Friday, 23 December 2011

Ex-Pat of the Week #5

Domestic cups and the final round of games before the winter break (for all bar one notable exception) took the headlines this week, and a certain jamboree in Japan also falls within the remit for this edition of ex-pat of the week. The nominations:

Bruno Cazarine. Erstwhile CONMEBalls favourite Cazarine is in Australia at the moment, plying his trade with Sydney FC. They had their big derby with Newcastle Jets at the weekend and won to go third, Cazarine bagging the equaliser after the Jets had gone one up.

Crístian Rodríguez. The Uruguayan fell out with Vitor Pereira a couple of weeks ago, seemingly ending his Porto career, but he's back in the fold now and came off the bench at the weekend to nab a late goal to send Porto towards their third win on the spin.

Jonas. Last seasons top scorer in the Brasilieirao, he's now providing the perfect foil for the prolific Roberto Soldado at Valencia. The two combined for Soldado to get Valencia's first against big-spending Málaga to consolidate 'best-of-the-rest' (i.e. third place) in Spain.

Ricky Alvarez. By his own admission, it's taken him time to settle at Internazionale, but he's finally looking the part as Inter overcome their early-season woes. He capped his recent run of form with the fourth as Inter beat Lecce 4-1 to go 5th in Serie A.

Edinson Cavani. Napoli are still up there despite a little wobble these last few weeks. They bounced back from a dispiriting loss to Roma by walloping Genoa 6-1 with Cavani bagging two early on as the wounded Neapolitans responded brilliantly.

Lionel Messi. At his sublime best as Barcelona won yet another trophy, this time the Club World Cup in Yokohama. The chip for the first goal, the pass for the third... all brilliant, all the time.

Esteban Alvarado. OK, so he's not technically South American, but AZ's Costa Rican goalkeeper deserves recognition on these pages for lumping seven bells out of a pitch invader, as highlighted by our cousins at Euroballs. Unfortunately, the incident led to Esteban's dismissal, the abandonment of the game and a massive mess for the KNVB to sort out. While we're here on Costa Rica, wasn't Bryan Ruiz's goal last weekend fabulous? Let me answer that for you: yes it was.

And the winner is...

Lionel Messi. We couldn't not award him the gong this week - he was just too good to ignore. So were his team as they blasted Santos apart with something to spare.

We take a break now as most of football shuts down for the winter. We'll be back in January, but in the meantime, keep them peeled and let us know if you see anything worthy of nomination by hitting us up on our Twitter feed.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

That Was The Year That Was

As 2011 draws to a close the CONMEBalls team would like to thank in no particular order

Premier Sports TV – For their support and continued coverage of South American Football in the UK

Will Downing – For the late nights covering the games

Jon Cotterill – For his help during the year and having what would be my dream job

Bira Brasil – For the continuous mentions after we’ve tweeted in during the live games

All our colleagues and friends who also have great websites that pretty much cover what we do and a little bit more as well (see the links section) and if we've missed you off please don't be offended. We love you all.

And most importantly you, the people who take the time to read what we write. We thank you for your continued support.

After this weeks Ex-Pat of the Week we will be taking a short break until the State League action gets underway in Brazil in mid-January and the Copa Libertadores qualifying round towards the end of the month. We look forward to bringing you all the action again in 2012. Our sister site, Euroballs will continue to operate while we hit the beach for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

If you have an interest in a particular area of South American football and would like to share your passion for the Peruvian/Chilean/whichever league, we’d be very happy to accommodate you.

Finally, from all the team at CONMEBalls, we would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2012.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Barcelona dominate in Yokohama

Barcelona dominated the Club World Cup final from first to last and handed Santos a lesson into the bargain as they added yet another trophy to the frankly ridiculous collection they're building up in what will no doubt become known as the Guardiola era.

The Catalans dominated from the off and it proved something of a surprise that it took a full quarter of an hour before they took the lead. They did with a quite outstanding goal; Xavi with a sublime touch and Lionel Messi with a delightful, cheeky, impish, just plain sexy chip over the stranded Cabral. Xavi turned finisher a few moments later as the Blaugrana carved open their South American rivals, Dani Alves prominent on the right. There was so much space on the flanks, the ball came in from the right and Xavi was on the edge of the box to sweep it home.

A goalmouth scramble - Barca can even make those look amazing - saw the third goal come on the stroke of half time. A wonderful back-heel from Messi played in Alves down the right and the ball found it's way, via half a dozen other feet, to Cesc Fabregas, unmarked on the back stick, and he passed it across goal and inside the far post. Santos trudged off the field, heads on chests, already a beaten side.

The second half started as the first ended with Fabregas starting the move and the eventual shot grazing the outside of the post via Cabral's fingertips. Andres Iniesta was almost a peripheral figure in the first half, but he too went close after a stereotypical passage of intricate passing, but aside from that, Barcelona were content to keep the ball away from Santos and preserve the lead they'd built. The third goal had killed the game.

A fourth eventually arrived with eight minutes to go, Alves playing Messi in whose initial control was poor, but it served a purpose in drawing Cabral out of his goal allowing the little Argentine to take the ball round him and pass it into the net.

