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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Neymar and Ganso give Santos a 1-0 victory over America in Copa Libertadores

Neymar and Ganso combined to give Santos a gritty 1-0 victory over an America side that played defensive football with 9 men behind the ball. In the 39th minute, Neymar raced down the left flank before finding Ganso just outside the box. Ganso kept his head down and dispatched a bullet of a left footed shot to the goalkeeper's left to give his side the lead and a crucial victory in the first leg. Playing in Sao Paulo, America's defensive tactics were intended to stifle the creativity of Neymar, Ganso and company but the strategy backfired and ultimately proved unsustainable. Nevertheless, a 1-0 victory for Santos means the match is still wide open, particularly given that the next leg will be played at the Queretaro Stadium on May 3. Santos can now claim four consecutive Copa Libertadores victories and are improving with every match, even though they struggled to break down America's ultra-defensive formation. Pele's former club will be tough to beat given the 4-2-2-2 formation that coach Muricy Ramalho favors, with Elano and Ganso positioned behind Neymar and Ze Eduardo.

In other Copa Libertadores news, Cruzeiro beat Once Caldas 2-1 thanks to goals by Wallyson and Ortigoza.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Robinho's goal moves AC Milan closer to the Scudetto; dedicates victory to newly born son Gianluca

Robinho scored a crucial late goal for AC Milan to give them a 1-0 victory over Brescia and send them eight points clear in Serie A. With Pato out injured, and Ibrahimovic sidelined because of a red card, the Rossoneri started with the strike partnership of Cassano and Robinho. Cassano and Robinho both had multiple opportunities to score throughout the game, but a combination of poor finishing and fine saves from the Brescia keeper kept the scoreline at 0-0 until the 82nd minute. With less than ten minutes remaining, Seedorf dispatched a long range pass that found Cassano on the right flank. Cassano, in turn, found Robinho bursting forward down the left, diagonally heading towards goal. The Brazilian coolly controlled the pass from Cassano and slotted the ball behind the diving keeper to score his 12th league goal of the season. After the match, Robinho dedicated the goal to his recently born second son, Gianluca: "A crucial goal which is worth the Scudetto. I am overjoyed and I dedicate it to my son. Playing alongside Cassano isn't difficult. He is extremely skillful; we had already played together at Real Madrid and now we are playing very well. We really need to improve in front of goal, though." AC Milan now sit eight points clear of Inter, who won 2-1 over Lazio, with four games remaining in the season. Napoli dropped to third place after suffering a 2-1 loss to Palermo.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Neymar's Magic Leads Santos into the Copa Libertadores Round of 16

Neymar's magic led Santos into the round of 16 in the Copa Libertadores where they will now face Mexico's America in the knock-out stages. With their backs to the wall in another must-win match to control their destiny, Neymar, Ganso, Elano, Danilo and company displayed their composure by carving out a 3-1 victory over the Venezeulan side Deportivo Tachira. Playing in Sao Paulo, Santos raced to an early lead thanks to a calmly taken goal by Neymar after receiving a finely threaded through ball from the left flank. Jonathon made it 2-0 for Santos minutes later in the 13th minute with a rocket into the roof of the net from the right flank. Santos then took their foot off the accelerator until Tachira's Gerson Chacon scored from a sublime free kick in the 69th minute to suddenly make matters more complicated by making the score 2-1, one goal away from a 2-2 draw that would fail to guarantee Santos a berth in the next round. But three minutes later, Neymar illustrated once again why he is one of the best strikers in the world by dribbling through a posse of defenders and crossing to Ze Eduardo, who in turn passed to Danilo. Danilo kept his composure in front of goal and hit the bottom right corner of the net to give the Brazilian team a 3-1 lead.

Santos have now notched three consecutive Copa Libertadores victories against Colo Colo, Cerro Porteno and Deportivo Tachira. They finished second place in Group 5 behind Cerro Porteno, who defeated Colo Colo 3-2. Santos and Cerro Porteno earned a total of 11 points while Colo Colo ended up on 9. Santos are now bursting with talent given the likes of Danilo, Leo, Elano, Ganso, Neymar, Danilo and Ze Eduardo all finding their form at the same time. That said, they may face stiff competition from defending champions Internacional and the in form striker Leandro Damiao, who scored yet again for his club in today's 2-0 victory over the Ecuadorian side Emelec.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Zinedine Zidane Interview on Ronaldo of Corinthians

