Giants finally awake in São Paulo

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Fans of Brazilian football may have wondered why I haven’t written a single line on the fierce battle for the São Paulo State championship since this blog kicked off, late January.

Sure, there was plenty of early action in the country’s leading regional tournament where great performances from small clubs like Guaratinguetá, Ponte Preta, Barueri and Noroeste breathed fresh air into the top of the table for most of the competition.

Meanwhile, the big four (Palmeiras, São Paulo, Corinthians and Santos) were struggling big time. For some rounds, none were in the top four, setting up the prospect of two unexpectedly rural semi-finals.

But, as so often is the case, the season was just getting started and, when the push came to shove, the giants awoke. With a few games to go to the end of the first round, all of them are fighting for a spot in the semis.

After Sunday’s results, Guaratinguetá remain top, maintaining their Cinderella season, but the powerhouses are snapping at their heels.

With a record-breaking streak of nine consecutive wins, Palmeiras (2nd) sealed their ticket to the semis by pounding São Caetano 3-1 at home. It took a while, but Vanderlei Luxemburgo, hands-down Brazil’s best coach, finally made his newly assembled star-filled side play ball.

Palmeiras share the tag of favourites with São Paulo (3rd), who just need a win against little Juventus at home to clinch their berth in the final four. Adriano scored twice at the weekend to lead Muricy’s boys past Bragantino. Not an eye-popping performance, but it did the trick.

Corinthians, for whom winning the Paulistão is a matter of honour – it’s their only shot in the elite since they’ll play in the national Second Division this year – have slipped up meaning qualification is now out of their hands. They’re in 5th and will need to beat Noroeste and wait for a São Paulo or Ponte Preta (4th) draw. But their dreams are still alive... for now.

Only for Santos did the reaction come too late. The team of coach Emerson Leão paid for their relegation-like results at the beginning of the tournament, and, despite responding with a fantastic streak, winning seven of eight, saw their title hopes gone after a draw with Rio Clarob.

So now to the last round, next Sunday, which will decide if São Paulo and Corinthians progress and, last but not least, the semi- final clashes.

If they keep their current positions, a Palmeiras vs São Paulo showdown is coming. Adriano and Co. are dying for revenge since Palmeiras routed them 4-1 in their regular season match.

Which means it’s gonna get nasty... at last!