This was as comprehensive a win as it's possible to see. Barca, with a staggering 72% of possession, starved Santos. They were clinical in the first half, pragmatic in the second. Xavi's control and pass for the opener was pure porn and Santos were a beaten side from there on in. It's difficult to be too critical of the Brazilians: they were just beaten by a far superior side.

Earlier in the day, Asian champions Al Sadd won the third-place play-off against Kashiwa Reysol on penalties after a dismal 0-0 draw.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Ex-Pat of the Week #4

This week, our focus on the South Americans around the globe was on the final round of Europa League group games and the World Club jamboree over in Japan. Here are this week's nominations.

Leandro Domingues. The Brazilian played a major role in steering Kashiwa Reysol to the semi-finals of the Club World Cup with the opener in their quarter-final against Monterrey and a penalty in the shoot-out which followed the 1-1 draw with the Mexican side.

Lionel Messi. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He's a bit good and was a game-chamger in El Clásico and his usual excellent self in Barcelona's Club World Cup semi-final against an admittedly limited Al Sadd. The through ball for Seydou Keita's goal was pure sex.

Nelson Valdez. Rubin Kazan needed a point away to PAOK to ensure Europa League qualification and it looked grim after Sergei Ryzhikov was sent off and Vieirinha converted the penalty. But the Paraguayan striker struck early in the second half to ensure the Russian side progressed with a little to spare.

Fernando Canesin. Which club has the only 100% record in the Europa League? Go on, guess. No, wrong. It's Anderlecht. They completed their group with a 5-3 demolition job on second placed Lokomotiv Moskva with Brazilian midfielder Canesin a key element and scorer of the goal that put them in front in the game for the first time, just before half time.

Leonardo (de Vitor Santiago). Red Bull Salzburg had to win to make sure PSG's result against what was always going to be an Athletic reserve side irrelevant. While the cashed-up Frenchies were cruising to a 4-2 win, Leonardo was instrumental in Salzburg's come-from-behind win over Slovan Bratislava to dump the Parisians out. 2-0 down after six minutes, it didn't look good, but with Leonardo's equaliser they overhauled the Slovakians and take their place in the knockout stages. It's the second time now that Leonardo has made the shortlist for our Ex-Pat of the week.

And the winner is...

Leandro Domingues. Wins over Auckland City and Monterrey and no lack of effort in defeat to Santos, Reysol may yet end up third (should do given how bad Al Sadd looked the other day) in the world. That's no mean feat and Domingues is a major part of what they've achieved.

As ever, keep 'em peeled and let us know who you think we should consider for this next week. Leave us a comment or hit us up on that there twitter.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Copa Sudamericana Final 2nd Leg

Universidad de Chile 3-0 LQU Quito
Universidad de Chile wins 6-0 on points

Universidad de Chile created history last night when they won their first continental competition with a 3-0 victory over Ecuador's LDU Quito in the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana final at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago

La U were in the lead inside three minutes after a right-wing cross was cleared by a defender into the path of Eduardo Vargas, who beat the goalkeeper with a left-footed shot from ten years out to get his tenth goal of the competition. It was all one way traffic as the visitors couldn't get any foothold in the game with La U controlling most of the posession. Somehow, LDU held on and their first serious shot on goal came just before half time when a Ezequiel González free kick finally forced Jhonny Herrera into action but they still needed two goals to take the tie into extra time.

When LDU were reduced to 10 men when Jorge Guagua was dismissed for an elbow half way through the second half what little chance they had of getting back into the game disappeared with him up the tunnel. Finally ten minutes from time La U settled their supporters nerves when neat passing again opened up the LDU defence giving substitue Gustavo Lorenzetti a tap in to send the home fans into ecstacy. La U were reduced to 10 men six minutes from time when Matias Rodríguez got a second yellow card for a late tackle, but Eduardo Vargas put the icing on the cake three minutes from time when he evaded two defenders and lofted the ball over Alexander Domínguez to give him the record of most goals in a Copa Sudamericana campaign with eleven.

Quotes -

Diego Rivarola of La U - "Vargas is an extraordinary player and he deserves what he is living. He's got a great future and I hope he does well but after this he'll surely leave."

La U trainer Jorge Luis Sampaoli - "The sensation is unforgettable and in time it's going to have an even bigger impact. To be part of history does not have a price,'

Gustavo Canales - "We never said it, but we knew we were playing good football, distinct from the others because we never went back on our priority of attacking or looking for goals. We were cautious during the whole tournament, but now we can say that we were the best and that's why we're lifting the cup."

It caps a remarkable year for Universidad de Chile, unbeaten in all competitions they will now concentrate on wrapping up the Clausura title.

We say that this is a triumph for the Bielsian football philosophy. While the master continues to apply his approach to the beautiful, and it is beautiful under Bielsa, game – first with Chile, now with Athletic Club de Bilbao – his disciples, of whom Sampaoli is one, are also beginning to see that philosophy succeed. It’s exciting, it’s unpredictable and it’s bloody effective with the right pegs in the right holes.