In this November 2009 interview, Zinedine Zidane reflects on the best player against which he has every played: Ronaldo of Corinthians. The French number 10 and 1998 World Cup champion noted that, like every great player, Ronaldo stepped up and delivered in big matches, time and time again. Zidane remarked that he had an ease with the ball in training that was exceptional and even irritating, to some. But what made Ronaldo truly exceptional, for Zidane, was that every day, in training, Ronaldo demonstrated something different, something beautiful that he had never shown to the world before, as if his repertoire of tricks were virtually infinite. Amidst the grind of daily life and multiple training sessions a day at Real Madrid, Ronaldo showed Zidane and his peers a new magic trick every day, like a master revealing his skill to his students while constantly managing to replenish his power and strength.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ganso stars in Santos's 2-1 Copa Libertadores victory over Cerro Porteno

Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso starred in Thursday’s Copa Libertadores clash against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno. The number 10 set up Maikon Leite for the second goal and controlled the midfield like an “artist,” in the words of his coach Muricy Ramalho. Danilo opened the scoring for Santos in the 12th minute with a remarkable left footed strike from 30 meters. Three minutes after the second half whistle, Ganso displayed his vision by spotting Maikon bursting up the right flank and delivering the through ball for Santos’s second goal. Ramalho remarked that, prior to the match, he had instructed Ganso to forget both the crowds and his possible transfer to AC Milan or Inter Milan next season. The 21 year old heeded his coach’s instructions by bursting forth from midfield and pressuring the Cerro Porteno defenders to come out of their predetermined positions.

The match underscored the success of Ganso’s recovery from a torn ACL injury in his right knee sustained in August 2010. Ganso made his first start in professional competition on March 16, 2011 in a Copa Libertadores match against Colo Colo. This Thursday’s must win clash against Cerro Porteno illustrated Ganso’s creativity, intelligence and chutzpah. With Neymar, Elano and Ze Eduardo suspended because of their theatrics in Santos’s 3-2 victory over Colo Colo on April 6, Ganso’s presence in the Cerro Porteno match proved critical. Santos are now tied with Cerro Porteno for second place in Group 5 and remain in contention for advancement to the next stage of the competition.

This year’s Copa Libertadores features the reunion of the midfield-striker partnership between Ganso and Neymar that many Brazil fans hope will translate into a sublime pairing on the Brazilian national football team that parallels the understanding between Socrates and Zico in the early 1980s. Although Mano Menezes seems to have settled on Lucas Leiva and Ramires in midfield, the Selecao additionally needs a creative playmaker in the vein of Socrates or Kaka that can supply the ball to Pato, Neymar and company.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Brazil 1970 captain Carlos Alberto critical of Mano Menezes's revolving door selections

Carlos Alberto, the right back who scored the memorable fourth goal against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final, announced his belief that Mano Menezes has introduced too much variability to the Brazilian national team. Alberto, the captain of the legendary Brazil World Cup squad of 1970, noted that no one knows the line-up of the Brazilian team from match to match and that the coach and the CBF need to rotate the squad in a more gradual, systematic fashion. Carlos Alberto's remarks reignite the debate about Mano's performance as coach and whether the Selecao is headed in the right direction toward a World Cup victory in 2014. Speaking at a the Soccerex European business forum on April 1, Alberto remarked:

"We have a very good generation of players now, it is a new team, but to win the World Cup you need experience too.

Spain have showed that to everyone and Germany also have young players but they have the experience now because they have played at one World Cup. In my opinion, we should have the team now... but the coach and the federation are changing the team in every game and I do not agree with this.

We should have one team, maybe change one player or another player. Ask anyone in Brazil to name the lineup of the Brazilian team, nobody knows... so we are wasting time.

We are confident we are going to have a good team for the World Cup with players like Neymar, Lucas, David Luiz, Pato, we have a team for the next two World Cups. But I am afraid they are not getting the experience."

