The Best Of Brazilian Football
Flemengo. Ronaldinho. A goal from Jo and the disgraceful behaviour of Brazil's torcidas organizadas. Today Jack Lang takes us through the highlights (and unfortunate lowlights) in the last month of Brazilian football.
The team – Flamengo
Fans of Flamengo, Brazil’s best-supported team, would have been forgiven for expecting a rather slow start to 2013. While entirely sensible, the budgetary constraints imposed by new president Eduardo Bandeira de Mello appeared likely to undermine the plans of coach Dorival Júnior, at least in the short term. Vágner Love was allowed to make his way back to CSKA Moscow in order to save on wages, leaving the side without a discernible craque (star player), despite the astute signings of Elias and Gabriel.
Yet the change in philosophy seems to have engendered a greater sense of team spirit at Gávea, with none of the ego massaging that defined previous regimes. Dorival’s side looks robust at the back and peddles a nifty line in heart-stopping counter-attacks, utilising the pace of young Rafinha to full effect on the flanks. They may have just missed out on a place in the final of the first stage of the Rio state championship, but the Rubro-Negro are definitely heading in the right direction.
***Update*** - Langstradamus got this wrong. Results have turned bad. Dorival Júnior got sacked (after refusing a 50% pay cut(!)). All bets are off. Women and children first. Make contact at first light.
The player – Ronaldinho Gaúcho
On the one hand, this was a terrible month for ol’ toothy, who looked out of sorts and out of ideas during Brazil’s 2-1 loss to England at Wembley. There were mitigating factors – he was understandably short on match fitness after beginning his season just a few weeks earlier – but, for many, that (non-)display proved that his days with the seleção are well and truly numbered.
At club level, though, the outlook is entirely different. Ronaldinho was in inspired form as Atlético Mineiro began their Copa Libertadores campaign with a bang, setting up both goals in the victory over São Paulo (see below) before helping the Galo wallop Arsenal de Sarandí 5-2. He may not have the pace and stamina of yesteryear, but there’s life in R10 yet.
The goal – Jô (Atlético-MG vs São Paulo)
Atlético’s opener against São Paulo first appeared to be the result of sloppiness on the part of the Tricolor defence. Ronaldinho found himself in acres of space at a throw-in and took full advantage, biding his time before squaring for Jô to bundle home. But replays showed Ronaldinho surreptitiously wondering over to share a water bottle with Rogério Ceni in the build-up to the goal, prompting some to claim that this was a premeditated ploy.
Galo coach Cuca naturally denied the allegations ("It wasn't planned; it just happened. I'm just glad we made the most of it!") but either way, it was a potent example of malandragem from Ronaldinho. They can crush your body and dent your pride, but they can never take away your smarts, kid.
The villain – Brazil’s torcidas organizadas
The death of a 14-year-old fan during a Copa Libertadores match between San José and Corinthians in Bolivia has raised questions over the behaviour of Brazil's organised supporter's groups.
Kevin Beltran Espada was hit on the side of the head by a flare lit by a member of Corinthians’ Gaviões da Fiel and died before reaching hospital.
While not all members of such organisations can be labelled hooligans, there can be no doubt that violent sub-groups have shaped the Brazilian fan experience for the worse in recent times. A study conducted by sports daily Lance! revealed that 155 people were killed by football-related violence in Brazil between 1988 and 2012, of which nearly half were aged between 11 and 20.
103 of the incidents, meanwhile, involved firearms – a clear sign of the criminality harboured within many groups. The total of arrests made in relation to the deaths, meanwhile, stood at a pitiful 27, demonstrating the kind of anonymity the organizadas can provide.
Perhaps the real issue, though, is that these groups receive funding – some clandestine, some above-board – from the clubs they purport to represent, meaning that officials have tended to turn a blind eye to ugly incidents. One hopes that, if anything good comes of the death of Kevin Beltran Espada, it will be that clubs at least admit that a problem exists.
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And read more of Jack's work on his blog: SnapKakaPop.blogspot.com