U de Chile: Herrera; M González, M Rodríguez, O González, Rojas; Diaz, Mena, Aránguiz; Vargas, Canales (Rivarola 86'), Castro (Lorenzetti 54')
LDU Quito: Domínguez; Ambrosi, Guagua, Reasco (Gámez 54'), Araujo; Calderón, Acosta, González, Hidalgo, Barcos, Bolaños (Calderon 67')
Referee: Wilson Luiz Seneme (Brazil)

Premier Sports TV is the home of live South American football in the UK
You can subscribe at or calling 0871 663 9000

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Colombia get trigger-happy

He'd only been in the job for four months, taking over from the controversial Hernán Darío Gómez, but Colombia have already offed Leonel Alvarez after just three World Cup qualifiers.

Results weren't that bad as they went to La Paz and won, but this was followed up by two home games in Baranquilla where they were held 1-1 by new CONMEBalls favourites Venezuela and beaten by Argentina despite having much of the game. The key thing about those home games was that they were played without Colombia's undoubted star, Radamel Falcao, who was injured. If teams are going to be judged by what they do in games under enforced stunt conditions, then pretty much every football manager will be taking a long, hard look over their shoulder today after this.

Fundamentally, however, Alvarez's card was marked from the outset. After Gómez was dismissed - and he had to be, let's face facts here - Alvarez was anything but first choice. They wanted Gerardo Martino but were turned down. They had a look around and there was Alvarez, smiling gently and cupping his magnificent curly mullet. Martino will undoubtedly be first pick now.

What this episode does not mean is that Alvarez is incapable. Maybe he - like Carlos Quieroz, to pick a random example - will always be an understudy, destined never to make the top grade, but while there were grumblings about not going for the jugular against Argentina, in a few short games, there's been enough to suggest Alvarez has enough about him to go on and make something of himself.

FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Santos booked their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup with a comfortable victory over Kashiwa Reysol at Toyota Stadium this morning. The Libertadores champions were ahead 19 minutes into the contest thanks to a wonderful strike from the much-coveted Neymar who had earlier struck the post. Fed by Ganso down the inside right channel, he checked back inside onto his left and curled a beauty past Takanori Sugeno who was left with his feet seemingly in clay. Approaching the half hour, Santos struck for a second time to all but seal the game. Again, Ganso was the provider, playing it in from the left to the feet of Borges who turned and rifled a powerful shot high into the roof of the net. 2-0 it remained to half time, but nine minutes after the resumption, Reysol found a way back into the game as some slack marking at a corner allowed Hiroki Sakai to pull one back.
If anything, that spurred Santos on and they restored the two-goal advantage shortly afterwards with Danilo's heavily deflected free-kick following a foul on star man Ganso. Reysol could and should have got one back late on when Masakatsu Sawa put the ball over the bar from close range when scoring looked easier. Santos move on to Sunday's final where the winners of tomorrow's semi-final between Qatar's Al Sadd and the tiki-taka masters of Barcelona (so Barcelona then, yeah?).

Reysol, the host nation champions, got to this point by beating Oceania champions Auckland City 2-0 in a play-off and then beating CONCACAF champions Monterrey of Mexico on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Monterrey beat ES Tunis (African champions) for 5th place in a play-off after the Tunisians lost their quarter-final to Al Sadd by two goals to one. Reysol have one more game, the third-place match, against the losers of the Al Sadd/Barcelona clash (so Al Sadd then, yeah?), also on Sunday.

Follow Barcelona's progress on our sister site, Euroballs.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ex-pat of the week #3

The Champions League dominated the week's stories from Europe, albeit the main stories were more about who didn't get through as opposed to those who did. That's where our nominees spring from this week. And so to business.

Gonzalo Higuaín. A strong game in the league against Sporting Gijon for the Argentinian was followed up by an equally strong showing in the Champions League against Ajax, capped with the second of El Real's three goals. On the quiet, the lad's having a decent year.
Kaká. With Real Madrid having already qualified, a number of their regular starters were rested with this weekend's el clasico in mind, so it was a chance for one of the forgotten men to remind us of what he can do. Kaká pulled the strings as El Real saw off a limp challenge from Ajax to maintain the only 100% record in the competition, eliminating the Amsterdammers into the bargain.
Ezequiel Lavezzi. Napoli needed a win in order to make Manchester City's result irrelevant to their qualification prospects. With FC Bayern putting a reserve side out in Manchester, the cashed-up English side were quickly ahead, throwing pressure back onto the Italians. But they kept their composure in Spain and Lavezzi was superb as they engineered a win which secured their progress from a tough group.

Luiz Adriano. An eventful excursion in the Champions League for Shakhtar's Brazilian striker as the Donetsk outfit - already out of the competition - registered their first win of the group stage while also inflicting a first defeat on group winners APOEL. Having seen an early penalty saved, he kept his head when played in for the opener.
Robinho. AC Milan were already through as well, but still sent out a strong side in Plzen. Robinho was the star as Milan cruised into a two-goal lead early in the second half - scoring one and setting up countryman Alexandre Pato for the other - and it's no coincidence that Viktoria only got back on terms after he was subbed off.

The name inside the golden envelope is...

