Monday, 1 November 2010

Brasileirão 2010 - Quem vai ganhar?

As the dust settled at the end of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, television, newspapers and radio in Brasil was subjected to much debate over the failures of Dunga's seleção. However there was hardly any time to dwell on it, as South America's premier domestic league, the Brasileirão, continued almost instantly.

Brasil's confidence was quickly restored as Internacional from Porto Alegre won the 2010 Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. O Colorado took the trophy after a thrilling 5-3 aggregate win over Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara in the final.

Elsewhere, Santos succeeded in winning the 2010 Copa do Brasil, Brasil's top cup competition. Santos beat Vitória in the final, sealing a place for the Peixe in the 2011 edition of the Copa Libertadores.

So back to the Brasileirão. The exciting action continued as usual, with Rio de Janeiro side Fluminense forming a good lead at the top of the table, no-one looking capable of taking them off the top spot. But as those who follow the Brasileirão will know, the team in first position through August and October isn't always guaranteed to be there after the last game in December. In fact, history shows that being on top for the majority of the season often turns out to be a bit of a curse when it comes to the title run-in.

There have been some important personnel changes between the end of the World Cup and the present day, Santos' captain Robinho returned to Europe after his loan spell, and Cruzeiro's talisman Kleber returned to Palmeiras, o time do seu coração. There were returns to Brazilian football for top-class midfielders Deco and Tinga, moving to Fluminense and Internacional respectively. Also, arguably the biggest piece of news concerning transfers, Santos' wonderkid striker Neymar turned down a big money move to Chelsea, opting instead to stay with Santos for a little while longer.

So now here we are, with six rounds and just more than a month remaining in this year's Brasileirão. As I previously mentioned, Fluminense sit in the top spot with 57 points, Cruzeiro of Minas Gerais are close behind, there is only seven goals between the two sides. Occupying third spot are São Paulo giants Corinthians, who are only three points behind the other two. So the question is, who's going to win? Or as they say in Brasil, quem vai ganhar?

First of all let's take a look at the current leaders Fluminense. The Rio de Janeiro club are looking for only their second Brasileirão trophy, their first coming all the way back in 1984. Fluzão have been the most consistent side in this year's league, grinding out important wins where their rivals have slipped up. Most of this seems to be down to the leadership of their head coach Muricy Ramalho. Ramalho is no stranger to success, he won the Brasileirão for three consecutive years with São Paulo, and he is looking to get his fourth winner's medal this season.

Muricy is hoping for his 4th Brasileirão title with leaders Fluminense

Muricy has built a pretty strong side with Flu this year, with Argentinian Dario Conca orchestrating their midfield and providing support for proven strikers Fred, Rodriguinho and Washington. Another weapon in their arsenal is that of left-back Mariano, a classic lateral who has recently been called up to Mano Menezes' national squad.

Perhaps Fluminense are the favourites for the championship, but a tough run-in featuring away trips to Internacional, São Paulo and Palmeiras could give them real problems.

Next up, Cruzeiro. By the time the World Cup ended, I don't think many would have predicted a Raposa to be in such a high position. They lost their talismanic striker Kléber to Palmeiras, also their manager Adilson Batista, who took over briefly at Corinthians when Mano Menezes took the post at the national team. By the looks of things this was a team who would need a rebuilding phase, however the Minas Gerais club pulled off a sound piece of business when they signed Argentinian midfielder Walter Montillo.

Montillo was placed firmly onto the radar of Brasil's top clubs when he scored this goal against Flamengo in the Copa Libertadores. Cruzeiro won the race to sign him from Chilean side Universidade de Chile and he went straight into the first team, filling the gap that Kléber had vacated. At 26 years old, Montillo may not play a big part in Argentinian football in the future, but he will surely continue to star in the Brasileirão, and could be a great accquisition for countless European sides in the future.

Cruzeiro have arguably the hardest run-in of all the sides challenging for the trophy, they still have to face São Paulo, Corinthians, Vasco, Palmeiras and Flamengo, and they also have a potentially fatal away trip to play Vitória. However I am noticing some excellent form in this Cruzeiro side, and if they manage to bring good performances to these key games, they are my tip for the trophy.

Finally, the third side still with a realistic chance of winning the title, Corinthians. As usual, Timão have shown consistent and resolute performances throughout the season, which has seen them hovering around 2nd and 3rd place for most of the year.

Despite having a squad boasting such footballing legends as Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo, Corinthians' success has been largely down to their two energetic midfielders Jucilei and Elias. Their work-rate is truly astounding, and it hasn't gone unnoticed either, as both have been called up by Mano Menezes for the current Brasil squad. Ronaldo Fenômeno has been struggling with injuries this year, so Timão's goals have been coming from Bruno Cesar. The young man has been on impeccable form this season.

Corinthians have undoubtedly got the easiest of run-in fixtures, but the clássico against São Paulo FC in a week's time should be a really stern test. Despite not having as many tough games as their rivals, I can't see Corinthians taking the title this year. In recent weeks they have slipped up in important games and they can't afford more points dropped.

So there we have it, we are set up for a truly monumental run-in to the 2010 Brasileirão, and I haven't even mentioned Botafogo, Santos and Internacional, who are all in with a calculated 1% chance of winning this year's title. We are guaranteed some more twists and turns and some more excellent matches, and who knows, perhaps 6th place Internacional will manage to stage the greatest comeback in history and take the title? In the Brasileirão, anything goes.