Who’s up for the Cup?

The quarter finals of Brazil’s domestic cup competition, the Copa do Brasil, get underway this midweek. Recently adapted to include all top-flight teams (those participating in the Copa Libertadores were previously exempt) and align its final stages to the last few months of the league season, the Copa has become one of the biggest attractions of Brazilian football’s long and packed calendar. It provides full stadiums, quality football and quenches the Brazilian fan’s thirst for knockout tournaments.

The Copa do Brasil is quite different from most of the traditional European domestic cups, owing more of a debt to Spain’s Copa del Rey in its two-legged format. Major upsets are rare, while the idea of a “cup run” is alien. Due to Brazilian teams’ overcrowded fixture lists, competing seriously in the Copa is a calculated choice as opposed to naturally building momentum.

Challenging in both the league and cup is difficult. It is no coincidence that at this late stage in the tournament, Corinthians and Atlético Mineiro, 1st and 2nd in the league, are already eliminated from the cup. Continue reading Who’s up for the Cup?

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Clássicos, part two

Footballers have various ways of dealing with pressure on match day. Some are able to use the increased adrenaline in order to produce higher levels of substances in the brain that enhance performance, like emotional doping. Others succumb to the nerves and often try to hide on the field to avoid making high-profile mistakes.

Pressure can manifest itself in other, more visceral ways. In a derby match, when full of adrenaline, some players commit over-zealous fouls and get themselves into trouble. Violence can spoil a good game of football, and this happens so often with fierce rivalries.

A perfect example of this was yesterday’s clássico between Grêmio and Internacional in Porto Alegre. The first half was exciting, with some interesting tactical battles and good play from either side. Grêmio took the lead from a penalty kick, before Inter equalised through Leandro Damião.

Renato Gaúcho’s Grêmio surprisingly went for a 3-4-1-2 system, bringing in new signing Rhodolfo as a sweeper in the back three. This switch from their usual 4-4-2 was to give more freedom to the wing-backs, who pushed up the field and occupied Internacional’s full-backs, leaving their opponents light and narrow in attack. Deep-lying forward Kléber played an important role, drifting wide and creating 2 on 1 situations on either flank.

 
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With pressure levels turned up to eleven, the second half turned scrappy and play was repeatedly stopped for violent fouls. The referee lost control of the players and red cards soon followed. We were robbed of a suitable ending to what began as an intriguing match.

Some people relish this type of game. However while violence is clearly a source of entertainment for many (you just need to look at the popularity of sports like mixed martial arts and boxing), football doesn’t need it.

Clássicos aren’t all bad, though. Sometimes they get it right.

Vasco x Botafogo was a good example of why derby matches can be so enthralling. Spurred on by the pressure, both teams played with higher intensity while staying within the rules. As a result, we were treated to some excellent Sunday evening entertainment.

Botafogo is currently the best team in the Brasileirão. Head coach Oswaldo de Oliveira has built a wonderful 4-2-3-1 system that revolves around veteran midfielder Clarence Seedorf. They work extremely well as a unit, pressing high and with superb movement in attack.

Seedorf got on the score sheet once again, his 18th goal in 29 appearances for Botafogo. Before moving to Brazil, Seedorf had scored less than 100 goals in a club career that comprised over 700 appearances. This sudden surge of goal scoring form has nothing to do with a gap in quality between the Brazilian league and any of Europe’s finest, it comes as a result of Botafogo’s playing style, which has the Dutchman at the centre of everything.

With Botafogo leading 2-1 at half-time, Oswaldo de Oliveira had a decision to make. Last weekend, leading at the break in another clássico against Flamengo, Oswaldo changed his team’s approach for the second half, bringing off attacking midfielder Vitinho and replacing him with defensive midfielder Renato in an attempt to “administer the game”. All that did was remove Botafogo’s only deep threat and invite Flamengo to attack. Botafogo conceded a late equaliser, and Oswaldo was a victim of the clássico pressure.

Though Brazilian coaches and commentators love to use the phrase, it is extremely difficult to administer a football match. There are so many factors to administer in a game, and attempting to do so is futile and often counter-productive.

Excellent coaches learn from their mistakes, and Oswaldo did just that. Yesterday, instead of trying to administer the game, Oswaldo kept Botafogo in their usual system, which is strong enough to beat any team in Brazil at the moment. They went on to win 3-2, and are deservedly at the top of the league.

Game of the Week: Santos 3×1 Internacional

Rarely in the world of football are us fans treated to so many wonderful matches in the space of a single week. From Marcelo Bielsa’s superb Athletic Bilbao side and their spectacularly dogged display in Manchester, beating United 3×2 in Old Trafford, to the epic 4×4 draw between Godoy Cruz and Atlético Nacional in the Copa Libertadores, a classic tussle between attacker and counter-attacker.

Even more rewarding however, were two virtuoso performances from two of the world’s best forwards, almost singlehandedly leading their clubs to victory. First of all, the undisputed best player on the planet, Lionel Messi and his record-breaking five goals in Barcelona’s 7×1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. The world looked on as Messi took apart the Leverkusen defence time and time again, before some of the game’s biggest personalities indulged in panegyrics over the 24 year-old, speculating over whether he really is the best of all time.

That very same evening, across the Atlantic Ocean, South America’s best put on his own show in the continent’s Champions League equivalent, the Copa Libertadores. The tie in question was Santos x Internacional, a crucial all-Brazilian clash in Group 1 between the two previous winners of the trophy. The player in question was none other than Santos’ spiky haired winger Neymar. Continue reading Game of the Week: Santos 3×1 Internacional

Game of the Week: Internacional 1×1 Corinthians

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. Continue reading Game of the Week: Internacional 1×1 Corinthians

Brasileirão 2011: Let’s go round again

So with last weekend’s unprecedented ‘dia dos clássicos’ in which we had no fewer than eight derby matches (nine if you count Ceará x Bahia), we have now reached the half-way point of the 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro season. With most clubs having played eachother once (Santos and Grêmio are still to play in a match that was postponed) the league standings have taken shape and we have a good idea who the championship contenders will be. Continue reading Brasileirão 2011: Let’s go round again