Ezequiel Lavezzi. Context is everything in judging this and with City strolling past a weakened Bayern, Napoli really needed that win. While other nominees had either already qualified or been eliminated, Lavezzi's performance went a long way to securing progression for his club and that's what pushes him over the top this week.

As ever, your contributions are welcome as we aim to keep this enterprise going each week. Leave us a comment on here or hit us up on twitter and let us know who you think should be in the running for this next week.

Copa Sudamericana Final 1st leg

Universidad de Chile overcame the altitude of Quito as they took a decisive step towards their first continental title with a first leg victory over LDU in the first leg of the 2011 Copa Bridgestone Sudamericana final and now have one hand on what would be Chile's first continental trophy for 20 years.

After the smoke from the fireworks had subsided both teams set off at a frenetic pace but it was La U who began take control of proceedings with Marcelo Diaz having the first meaningful effort but it was off target. Neicer Reasco was making hay down the right for La U and he should have put them ahead on the half on hour but Jhonny Herrera in the LDU goal came to the rescue. LDU wasted a golden opportunity five minutes before the break, Ezequiel González setting up Hernan Barcos and the LDU star striker somehow put the ball over the bar. La U made the home side pay just before the break, in demand Eduardo Vargas latching onto a beautifully weighted Marcelo Diaz through ball, slicing between two LDU defenders before rounding Alexander Domínguez to claim his ninth goal of the competition.

Gustavo Canales went agonisingly close to extending the lead for La U five mintues after the break but his header went the wrong side of the post. Half way through the half LDU spurned a great opportunity to level the tie after Herrera flapped at a corner and Barcos again wasted the opportunity by firing over the bar. The second half didn't quite have the drama of the first but LDU went close again when Fernando Hidalgo's header was cleared by Jose Rojas before defender Matias Rodríguez wasted a chance for La U to put the tie beyond doubt. When Hernan Barcos headed wide with moments left it was not to be LDU's night and they now face an uphill task in the National Stadium in Santiago next Wednesday night.

LDU Quito: Domínguez; Ambrosi, Guagua, Reasco (Gámez 82'), Araujo; Calderón, Acosta, González, Hidalgo; Barcos, Bieler (Bolaños 46')
Universidad de Chile: Herrera; M González, Rodríguez, O González, Rojas; Diaz, Acevedo, Mena, Aránguiz (Marino '89); Vargas (Margalhaes '90), Canales (Castro '72)
Referee: Diego Abal (Argentina)

Premier Sports TV is the home of South American Football in the UK
You can subscribe at or by calling 0871 663 9000

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Copa Sudamericana Final Preview

After an arduous battle through five rounds, we come to the final of the Copa Sudamericana. Played over two legs, the first is in Quito - at an altitude of 2850m - as LDU take on Universidad de Chile.

2009 winners LDU arrive at this stage in mediocre form. They've not won in five domestic games, the only bright spots puncturing that gloom the home and away wins over Vélez Sarsfield in the semi-final. Hernan Barcos got both in a 2-0 win at home to Vélez and then struck again in Buenos Aires as they completed a reasonably comfortable win. The 27-year old Argentinian is far and away their top scorer this term and will once again be the focal point of their attack. Slightly disappointing in the league this season, they are involved in a third-place play-off with El Nacional while Deportivo Quito and Emelec play off for the title. While league form has been patchy, they've lost twice in their run to the final, away to Independiente in the Round of 16 and at Libertad in the Quarter Final.

La U have no such domestic concerns, unbeaten as they stormed to the top of the Clausura table by a whopping eight-point margin and have a 1-0 lead over Unión Española to take back home in the first round of the finals. Their 39 goals in the Chilean league are a clear nine better than the next best and they conceded just 15 - they are an all-round side. They score from everywhere, but it's 22-year old Eduardo Vargas who leads the line. They haven't lost at all in the Copa Sudamericana either. Indeed, only Fénix in the first round and Vasco da Gama in the semi-final held them to draws. They had too much for Vasco - with Brazilian championship glory on their mind perhaps - over two legs, especially once they'd come from behind to secure a 1-1 in the São Januário. They bossed the return, running out easy 2-0 victors, the aforementioned Vargas sealing the deal after Fágner was sent off for the Brazilians as La U stopped Vasco's run of ridiculous comebacks in this competition.

Everything points to a win for La U, which would be their first Copa Sudamericana in their third appearance in the competition. The potential spanner in the works is the extreme altitude that the first leg will be played at. LDU need to take a lead to Santiago if they're to stand a chance. Even then, the Chileans will probably fancy their chances when taking them back to their place and LDU know this. The Ecuadorians have to go for it in the opener which should make for a fun game for viewers on Premier Sports TV. The game kicks off at 00:15 GMT in the small hours of tomorrow before the return leg six days later at the same time with both games being shown live.