Alberto’s comments echo a "Bringing Back the Beautiful Game" article about inconsistencies in Mano’s midfield titled "Brazil's Midfield Under Mano Menezes". The midfield aside, the most glaring squad selection inconsistency concerns the team’s strike partnership. Mano has rotated Neymar, Robinho, Pato, Leandro Damiao, Nilmar, Coutinho, Ronaldinho, Andre, The Hulk and Renato Augusto with no semblance of coherence or stability. That said, no one can say with confidence who amongst these players can put the ball in the back of the net at the international level on a consistent basis against some of the best defenders in the world. Pato and Neymar are the obvious candidates but this partnership has yet to gel and demonstrate results. The Hulk’s splendid form at Porto renders him an attractive candidate for a three pronged attack. The Hulk certainly has the presence to muscle through defenders in a way that transcends the capabilities of Neymar and Pato. Leandro Damiao constitutes yet another wild card that Mano may elect to play in the event of injuries or an efflorescence of form from the young Internacional striker.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pato Scores Again; Ibrahimovic Sees Red, Again

Pato scored and provided a crucial assist to guide AC Milan to a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina on Sunday. The Brazilian striker once again displayed the pacy attacks and keen positional intelligence that earned him two goals in the Milan derby last weekend. The scoring opened in the 8th minute when Ibrahimovic attempted a pass to Seedorf that was blocked by Comotto, whose interception landed on Pato's head. Pato nodded down the ball to Seedorf, who calmly curled the ball over the goalkeeper's head. In the 40th minute, Ibrahimovic again started a goal scoring play by finding Boateng on the right wing. The Ghanaian midfielder passed across the face of goal to Pato, who tapped the ball in with his left foot. AC Milan's victory was marred by yet another red card to Ibrahimovic for allegedly insulting a linesman late in the game. Ibrahimovic's ejection could result in a four match ban, which would mean the Rossoneri will need to play over half of its remaining six league matches without the Swedish striker. Ibrahimovic's upcoming suspension means the likely return of Robinho to the starting line-up in the next few matches. AC Milan sit thee points clear of Napoli and five ahead of Inter with six games remaining in the season.

Hulk Scores Yet Again in Porto's 3-2 Victory Over Portimonense

The Hulk continued his remarkable season at Porto with yet another goal and an assist in Porto's 3-2 victory over Portimonense. The 24 year Brazilian has now scored 22 league goals in 24 appearances for Porto alongside 13 assists in propelling Porto to the Portuguese Championship. Against Portimonense, The Hulk chipped the goalkeeper from the right flank with his golden left foot in the 50th minute to open the scoring and then threaded a pass to Maicon in the 86th minute that resulted in a game winning header. Porto remain unbeaten in 26 appearances out of which they have won 24. The Brazilian international has expressed interest in a move to the Premier League provided that his new club has a realistic chance of winning major titles domestically or in Europe. Brazilian international and Manchester United midfielder Anderson recently announced his belief that The Hulk would adapt well to the Premier League and Manchester United. Anderson knows The Hulk through the Brazilian national team and himself made the transition from Porto to Manchester United in 2007. The Hulk's blistering form in 2010 - 2011 suggests he may well fit into Mano Menezes's plans for Copa America 2011 although he has thus far made only three appearances for the Brazilian national team.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pato brace puts AC Milan in the driving seat in the battle for the Scudetto

If the Rossoneri do go on to win the Scudetto this year, one thing is certain: no one will say the feat was attributable primarily to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swede who happens to have won seven consecutive league titles in the last seven years. Brazilians Pato and Robinho have added pace and clinical finishing ability to the Milan attack, and nowhere was this more apparent than in Saturday's derby against Inter Milan. Pato, above all, showed why he deserves a place amongst the top 10 strikers in the world by demonstrating immaculate composure and positional awareness to score the first two goals for AC Milan that sent them well on their way to victory over Inter. In the first minute, Robinho ended up parrying the ball to Pato after failing to get around the keeper. Pato, in the number 7 jersey, made no mistake in burying the ball in the back of the net. In the 62nd minute, Pato got away from his markers once again and headed in a cross from substitute Flamini to give AC Milan a virtually unsurmountable lead, particularly given the red card that had been awarded to Inter's Chivu in the 53rd minute. Antonio Cassano sealed a 3-0 victory from the penalty spot in the dying minutes but it was Pato, complemented by threatening plays from Robinho that settled the victory for Massimiliano Allegri's team to give them a stranglehold on the 2010-2011 Scudetto.

