone, certainly not everyone.

(continue reading…)

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Inter can win both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores this year.

 Now that the dust has finally settled on the 2009-2010 Champions League, there is a strong consensus that it was won if not the best team, then at least by the team that most deserved to win it, Inter Milan. Barcelona are probably still worthy of their official ranking as the best club team in the world, a title bestowed by their victory in the World Club Cup Final in December 2009 when they outclassed the 2009 Copa Libertadores winners Estudiantes of Argentina. There is a common misconception that Barcelona had a poorer season in 2009-2010, winning only one title compared to the 6 they won the previous season. In fact Barcelona only won 3 titles in 2008-2009, the Spanish double of League and Cup as well as the Champions League trophy. In 2009-2010 they won 4 titles, the Spanish and European Supercups as well as the World Club Cup and the Spanish League. Hardly a disappointing trawl, particularly as high spending rivals Real Madrid won exactly nothing. Some of the football Barcelona played in 2009-2010, notably in the first away leg against Arsenal, was sublime, as good as it ever gets. Yet Mourinho’s Inter Milan side deservedly beat them over two legs, as well as also comprehensively overcoming Chelsea and Bayern Munich, so ending up worthy winners of the 2010 Champions League.

2010 Copa Libertadores Inter's name on this one too?

This article will concentrate on identifying which club might emerge victorious from the 2010 Copa Libertadores and so earn the right to take on Inter in the World Club Cup competition in December 2010. Normally the Copa Libertadores turns out to be a struggle contested by the most powerful clubs in Argentina and Brazil, with the occasional victory of one of the Uruguayan duo of Nacional and Penarol to break the monopoly of the Big 2 countries. Only 3 times in the last 18 years has this pattern been broken, most recently by Pellegrini’s old club LDU Quito of Ecuador in 2008. The 2009 version had conformed to the usual pattern with Estudiantes of Argentina overcoming Cruzeiro of Brazil in the Final, having disposed of Nacional in the semi-final. . The sensational news before the tournament even started was that for the first time in recent memory neither of the traditional Argentinean big 2, Boca Juniors and River Plate, had qualified for the tournament. Nor did any of the other 3 of the classic Big 5, Independiente, San Lorenzo and Celtic’s old rivals Racing BA. Between them these 5 clubs have won the Copa Libertadores 16 times. It was as if all of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs had failed to qualify for the Champions League. The 6 Argentinean representatives were two former winners Estudiantes and Velez Sarsfield, and four smaller clubs Banfield, Colon, Newell’s Old Boys and Lanus.  A future GGW Letter from South America will offer a more detailed explanation of the decline of Argentina’s most powerful clubs and their replacement by better run minnows.

(continue reading…)

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Final Report on Affairs of State in Brazil

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…)

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Pragmatism 0 Attacking Football 3

Robinho and Neymar celebrate

The second leg of the Sao Paulo State League Semi-final between Santos and Sao Paulo represented an eagerly awaited clash of cultures between the European features of organisation and discipline, and the Brazilian traditional virtues of attacking football.  In one corner was Sao Paulo, the most ‘European’ and by no coincidence the most successful of Brazilian clubs with 6 Brazilian titles, 3 Copa Libertadores crowns and 3 World Club championships to their name. Under coach Ricardo Gomes, well experienced as both player and Manager in Europe, Sao Paulo play a pragmatic modern European style game. All their Brazilian internationalists, Rogerio Ceni, Cicinho, Alex Silva, Miranda and Hernanes are defenders or defensive midfielders.

In the other corner, was Santos, forever known throughout the world as the club of Pele. World Champions and widely acknowledged as the best club side in the world throughout Pele’s time with them, they had a long domestic decline after Pele’s retirement but the 21st century has seen them restored to one of the elite clubs in Brazil with two Brazilian championships and 2 State Leagues. This year Santos have revived memories of the Pele era with a total commitment to attacking football often playing with three forwards , two attacking midfielders and a winger at full back. In their 25 game so far in 2010 they have scored no less than 88 goals, a ratio of more than 3.5 goals a game only ever exceeded in Pele’s prime. (continue reading…)

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Robinho Smiles Again

The game of the week in South America last week was the first leg of the Sao Paulo State Championship between Sao Paulo and Santos.