The Road to the Final

First Stage

Yaracuyanos 1-1 LDU Quito
LDU Quito 1-0 Yaracuyanos
LDU Quito advances 4-1 on points

Universidad de Chile 1-0 Fénix
Fénix 0-0 Universidad de Chile
Universidad de Chile advances 4-1 on points

Second Stage

LDU Quito 4-1 Trujillanos
Trujillanos 0-1 LDU Quito
LDU Quito advances 6-0 on points

Universidad de Chile 1-0 Nacional Montevideo
Nacional Montevideo 0-2 Universidad de Chile
Universidad de Chile advances 6-0 on points

Round of Sixteen

LDU Quito 2-0 Independiente
Independiente 1-0 LDU Quito
3-3 on points, LDU Quito advances on goal difference

Flamengo 0-4 Universidad de Chile
Universidad de Chile 1-0 Flamengo
Universidad de Chile advaces 6-0 on points

Quarter Final

LDU Quito 1-0 Libertad
Libertad 1-0 LDU Quito
2-2 on points, LDU Quito advances 5-4

Arsenal 1-2 Universidad de Chile
Universidad de Chile 3-0 Arsenal
Universidad de Chile advances 6-0 on points

Semi Final

LDU Quito 2-0 Vélez Sarsfield
Vélez Sarsfield 0-1 LDU Quito
LDU Quito advances 6-0 on points

Vasco da Gama 1-1 Universidad de Chile
Universidad de Chile 2-0 Vasco da Gama
Universidad de Chile advances 4-1 on points

Premier Sports TV is the home of South American Football in the UK
You can subscribe at or by calling 0871 663 9000

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

2011 Craque do Brasileirão Awards

The annual awards ceremony took place at Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro on Monday to celebrate the achievements of the 2011 Brasileirão season. The ceremony is run in conjunction by the CBF and media outlet Globo.

Here is who won what

Player of the Year: Neymar (Santos).

Leading scorer: Borges (Santos) with 23 goals

Craque da Galera: Dedé (Vasco da Gama)
This award is voted for by a fan vote and Dedé got 46% of that vote

Best Newcomer: Wellington Nem (Figueirense)

Coach of the Year: Ricardo Gomes/Cristóvão Borges (Vasco)

Referee of the Year: Leandro Vuaden

Team of the year 4-4-2 (apparently)

Goalkeeper: Jefferson (Botafogo)
Right Back: Fagner (Vasco da Gama)
Centre Back: Dedé (Vasco da Gama)
Centre Back: Réver (Atlético-MG)
Left Back: Bruno Cortês (Botafogo)
Midfield: Ralf (Corinthians)
Midfield: Paulinho (Corinthians)
Midfield: Diego Souza (Vasco da Gama)
Midfield: Ronaldinho Gáucho (Flamengo)
Forward: Neymar (Santos)
Forward: Fred (Fluminense)

Premier Sports TV is the home of the Brasileirão Petrobras in the UK
You can subscribe at or by calling 0871 663 9000

Monday, 5 December 2011

Brasileirão Petrobras - Week 38

São Paulo 4-1 Santos
Internacional 1-0 Grêmio
Cruzeiro 6-1 Atlético Mineiro
Atlético Goianiense 5-1 América Mineiro
Atlético Paranaense 1-0 Coritiba
Bahia 2-1 Ceará
Avaí 1-1 Figueirense
Botafogo 1-1 Fluminense
Vasco da Gama 1-1 Flamengo
Corinthians 0-0 Palmeiras

Corinthians are the 2011 Brasileirão Petrobras champions after a a spiteful score less draw with arch enemies Palmeiras at the Pacaembu in front of the Premier Sports TV cameras. After the untimely death of Sócrates early in the morning before the game a respectful moment of silence was observed by all in the stadium. When the action started it was Palmeiras who were the more likely to break the deadlock. Deola in the Palmeiras goal was reduced to a mere spectator at times. With the news that Diego Souza had put Vasco da Gama ahead at Engenhão after half an hour filtering through the ground at half time, Corinthians were still in the box seat for the title but going behind would be a complete disaster. The fun and games at the Pacaembu began two minutes after the break when Jorge Valdivia was sent off for a forearm but the news from Rio that Flamengo has equalised through Renato Abreu settled nerves amongst Corinthians supporters. Then the news got better for Corinthians as Vasco had Jumar sent off twenty minutes from time but two minutes later it was ten a side when Wallace was shown a red card. The tension was unbearable at the Pacaembu especially when Palmieras rattled the woodwork but the news came through it was all over at Vasco and the fans began celebrating a fifth title. Then came the good old fashioned South American punch up in injury time, Palmeiras substitue João Vitor was sent off for a nasty challenge on Jorge Henrique. The Palmieras bench thought there had been a severe over reaction and piled into the midfielder. Leandro Castan of Corinthians got a red card for his part in it all but how Luan of Palmeiras stayed on after kicking Jorge Henrique right under the nose of the assistant we will never know. The final whistle went in the Pacaembu and the celebrations started in true style with the fireworks going off left, right and centre. It was a fitting finish for Corinthians and a tribute to the Doctor.

