Monday, 23 May 2011

Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 review: Round 1

After a frantic few months of state championships and cup competition for clubs in Brasil, the real work starts here as the Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 got underway this weekend with every team in action. Join me each week for a complete review of the round of games, along with weekly awards and highlights.

The 2011 season kicked off on Saturday evening at the Moacyrzão in Macaé, Rio de Janeiro as Flamengo strolled to victory against Avaí. It was quite a one-sided match as with one eye on their Copa do Brasil semi-final on Wednesday, Avaí did not look completely motivated and failed to deal with Flamengo's attacking threats. Goals from Bottinelli, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Thiago Neves and Diego Maurício gave a 4x0 win to the Mengão.

In Minas Gerais, Atlético Mineiro got their season off to a wonderful start with a 3x0 win over Atlético Paranaense. Another game that was never really in doubt, an early goal from defensive midfielder Toró and then two headed goals from Magno Alves sealed the points for o Galo. Atlético Paranaense have reasons to be worried in the light of this result, as they failed to put any real pressure on their opponents and were very one-dimensional in attack.

Ceará and Vasco, two sides who are looking forward to vital Copa do Brasil semi-finals on Wednesday, faced eachother in Brasil's northeast and Vasco ran out 3x1 winners. There is not terribly much we can take from this match, as both sides fielded changed line-ups, resting almost all of their preferred XI. The game itself was a good one, with fringe players on both sides striving to impress. Ceará centre back Cleber gave the Vozão the lead, but three excellent goals (two from Bernardo and one from Jéferson) won the game for Vasco.

Saturday night's late game resulted in a 1x1 draw between Santos and Internacional. This game was one of the most hyped of the opening round, but with Santos fielding a complete second-string XI ahead of their Copa Libertadores semi-final this week, the match turned in to a bit of an anticlimax. Keirrison gave Santos the lead from the penalty spot after Tiago Alves was fouled by Daniel. Zé Roberto equalised for Inter before half time, converting a cross from Oscar. Both sides had chances in the second half, but neither could find the winning goal.

Moving on to Sunday afternoon, and out in the São Paulo countryside in São José do Rio Preto, Palmeiras got off to a winning start by beating Botafogo 1x0. As many had expected it was a tight game, neither side dominating completely, but Palmeiras had the edge and sealed the three points with a stunning goal from captain Kléber. There was more good news for the Verdão when club ídolo Pierre made a late substitute appearance. The defensive midfielder had been suffering from a long term injury, his last match coming in November 2010.

In one of the biggest games of the weekend, Grêmio and Corinthians faced off in what was a tight clash, ending 2x1 to the away side Corinthians. Grêmio took the lead with a penalty from Douglas after Chicão was adjudged to have fouled Leandro inside the area. O Timão equalised with their own penalty kick not long afterwards, Liedson being tripped by Lúcio, and captain Chicão made up for his earlier error by tucking away the penalty. Corinthians sealed the comeback ten minutes later through Liedson, the former Sporting Lisbon hitman pulled off a lovely bit of technique with a flying volley from six yards.

The other two afternoon games threw up some surprises, Coritiba falling 0x1 to Atlético Goianiense, and newly-promoted Figueirense pulling off an excellent 1x0 win against title favourites Cruzeiro. The former was a tight affair, with both teams making several mistakes in the midfield and struggling to establish a rhythm. The match was won with fifteen minutes left, with o Dragão's giant striker Marcão latching on to a Thiago Feltri cross.

In Florianópolis, Figueirense pulled off the shock of the week against Cruzeiro, and they were well worth the three points. Figueira found it difficult in the first half, but after taking the lead through a fortuitous own goal from Cruzeiro midfielder Marquinhos Paraná, they pressed their opponents and looked likely to score a second. Cruzeiro may have reasons to be worried.

The evening games on Sunday kicked off with Fluminense taking on São Paulo at Vasco's São Januario stadium. São Paulo ran out 2x0 winners, but it was not a particularly impressive display from either side. The first half was filled with errors from both teams, with Dagoberto's opening goal the only highlight. In the second half, São Paulo improved slightly while Fluminense did not, and wonderkid Lucas increased the lead with a superb goal.