Tears in Brazilian Football: Ronaldo’s Love for Corinthians

The most striking thing about Ronaldo's retirement press conference is that he breaks down in tears only when discussing his career at Corinthians from 2009 to 2011. As the conference begins, Ronaldo’s shoulders are loose and his voice is almost jocular in tone. He makes some summary remarks about his wonderful football career and longstanding history of injuries. He thanks all the clubs for which he played, the coaches and players that mentored him and the sponsors that supported him throughout his career: Cruzeiro, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Corinthians, Ambev and Nike. And then, all of a sudden, his tone changes when he comes to Corinthians and his decision to leave Europe and return to Brazil. His eyes light up and he breaks into a smile as he mentions a breakfast in Rio de Janeiro with Andres Sanches, the President of Corinthians. After that breakfast, when he and the President shook hands, Ronaldo knew he would be playing for Corinthians. Had there been a blank contract, Ronaldo tells us he would have signed it.

So far, Ronaldo's affect has been either upbeat or mechanical in cycling through the list of thank yous to clubs and sponsors. But now, he turns to the Brazilian fans who supported him throughout his career:

"I want to thank all of the Brazilian fans that vibrated with me and supported me, who cried when I cried, who fell with me when I did."

Of all the Brazilian fans, Ronaldo goes on to thank the Corinthians fans, in particular, for their passion and commitment to the club. At this point, Ronaldo begins to struggle in reading through his pre-prepared remarks. The Brazilian number 9 who raced past defenders with a degree of explosive power unparalleled in the modern game stares at his speech for seconds at a time.

“I have never seen such an exciting crowd,” he says of Corinthians fans, a claim all the more remarkable coming from someone who has played all over the world. Sometimes, their fervor renders them aggressive, he notes, in an apparent gesture of forgiveness to the Corinthians fans for their violence and anger after their exit from the 2011 Copa Libertadores. Amazingly enough, Ronaldo goes on to apologize for failing to win the Copa Libertadores, as if he had the superhuman status to claim responsibility for the loss suffered by Corinthians in a team sport marked by all kinds of contingencies. But what moves him most, is the passion of the fans and the feeling of friendship bordering on family between he, the club and the club President. I cannot imagine having lived without Corinthians, Ronaldo says, both here and in reference to other interviews about his experience after returning to Brazil. "You are my brother," Ronaldo says about the Corinthians President. He pledges to be with the club for life in any way it desires, as if his passion for Corinthians has transformed into a life-long love affair.

At this point, the tears begin flowing to the point where he covers his face:

"You shall see me many times in the crowd cheering for Corinthians. I was even more emotional back there when I went to speak with (Are you sleeping there? [to one of his sons on his left])…As I went to speak with my team mates…For every minute and second I have shared with them, as I have always done, from my first day here, on the toughest moments, I will stand by them and protect them from any trouble. Now I will do it off the pitch. Perhaps a bit weakened as my strength has always been to respond with my playing on the pitch."

Here, Ronaldo pledges to protect his Corinthians teammates from trouble, albeit from a weakened position off the pitch since his strength has come from playing. In the discussion about Corinthians, the depth of Ronaldo’s emotional engagement with the club’s fans, players and its management shines through. As he looks back over his career, not once does he mention his World Cup victories or 15 World Cup goals. The life experience that stands out for him hinges around the passion of the fans of Corinthians, the mentoring provided by the club’s President and the camaraderie of his teammates, amongst which he enjoyed a position of guardian, protector, mentor and friend. The tears do not stem from nostalgia about his days in Europe, and the times as a young man when he owned La Liga as it were his playground. Or later, in Italy, when even the best defenders in the world such as Allessandro Nesta said they had never encountered a player who rarely made a mistake in the final stages of his trajectory toward goal. Or his strike partnership with Romario. Or the elation of scoring two goals in the 2002 World Cup final and bringing the World Cup title home to Brazil for the fifth time. The tears revolve around Corinthians and his extraordinary, yet largely untold experience there, all of which began with a breakfast in Rio that took him on a life-giving footballing experience that makes it seem as if the glorious exploits of his youth, in his eyes, appear pale in comparison.

Given the depth of Ronaldo’s passion for Corinthians, “Bringing Back the Beautiful Game” would like to formally baptize Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima as “Ronaldo of Corinthians” alongside his other moniker, Ronaldo of Brazil.

The Biblical book “First Epistle of Paul to Corinthians” (First Corinthians) is famous for its reflection on love. Ronaldo’s retirement speech ironically turned into a reflection on his love for Corinthians, for the fans, the support and the game that he played and loved. The thirteenth chapter of Book I of Corinthians notes: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In this moment, First Corinthians is about the purity of love. Listening to Ronaldo’s comments on Corinthians, one cannot help but get a sense of the purity of his love for Corinthians fans, the team, management and its football.