The first 4 months of the year in Brazil are devoted to the more than 20 different State Championships. The poor quality of play in most of these State leagues would surprise football fans brought up on the myths of Brazilian brilliance. The standard of play generally is no better than can be found in the lower Scottish divisions, with many of the bigger clubs not taking them seriously in favour of concentrating on the Copa Libertadores and Copa Brazil tournaments. The biggest best and most organised of these State leagues is the Sao Paulo State Championship but even this League does not have quality strength in depth.

Readers of the GGW “The Fat Boy Done Good” post of June 2009 will remember that Corinthians won the 2009 version due mainly to the goals of Ronaldo. This time, Corinthians, the best supported club in Sao Paulo, did not bother to make a serious attempt to retain their State crown, preferring instead to concentrate on their Group games in the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the European Champions League. Corinthians have never won the Libertadores and are desperate to do so in 2010 their Centenary year.

Palmeiras, another of the Sao Paulo Gang of Four, and the only top Brazilian club to play in green and white, did try to win the State League. However still demoralised by the shocking collapse in December that cost them the 2009 Brazilian Championship, they stuttered through mediocre form and failed to qualify for the 4 semi-final places.

It was left to Sao Paulo and Santos to uphold the honour of the traditional Big Four. Santos finished top of the initial League stage which they dominated with brilliant attacking football to gain second leg home advantage against the 4th place team, Sao Paulo.

The other semi-final was due to take place at the same between 2nd placed Gremio SP (not to b e confused with the more famous Gremio Porto Alegre from Rio Grande State) and 3rd placed Santo Andre a club relegated from the Brazilian Championship in 2009. (continue reading…)

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The Fat Boy done good

Fat Boy Ronaldo

“Fat chance” was the least cruel assessment made at the beginning of this year 2009 as to whether Ronaldo could regain his status as a world class forward when he turned up for preseason training in Sao Paulo with his new club Corinthians. The more subtly insulting claimed he was now twice the player he used to be. It was true he didn’t look good when it first started. On arrival at the Corinthians training camp in early February he claimed to be 5 kilos overweight. GGW had to double check the metric conversion table that 1 kilo was indeed merely 2.2lbs, which meant he was claiming to be only 11lb overweight. A quick look at him suggested that 111lb might be nearer the mark. As the photo shows, his face alone looked 11lb overweight. Surely after 12 months out at the age of 32 years and with a well-documented dissolute life style, he could not return to top level football. (continue reading…)

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The roar of the butterflies wings leaves 40 million Brazilians devastated

It is a classic belief of certain schools of philosophy that the flutter of a butterfly’s wing in one part of the world can lead to devastation in another. Last week provided graphic proof of this phenomenon with a minor ripple in South Africa causing major disaster in Rio de Janeiro, 13,000 miles away.
In 2006 Carlos Alberto Parreira had been appointed Coach of South Africa, with the responsibility for ensuring that they did respectably well in the 2010 World Cup, for which as hosts they are exempt from having to qualify. Having won the 1994 World Cup for his own country Brazil, along with a very respectable record in both club and international football, he was a good appointment and as likely as anyone to deliver on the high expectations of the host nation. However his wife and family did not settle in South Africa and after much heart-searching Parreira decided to put his family first and hand in his resignation. Partly in a desire to ensure a degree of continuity the South African Football Federation decided to appoint Joel Santana as his successor. Joel Santana one of the older generation of Brazilian coaches, like Pereira more renowned for defensive tidiness than attacking flair, had transformed the performance of Flamengo one of the two great sleeping giants of Brazilian football. He took over Flamengo in mid 2007 when after a dire start in the Brazilian Championship they were in the relegation positions. Under Joel, with the rare support of the Directors(in Brazil 2 successive defeats often results in a coach’s dismissal) the team improved steadily and ended up 3rd in the League, if well behind 3rd time winners Sao Paulo, to qualify for the 2008 Libertadores. The other sleeping giant, the mighty Corinthians from Sao Paulo were relegated, but that is a story for another Letter. (continue reading…)

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