The talent, the gossip, the inside track
Celso de Campos Jr
So futebol fans, after two months of foreplay the State Championships contenders have finally been narrowed down.
And, unlike last year, all the powerhouses are alive and kicking in the main tournaments – this time no Cinderella survived to tell the tale.
In São Paulo, for the first time since the 2000 season, each one of the Big Four have qualified for the semi-finals.
Palmeiras (who finished 1st in the initial phase) face Santos (4th), while São Paulo (2nd) plays Corinthians (3rd). The two-legged semis will be played over this weekend and next.
I wouldn't dare make any predictions – except that we’re set to see a fantastic battle of the centre-forwards.
Keirrison, Kleber Pereira, Washington and Ronaldo are all stellar No.9s. And since their strengths are obvious, it’s up to the defenses to step up to the plate.
Keirrison vs Ronaldo in the final?
In Rio de Janeiro, the top dogs have also progressed.
Vasco and Botafogo meet in one semi-final of the Taça Rio (the State Championship second phase). Flamengo and Fluminense clash in the other.
The winners of these one-legged ties then face each other in the final, with the Taça Rio champion then playing Botafogo (winners of the Taça Guanabara, the first phase) in the grand final of the State Championship.
(Unless, of course, Botafogo wins the Taça Rio, in which case there will be no need for a final. We don't yet know if the Brazilian football authorities are masterminding a scheme that obliges a team that wins both phases to play against themselves. But don’t rule it out.)
I’ll take my chances here and tip Vasco to triumph in the Taça Rio – and also to beat Botafogo in the grand final.
Over in Minas Gerais, both Cruzeiro and Atlético have cruised into the semi-finals.
Cruzeiro demolished poor Tupi 8-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals, while Atlético trounced Uberaba 7-0 over two legs.
But the safe bet to win the title is, once again, Cruzeiro. Easy.
Internacional tipped for the trophy
The only big name to have already kissed goodbye to State Championship success is Grêmio. And in the most painful way their fans could have imagined.
After being pounded 4-0 by minnows Caxias in the first phase, Grêmio had to face their deadly foes Internacional in the quarter-finals of the Rio Grande do Sul – a single tie in Beira-Rio, Internacional’s home.
Last Saturday, Internacional celebrated their centenary. So the chance for Gremio to pour cold water all over their enemy’s party beer was there – but they lost 2-1, their fourth consecutive defeat to their rivals in the 'Gre-nal' derby.
After the game, coach Celso Roth was sacked, with the club's directors now running after Renato Gaúcho, former Grêmio idol, who led Fluminense to the Copa Libertadores final last season.
Partying Internacional will now face small Canoas, with the other semi-final being between Caxias and Juventude.
And I’ll bet 100 percent that Internacional will roll over them all to take home the trophy. They’d better buy more beer – the celebrations won’t end quickly.
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