While Flamengo secured their place in the Copa Libertadores next year with that point at Vasco, it was Internacional who sneaked in the at back door to claim the fifth and final spot via league qualification. For most of the night São Paulo were in the box seat as they ripped a reserve Santos side to bits in Mogi Mirim. Luís Fabiano, Cicero and Lucas Silva had São Paulo three up at half time but Elano pulled a goal back on the hour. A second for Fabiano ten minutes from time wrapped things up for São Paulo. Internacional made it into the Libertadores after victory in the 389th Gre-Nal at the Beira-Rio. The only goal came on the hour when Argentinian Andres D'Alessandro converted from the spot to give them the win and send them to Colombia for their Libertadores qualifying tie. Figuerense were denied the chance of qualifying when they were held by already relegation local rivals Avaí at the Recassada. Diogo Orlando put Avaí ahead a minutes before the break but Figueirense levelled two minutes after the restart through Heber. Figueirense then had Julio Cesar sent off shortly afterwards but with Inter winning they were always behind on that count.

The relegation picture was settled pretty early in the afternoon as Cruzeiro brushed aside uninterested local rivals Atlético-MG in Sete Lagoas. Cruzeiro who needed to win to guarantee their place in the top flight were four up at half time after goals from Roger, Leandro Guerreiro, Anselmo Ramon and Fabrício. Wellington Paulista made it five on the just before the hour before Réver pulled a goal back for Atlético-MG. The game finished ten a side after Wellington Paulista and Werley were sent off after clashing thirteen minutes from time and Everton capped a remarkable day for Cruzeiro with the sixth in injury time. Atlético-PR were relegated for the first time in their history despite denying local rivals Coritiba a spot in the Libertadores with victory at the Arena de Baixada. Ecuadorian striker Joffre Guerrón got the only goal of the game seventeen minutes from time but the home side finished with ten men after Fabrício Carioca was sent off in injury time. Ceará were also relegation after losing at Bahia, who themselved sneaked into the last Copa Sudamericana place for next season. Camacho put Bahia ahead with thirteen minutes gone and Lulinha doubled the lead two minutes before the break. Felipe Azevedo pulled a goal back for Ceará almost instantly but the news from Sete Lagoas at half time saw the game fizzle out into a damp squib.

Fluminense secured third place and spot in the group stage of the Libertadores after they ended up settling for a point in Volta Redonda against Botafogo. The Tricolor were ahead with just five minutes gone when Fred got his 22nd of the season, leaving him one behind Borges of Santos but Felipe Menezes levelled for Botafogo seven minutes later. Fluminense finished with ten men after Erwin Valencia was sent off fourteen minutes from time but after their shocking start to the season Fluminense must be happu with their third palced finish. Finally Atlético-GO secured a place in the Copa Sudamericana when they took already relegated América-MG to the cleaners at the Serra Dourada. Felipe put Atlético-GO ahead with ten minutes gone before Mario doubled the lead from the spot five minutes later. Gilson put Atlético-GO three ahead at the break but Thiago Carleto pulled one back for América-MG on the hour. This spurred Atlético-GO onto greater things as Anailson got a fourth twenty minutes from time before Paulo Henrique wrapped up Atlético-GO's biggest win of the season five minutes from time.

So, this is who got what in Brazil this year

Champions: Corinthians
Copa Libertadores Group Stage: Santos (as holder), Fluminense, Vasco da Gama (via Copa do Brasil)
Copa Libertadores Qualifiers: Flamengo, Internacional
Copa Sudamericana: São Paulo, Figueirense, Coritiba, Botafogo, Palmeiras, Grêmio, Atlético Goianiense, Bahia
Relegated: Atlético Paranaense, Ceará, América Mineiro, Avaí

So that's it for the 2011 Brasileirão Petrobras and it's congratulations once again to Corinthians. That isn't the end of the year here at CONMEBalls, we have both legs of the Copa Sudamericana final plus we will be keeping tabs on Santos at the FIFA World Club Cup. The national competition will return mid-May 2012 but don't forget our coverage of the Campeonato Paulista and Campeonato Carioca begins in the middle of January and the 2012 Copa Libertadores gets underway in the last week of January.

I would like to thank everyone who takes the trouble to read this every week and especially everyone who follows us on twitter. It's been a pleasure bringing you all the action from one of the most exciting leagues in the world.

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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira

Sad news today as the world learned of the passing of Brazilian great Sócrates. Medical doctor, 60-a-day man, drinker, thinker, icon, he was all these things and more. Outspokenly left-wing in his politics at a time when Brazil was under military rule, he was so much more than a footballer. But what a footballer. At 6'4", his gangly frame shouldn't have been able to glide across the turf, but he was a picture of languid grace.
This writer was just a bit too young for the 1978 World Cup - 1982 was the first proper glimpse of the world game and that Brazil side from that tournament still evokes great memories. Falcão, Zico et al were terrific of course, but it was the lanky, bearded captain who pulled all the strings and swanned about the midfield like he owned the sport. He was cool. He was the one everyone wanted to be in the 38-a-side game in the schoolyard the next day.
His was a life very well lived indeed and the world is a sadder place for his passing.

Here he is in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico against France, swaggering his way around the Jalisco in Guadalajara:

Friday, 2 December 2011

Ex-Pat of the Week #2

The second week of our trawl through the leagues outside of South America to find the cream of the crop takes in the Europa League, where progression to the last 32 was up for grabs, the League Cup in England and some surprise results around Europe.

