Twenty To Watch: Rafael

With another look at one of the Brasileirão’s bright young prospects I am delighted to welcome another guest author. This time it’s Gordon Fleetwood, a Santista living in New York City, running the rule over their outstanding young goalkeeper Rafael Cabral.

When it comes to outstanding goalkeepers in the history of Santos, a few come to mind. Without a doubt, the first is Gilmar of the magnificent team from the 1960’s. Another is the Uruguayan Roldolfo Rodríguez, who became an idol at the club during his spell in the 1980’s. The third name is Fábio Costa who was an ever present part of the club during the last decade, and currently holds the record for the longest time gone without conceding in Santos’ history. If all goes well, another name will be joining the list soon enough. In fact, one could argue that Rafael Cabral has already earned his place.

In light of all that the young goalkeeper has already accomplished, it’s strange to think that his career could have been cut short. This was certainly a possibility after he broke his leg in a training accident in 2009. Thankfully, Rafael’s rehabilitation went well and he fully recovered from the injury. After making his full debut in the middle of 2010, the Santos youth product established himself as the number one goalkeeper at the club and hasn’t looked back since.

As a first full year as a starter goes, 2011 must have been a dream come true for the twenty-one year old. He was an instrumental part of the team that won both the Campeonato Paulista and the Copa Libertadores. In the latter competition, Rafael’s dazzling performance against Club América in the second leg of the first knockout stage was a major highlight. That night, he single-handedly kept Santos in the tournament with a string of spectacular saves.

On the way to becoming the youngest goalkeeper to win South America’s premier club competition, Rafael came very close to breaking Fábio Costa’s aforementioned clean sheet record. Eventually, his good form earned him a call-up to the Brazil squad for the Copa Roca. The custodian also shined in Santos’ disappointing Brasileirão campaign. With the exception of a slight dip in form during the midpoint of the league season, he was superb.

In fact, taking the whole year into consideration, Rafael was probably the third best player for Santos in 2011, only beaten out by the striking duo of Neymar and Borges. Not bad for a rookie goalkeeper.

There are several points that one can make about Rafael’s goalkeeping ability. In terms of positives, his shot-stopping ability, his incredible calmness in one on one situations, and his positional sense are prominent. At the other end of the spectrum, black marks against the youngster include occasional lapses in concentration, a penchant for making saves for the camera, and a recurring inability to deal with crosses effectively

What most stands out about Rafael though is his mentality. A line is often drawn between goalkeepers who only shine when they are being constantly bombarding with shots, and those who are able to perform even after long periods of inactivity. During his short career so far, Rafael has excelled in both situations. He was good as a pure shot stopper in late 2010 when Santos’ defense was comparable to a drainer, and he was just as good when the defense improved considerably in the first part of 2011.

In the modern age of football, Rafael is part of a class of young goalkeepers who are counterexamples to the adage that true competence in the position only comes with age. He is already one of the best in Brazil, and, without a doubt, one of the best youngsters in the world between the sticks.

What is the next move for the young goalkeeping prodigy? Well, he’s staying put for now. Interest from Italy was met with a statement of a desire to become a legend at Santos. Still, there is a feeling that he will eventually make the move to the Old World. On the international stage, the youngster is the leading contender to be Brazil’s starting goalkeeper in next year’s London Olympics. If Rafael continues along his current trajectory, then he will be challenging for the number one jersey in the senior squad very soon.

Full name: Rafael Cabral Cardoso
D.O.B: 20/05/1990
Place of Birth: Sorocaba (SP)
Club(s): Since (since 2010)
Contracted until: 31/08/2014

To read more of Gordon’s work, check out his brand new blog Santos FC Musings, or follow him on Twitter.

Game of the Week: Santos 2×0 Vasco

Upon choosing which game to feature in this Game of the Week section, I am more often than not left with a tricky decision. Each week I intend to cover the most ‘significant’ match, but with so many exciting games going on, naturally some decent candidates get ignored. What I prefer to do with these weekly articles is to cover a particular team(s)’s system, and to do so in a match which showcases the qualities and/or flaws of said system. The best examples of that are from October 15th when I covered Atlético Goianiense in their demolition of São Paulo, and just last week when I took a close look at Grêmio in their 4×2 victory over Flamengo. Following on in that style this week, I decided to study Santos’ home win against Vasco, and to delve in to the inner tactical workings of the 2011 Copa Libertadores champions. Continue reading Game of the Week: Santos 2×0 Vasco

Game of the Week: Fluminense 3×2 Santos

The Campeonato Brasileiro is renowned for being one of the most competitive leagues in world football. With Brazil’s recent economic boom allowing their top sides to pay astronomical wages for players, the league’s quality has never been better. When you combine this quality with the naturally competitive style of the league, you get one of the most exciting editions of the Brasileirão in a long time.

The league table has seen countless permutations since the start of the season, and even now in October with ten rounds left to play, we still have no idea who will end the season as champions. With an abundance of attacking talent up and down the league, we have seen some really thrilling matches, and it has got to the stage that this week’s five-goal thriller between Fluminense and Santos is almost a regular occurence. Continue reading Game of the Week: Fluminense 3×2 Santos

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

Honours even in disappointing clássico

Santos and Corinthians faced off in the Vila Belmiro last night, and as this blog erroneously predicted, we were anticipating a fantastic game. In truth, what we got was the absolute opposite. With both sides missing some of their top players, we had a match that was almost completely bereft of attacking quality.

The home side were without their eminent talents Ganso and Neymar, and Corinthians had to cope with the absences of Liédson and winger Jorge Henrique. Santos coach Muricy Ramalho set up his side in rather naïve fashion, believing that with Elano as the main playmaker and Diogo attempting to emulate Neymar’s second striker role, they could supply the same creativity and threat. Their opponents however, realised that they had a weakened squad, and consciously played a more contained, defensive match. Continue reading Honours even in disappointing clássico

Tonight in South America

International glamour friendlies aside, tonight sees plenty of futebol action in South America. From the U-20 World Cup in Colombia to the Recopa, there are plenty of top-notch encounters to get stuck in to. Let’s start things off in Colombia, as the U-20 World Cup reaches a crucial stage.

Last night saw the first batch of last-16 matches taking place, with the two South American sides in action both progressing. Argentina defeated a tired looking Egypt side 2×1, all of the game’s goals coming from penalty kicks, and the hosts Colombia sneaked through after a tumultuous second half against Costa Rica. This evening, Brazil face Saudi Arabia in Barranquilla, and Ecuador attempt to upset France in Cartagena. Continue reading Tonight in South America