The Best Of Brazilian Football : October 2012

It’s been an action-packed October in Brazilian football, with the Série A title race hotting up and the seleção playing Iraq and Japan. If some of it has passed you by, fear not: help is at hand. Here’s Jack Lang with a handy round-up of the last month…

FluminenseStadium

The Team: Brazil

While a few Brasileirão sides impressed in October (Atlético-MG for keeping the title race alive; São Paulo for playing some of the best football of the year; Sport for hauling themselves towards safety), none could top the seleção, whose performances, with the Confederations Cup just a year away, were as timely as they were dynamic.

On the face of it, convincing wins over Iraq and Japan were just about par for the course – particularly for Brazil’s terminally expectant public. But after the less-than-convincing display against South Africa in September (which was greeted by a cacophony of boos in São Paulo), this month’s victories felt like a new dawn.

With Leandro Damião injured, Mano Menezes tried out a formation with no number nine; Neymar operated as the nominal striker but drifted left, allowing runners from midfield to burst into attacking positions. It worked superbly, with Oscar, Paulinho and a rejuvenated Kaká all chipping in with goals. The sample size may be small, but things are suddenly looking up for the seleção.

The Player: Ronaldinho Gaúcho

While few would have expected famed party enthusiast Ronaldinho to lay low in Brazil following his return from Europe, the sheer variety of the dramas that have followed him over the past two years has been staggering.

From the “party hotline” that fans could call to report sightings of the star at nightclubs, to accusations of sneaking women into a training camp; from his brother’s comical club shop showdown, to his contractual wrangle with Flamengo: life has rarely been boring for the buck-toothed veteran.

This year, though, his football has done most of the talking. The key player in an Atlético Mineiro side that unexpectedly dominated the opening stages of the Série A season, he has reminded fans that his real legend was constructed on the pitch and not in the nightclub.

This month he has been particularly pivotal, helping the Galo to a crucial 3-2 victory over title rivals Fluminense and scoring a glorious hat-trick in the 6-0 evisceration of Figueirense. Ronaldinho broke down in tears during that latter match, having learnt of the death of his stepfather just minutes before kick-off. It was a timely reminder that every footballer is a human being – and that Ronaldinho, with his myriad flaws and gifts, is perhaps more human than most.

The Goal: Neymar (Santos vs Atlético Mineiro)

His first touch, a deft flick with the outside of his boot, embarrasses Rafael Marques, who is soon joined on the floor by the bewildered Leonardo Silva. A quick burst forward creates a two-on-one situation. He really should pass, but you know he’s not going to. This is Neymar, for God’s sake.

Júnior César, covering from left-back, seems to have done well; Neymar stalls, his momentum finally tethered. But he’s just biding his time. The defender’s legs open, the ball flashes through, the crowd goes wild. Not a bad way to mark your 200th appearance for your club.

The Villains: Palmeiras

Palmeiras have had a topsy-turvy month; their battle against relegation is more on-and-off than a strobe light. Although two wins at the end of September and victory in a veritable six-pointer against fellow strugglers Bahia suggested the Verdão could claw their way out of trouble, the league table doesn’t lie: Palmeiras are third bottom with five games to play.

One thing they probably don’t need at this moment in time is a ridiculous legal battle, but that’s exactly what they’ve got. With another defeat looming against Internacional, cult hero Hernán Barcos decided to go all Hand of God, palming the ball into the net with a nonchalance that suggested he might have a future in top-level volleyball.

The referee initially gave the goal – to the understandable chagrin of the Inter players – before changing his mind and chalking it off. To the minds of most, justice had been done, but the Palmeiras hierarchy have kicked up a fuss, claiming that the decision was made under the influence of mysterious “external forces” and demanding a replay. Such conspiracy theories are not uncommon in Brazil, but this doesn’t make them any more palatable.

 

 

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