So to the nominations:

Lucas Leiva. Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder took some time to convince he was Xabi Alonso's natural successor, but since the Spaniard departed for Real Madrid, Lucas has slowly grown into the role. This was capped with an outstanding display in front of the back four against Manchester City in a game Liverpool were a touch unfortunate to win. He followed that up with another starring role in the League Cup against Chelsea, but he failed to complete that game as he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury which has ruled him out for the season.

Sergio Agüero. Largely shackled in the league against Liverpool (see Lucas's nomination above), but came off the bench in the League Cup away to Arsenal in the 32nd minute as manager Roberto Mancini removed a defender - Alexander Kolarov - for the Argentine striker. The manager's bold ploy was rewarded when Agüero popped up with a late winner to see Manchester City through to the semi-finals.

Hulk. Missed out last week despite a great performance in Donetsk in the Champions League, but followed that up with a double last Sunday in a 3-2 win over bitter rivals Benfica, a result which saw Porto leapfrog the Lisbon club into pole position in the Liga ZON Sagres.

Elkin Soto. The tough-tackling Colombian was outstanding in the Mainz midfield as they pulled themselves clear of the Bundesliga danger zone and inflicting a second straight loss on the mighty FC Bayern .

Alexandre Pato. Returning from a long injury lay-off, the Brazilian scored one and set one up for Milan in a 4-0 romp against the Flying Donkeys of Chievo as the Rossoneri move within two points of long-time Serie A leaders Juventus.

Leonardo (de Vitor Santiago). The much-travelled forward is at Red Bull Salzburg these days and was their best player as his side beat cashed-up PSG 2-0 in the Europa League on Thursday, a result which gives Salzburg a real chance of progressing and threatening the French side's continued involvement in the competition.

And the winner is...

Lucas Leiva. Maybe we're getting a bit soft in our old age and perhaps, just perhaps, had Lucas not got injured in that cup game we wouldn't have given him the nod. We'd like to think not and that his performances across the two games warranted recognition. This week capped a rise which has seen him become a key player for Liverpool and a regular for the Seleção and the measure of the man is how both will miss him now he's crocked.

And all done without once mentioning Lionel Messi. Until just then. Doh!

Who have we missed? Who will get the nod next week? Comment below or hit us up on the Twitter feed, especially if you see a bit more Asian football than we do.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Copa Sudamericana - Semi Final Second Leg

Vélez Sarsfield 0-1 LDU Quito
LDU Quito advances 6-0 on points
Universidad de Chile 2-0 Vasco da Gama
Universidad de Chile advances 4-1 on points

2009 Champions LDU Quito are back in the final after holding off the challenge of Vélez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires on Tuesday night. Vélez needed an early goal to get them back in the tie and Guillermo Franco blew a great chance to put them ahead when left unmarked at the back post. It was all out attack from the home side and the consequence of that was leaving gaps at the back as Paul Ambrosi and Hernan Barcos went close for the visitors. Vélez came close just before the break but Alex Domínquez in the LDU goal kept his side in the tie with a save from Hector Canteros. The break through came four minutes after the break, Neicer Reasco with the cross before from good control and a powerful shot from Hernan Barcos flew past Marcelo Barovero to silence the home crowd and put LDU in total control of the tie. It knocked the stuffing out of the home side, now needing four goals in forty minutes to reach the final couldn't find a response and we lucky not to go further behind when Enqique Gamez blew an ideal opportunity to put LDU two ahead.

Vasco da Gama were unhappy before a ball was kicked in Santiago as Universidad de Chile moved their game from the National Stadium to their traditional home at the Estadio Santa Laura claiming the venue wasn't up to holding the fixture. The game started in a similar vein to last week's clash in the São Januário as both teams went at each other hammer and tongs looking for that vital first goal. Juninho Pernambucano was a constant threat from dead ball situations but Vasco didn't take their chances. La U went ahead just after the half hour, a shot from Fransico Castro was parried by Fernando Prass in the Vasco goal and Gustavo Canales was first onto the rebound to fire home from a sharp angle and send the home fans wild. Vasco almost levelled just after the break but La U goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera was in top form and Eduardo Vargas should have ended it up chipped over the keeper and wide of the post. Vasco's task became harder twenty minutes from time when Fágner was dismissed for an elbow on Canales and two minutes later Vargas made up for his earlier miss when he finished off a great team move to get his eighth goal in the competition. It was fifth time lucky for La U in continental semi finals as they made the final of a CONMEBOL competition for the first time in their history.

The first leg of the final takes place at the Casa Blanca in Quito next week before the return leg in Santiago the week after. Kick off times have yet to be confirmed.

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Brasileirão Petrobras - Week 37

Palmeiras 1-0 São Paulo
Santos 1-1 Bahia
Flamengo  1-0 Internacional
Fluminense 1-2 Vasco da Gama
Grêmio 2-2 Atlético Goianiense
Atlético Mineiro  4 - 0  Botafogo
Figueirense  0-1 Corinthians
Coritiba  1-0  Avaí
América Mineiro 2-1 Atlético Paranaense
Ceará  2-2 Cruzeiro

The penultimate week of the season and still so much to be decided in the Brasileirão. Would Corinthians collect the title this week and who else would be joining Avaí in Série B next season.