The final game of the round was perhaps the most exciting, as two newly-promoted sides América Mineiro and Bahia faced off against eachother in Sete Lagoas. The match began at an excellent pace, with Bahia in the driving seat, and they took the lead with the weekend's fourth penalty. Thiago Carleto handled the ball in the area and Souza converted the penalty to put Bahia 1x0 up.

In the second half it was América who took control, equalising in the 3rd minute with a debut goal from Rodriguinho. O Coelho kept up the pressure, and could have won the game with the chances they had, but they got there in the end, with substitute Alessandro making it 2x1 with only three minutes left to go.

PLAYER OF THE ROUND: Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo)

Photo: Fábio Castro

Hated on Friday, loved on Saturday, Ronaldinho Gaúcho's performance at the weekend paints a clear picture of the fickle nature of Brazilian football supporters. After being criticised, booed and ridiculed after Flamengo's Copa do Brasil exit, Ronaldinho won over the haters by turning in a man-of-the-match performance in Fla's 4x0 win over Avaí.

His little touches, flicks and nutmegs made you feel like you were back in the Camp Nou in 2005, and his goal was very well taken also. If Ronaldinho can stay fit and in this type of form, it would be hard to look past Flamengo for the title.

VILLAIN OF THE ROUND: Marcelo Oliveira (Coritiba)

Photo: Paulo Pinto

Manager of the league's 'surprise package' Coritiba, Marcelo Oliveira could not have had a worse start to the 2011 season. With their first game at home to relegation candidates Atlético Goianiense and with a vital Copa do Brasil semi-final against Ceará on Wednesday, it was expected that Oliveira would select a changed side and allow his big players extra rest before their cup match. However, Coritiba took to the field at the Couto Pereira with a full strength side, battled hard but lost 1-0 to their organised opponents.

What does this mean for Coritiba? Well, with a full strength side they failed to win at home against a side who are certain to be battling against the drop this year, and on Wednesday they will be playing Ceará who did decide to rest their main XI this weekend. If the Coxa make it through their semi-final safely then this result will be forgotten, but if they do not, Coritiba fans will surely point the finger at the manager.

GOLAÇO DA RODADA: Lucas (SÃO PAULO vs Fluminense)

The first golaço da rodada award of the season goes to Lucas of São Paulo for his magnificent solo effort against Fluminense. The hotly tipped young attacker picked the ball up just inside the Fluminense half, played a quick one-two with Carlinhos Paraiba and then set off on a wonderful dribble, showing off his superb acceleration and leaving the Fluminense defenders floundering, before cutting inside away from Gum and finishing coolly past goalkeeper Ricardo Berna. A truly excellent goal from a young forward who is set to have a huge season this year.

So there we have it, the 2011 Brasileirão is fully underway, and already there is plenty to talk about. Will Flamengo stroll to the title with the good form of Ronaldinho Gaúcho? Did the experts get it wrong with Coritiba? Do Cruzeiro really have a team capable of winning the title this year? We can not possibly know the answers to these questions yet, but it's certainly going to be fun to find out!

This week we have the second legs of the Copa do Brasil semi-finals on Wednesday, as Coritiba play Ceará (first leg 0-0) and Avaí take on Vasco (first leg 1-1). Wednesday also brings us Santos' Copa Libertadores semi-final first leg against Paraguayans Cerro Porteño. The two sides were in the same group in the opening stage of the tournament, drawing 1x1 in Paraguay and Santos coming out 2x1 winners in São Paulo.

At the weekend we also have another full card in the Brasileirão, the pick of the action coming on Sunday afternoon as Palmeiras travel to Sete Lagoas to play Cruzeiro.

Flamengo 4x0 Avaí
Atlético Mineiro 3x0 Atlético Paranaense
Ceará 1x3 Vasco
Santos 1x1 Internacional
Palmeiras 1x0 Botafogo
Coritiba 0x1 Atlético Goianiense
Figueirense 1x0 Cruzeiro
Grêmio 1x2 Corinthians
Fluminense 0x2 São Paulo
América Mineiro 2x1 Bahia


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