Giants finally awake in São Paulo
Fans of Brazilian football may have wondered why I havenÃ¢ÂÂt written a single line on the fierce battle for the SÃÂ£o Paulo State championship since this blog kicked off, late January.
Sure, there was plenty of early action in the countryÃ¢ÂÂs leading regional tournament where great performances from small clubs like GuaratinguetÃÂ¡, Ponte Preta, Barueri and Noroeste breathed fresh air into the top of the table for most of the competition.
Meanwhile, the big four (Palmeiras, SÃÂ£o 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 SundayÃ¢ÂÂs results, GuaratinguetÃÂ¡ 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 SÃÂ£o Caetano 3-1 at home. It took a while, but Vanderlei Luxemburgo, hands-down BrazilÃ¢ÂÂs best coach, finally made his newly assembled star-filled side play ball.
Palmeiras share the tag of favourites with SÃÂ£o 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 MuricyÃ¢ÂÂs boys past Bragantino. Not an eye-popping performance, but it did the trick.
Corinthians, for whom winning the PaulistÃÂ£o is a matter of honour Ã¢ÂÂ itÃ¢ÂÂs their only shot in the elite since theyÃ¢ÂÂll play in the national Second Division this year Ã¢ÂÂ have slipped up meaning qualification is now out of their hands. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre in 5th and will need to beat Noroeste and wait for a SÃÂ£o 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 LeÃÂ£o 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 SÃÂ£o Paulo and Corinthians progress and, last but not least, the semi- final clashes.
If they keep their current positions, a Palmeiras vs SÃÂ£o Paulo showdown is coming. Adriano and Co. are dying for revenge since Palmeiras routed them 4-1 in their regular season match.
Which means itÃ¢ÂÂs gonna get nasty... at last!