Internacional and Corinthians have both yet to feature on Game of the Week, but these are two huge teams with equally huge followings, and matches between them have always delivered grand spectacles. Internacional – from the southern city of Porto Alegre – and Corinthians – one of the city of São Paulo’s three giants – have met in a few momentous games in Brazilian football history, most famously the Campeonato Brasileiro final of 1976, when the great Paulo Roberto Falcão’s Inter disposed of Corinthians and clinched their second national championship.
Furthermore, a noticeable animosity has developed between the two teams in recent years, sparked by a particularly decisive match near the end of the 2005 Brasileirão season while both clubs were chasing the title. In that match, Internacional midfielder Tinga (now back at Inter after a spell in Germany) was brought down by then-Corinthians goalkeeper Fábio Costa in the penalty area, and the referee inexplicably refused to award Inter a penalty, instead opting to send off Tinga for simulation. The match itself ended as a draw and Corinthians secured the championship weeks later, although there are many who still believe that the title was comprado (bought) by the São Paulo side, but that’s a story for another day…
Since then, meetings between Inter and o Timão have always been fiery affairs, so on Sunday with Corinthians fighting for the title and Internacional on form and creeping up behind them, we were expecting drama as the sides met in Inter’s Beira-Rio stadium.
Both teams have had success this season playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, so there was no surprise when the two sides lined up the same way on Sunday. For Inter, former Manchester City striker Jô started as the lone forward in the absence of exciting youngster Leandro Damião, with the talented trio of Oscar, Andres D’Alessandro and Andrezinho slotting in behind him. On the other side, naturalized Portuguese striker Liédson led the line for Corinthians, with the talented Alex (who played for Internacional in that aformentioned game in 2005) backing him up as the number ten.
As the formation diagram above shows, these were two very similar systems. In particular, the two midfields were almost identical, with both sides utilizing a ‘double pivot’ in front of the defence with one holding player (Guiñazú for Inter, Ralf for Corinthians) flanked by a more athletic player (Bolatti and Paulinho) who attributes to attacking phases. Slightly higher up the field, both sides played with an Argentine-style enganche in the centre, pulling all the strings (D’Alessandro and Alex), with two inverted wingers on either side of him.
In certain areas the teams cancelled eachother out, but thankfully we were not left with a total stalemate like some may have forecast. There was plenty of football to be had in the first half, with both D’Alessandro and Alex putting in fabulous performances, creating plenty for the trio of attackers around them. Inter had the majority of the opportunities in the first 45, but both sides were ultimately left disappointed by their centre-forwards, who passed up some really good chances in front of goal.
The first real turning point came on 41 minutes, when Corinthians right-back and team captain Alessandro was shown a red card for a reckless and dangerous foul on Internacional’s Andrezinho. The game had started to heat up slightly beforehand, but it was a very foolish challenge, especially coming from the captain, and it left Corinthians having to completely re-think their match strategy at half time.
Unsurprisingly, both sides made changes at the break. For Inter, coach Dorival Júnior brought off Argentine midfielder Bolatti and replaced him with young winger João Paulo, while Corinthians introduced replacement right-back Welder in the place of pacy midfielder Willian.
As you can see above, both team’s shapes changed significantly. With a man advantage, Dorival Júnior brought his team out for the second half with a view to attack. Andrezinho slotted back into the midfield into the role of the departed Bolatti, and Oscar and João Paulo were pushed out wide to make them more traditional wingers, with the full-backs bombing forward down the flanks.
Corinthians sat much deeper, adopting a 4-4-1 shape with two defined banks of four, looking to crowd the defence and frustrate Inter as they came forward. Liédson was left up front as the lone striker, but he remained very ineffectual. Without the pace and dynamism of Willian in the Corinthians line-up, they were left very defensive, struggling to come out of their own half at all.
After several attempts, Inter broke the deadlock on 56 minutes through marauding right-back Nei. The goal came as a result of a lapse in concentration from the Corinthians defense, Inter had a corner cleared and put the ball back into the box, Corinthians were disorganised and left Nei unmarked at the back post, and he duly headed across goal into the net.
A goal down and with a profound difficulty in their saída de bola (term used in Brazil to describe a team’s ability to turn defence into attack), Corinthians coach Tite made some alterations to his side, attempting to claw his way back into the match by reintroducing the speed and directness that they lost when Willian was substituted. Liédson and Danilo were brought off, and were substituted by Jorge Henrique and Edenílson.
That changed moved Corinthians out of their own half and into a variant of a 4-2-3 shape with Alex as the ‘centre forward’, but he often dropped back into the midfield to form a flat line of three. Inter made changes too, Ilsinho replaced Oscar on the right, and Tinga was brought on for Andrezinho, dropping much deeper and attempting to protect their slim lead.
Corinthians tried, but could not seem to penetrate the Inter defence, but with two minutes left we were to see one final twist. D’Alessandro brought down Alex in the midfield, and promptly recieved his second yellow card and was sent off. The Argentine could not really have any complaints about the foul, but it was a shame to see him recieve a red card after such an impressive performance.
Corinthians were left with a free-kick in the middle of the park, roughly 30 yards from Muriel’s goal. Unbelievably, Alex stepped up and hit a brilliant strike which fizzed low into the bottom corner of the net to give Corinthians a last minute equaliser. Goalkeeper Muriel could perhaps be blamed for only putting two men in the wall, but in my opinion he was left little chance with the precision and power of the shot.
On paper, a draw was not a beneficial result for either team, but with everything taken into account, Corinthians left very pleased with their point. Inter really should have done better while in the ascendency with a man advantage, and under no circumstances should they have allowed Corinthians to get back into the match.
The draw leaves Inter all but out of the title race in seventh place, but with Leandro Damião returning soon, they are still looking very likely to qualify for the 2012 Copa Libertadores by finishing in the top five.
With Vasco winning 2×0 in Bahia, Corinthians lost a little ground on their title rivals by dropping points on Sunday. However, the difference is only two points, and with a relatively favourable run of fixtures coming up, they are in a great position to challenge for the championship.