At the Orlando Scarpelli in front of the Premier Sports TV cameras, Corinthians knew that victory over Figueirense and Vasco da Gama failing to win at the Engenhão against Fluminense would hand them the title. When Liédson put Corinthians ahead half way though the second half the massed ranks of fans believed the title was there for the taking. Then Alecsandro put Vasco ahead at the Engenhão with thirteen minutes left and it was as you were in the title race. The Corinthians fans were celebrating again when Fred levelled for Fluminense with his 21st goal of the season six minutes from time. They were about five mintues behind in Rio and when the full time whistle went in Florianópolis they Corinthians players stayed on the pitch and received the news of Leandro's dismissal reducing Vasco to ten men. As the party was about the get into full swing, there was injury time drama at the Engenhão when Diego Cavalieri spilled a shot and Bernardo pounced to give Vasco the win. It's all on next week now where both teams play deadly rivals, Corithians entertain Palmeiras while Vasco entertain Flamengo. The defeat for Figueirense may cost them a spot in next years Libertadores.

América-MG's relegation was finally confirmed despite a victory over Atlético-PR in Uberlândia. Leading scorer Kempes put América-MG ahead with twenty minutes gone but Atlético-PR got a life line when Paulo Baier converted from the spot on the hour. Gilson got the América-MG winner ten minutes from time to leave Atlético-PR on the brink of relegation. In another big relegation clash, Cruzeiro picked up a point at fellow strugglers Ceará to ensure that América-MG can't overtake them in the table. Ceará are also in a desperate struggle against the drop and they took the lead through Osvaldo with twenty minutes gone. Anselmo Ramon levelled three minutes later and when Paraguayan star Jose Ortigoza put Cruzeiro ahead eight minutes after the break they had secured their place in the top flight for next season. An equaliser from Daniel Marques eight minutes from time rescued a point for Ceará and gave them a fighting chance of surviving the drop next week. Bahia ensured their place in the top flight next season when they picked up a point at the Vila against Santos. In fact it was the first goal of the night that put Bahia ahead after eight minutes, Souza with the finish. Neymar's thirteenth of the season levelled matter after half an hour but Santos have that trip to Japan for the FIFA World Club Cup firmly on their minds.

The battle for the last Libertadores took a turn as well as Flamengo got themselves into poll position with victory over Internacional in Volta Redonda. Ronaldinho Gáucho put some bad press in the preceeding week behind him with the only goal of the game just before half time to leave the Rubro-Negro needing a point next week for the last spot. Coritiba have sneaked up on the edges of grabbing a Libertadores spot after victory over already relegated Avaí. The visitors had Fabiano sent off seventeen minutes from time and Jeci grabbed the all important goal six minutes from time. Avaí finished with nine men when Fernandinho was sent off a minute from time. Even with Flamengo in pole position at the moment the last Libertadores spot will be betweem them, Inter, Figueirense and Coritiba next week.

São Paulo's Libertadores hopes were ended when they fell to defeat to Palmeiras at the Pacaembu. Marcos Assunção with the only goal of the game ten minutes after half time to give Felipão back to back wins. São Paulo finished with ten men when Rivaldo was sent off in injury time. Botafogo's disastrous end to the season continued as Loco Abreu missed a penalty as their crushing defeat at Atlético-MG ended their feint Libertadores hopes as well. Daniel Carvalho put Atlético-MG ahead from the spot with a quarter of an hour gone and André doubled the lead ten minutes later. A second for André thirteen minutes from time sealed the points before Leonardo Silva wrapped up Atlético-MG's biggest win of the season in injury time. Finally the only game of the week that had little to no significance attached to it finished in an entertaining draw at the Olímpico. Atlético-GO took the lead  with twenty five minutes gone through Anselmo but two goals in a minute from Willian Magrão and Marquinhos put Grêmio ahead. Anderson rescued a point for Atlético-GO seven minutes from time with both teams now settled in mid-table obscurity.

So, one week to go in the 2011 Brasileirão and so much to play for. The title is up for grabs as is the final positions in Libertadores qualifying. It's two from three for the final relegation spots and it will all unfold from 7pm on Sunday. It's also rivalry round with all major Clássico matches taking place as well. They line up like this

Corinthians x Palmeiras
São Paulo x Santos
Internacional x Grêmio
Cruzeiro x Atlético Mineiro
Atlético Goianiense x América Mineiro
Atlético Paranaense x Coritiba
Bahia x Ceará
Avaí x Figueirense
Botafogo x Fluminense
Vasco da Gama x Flamengo

The Série B season came to a close at the weekend with Náutico claiming the last promotion spot for the 2012 Brasileirão. They join fellow Recife based club Sport in the top flight alongside the Paulista sides Ponte Preta and the 2011 Série B Champions Portuguesa.

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Friday, 25 November 2011

Ex-pat of the week #1

Introducing the first of a new series where we run the rule over South American players plying their trade outside of the continent and pick out our performance of the week. This particular correspondent realises that this could end up being a lot of work, so we'll see how long we can keep it going for, but the intention is there, loyal reader. Trust us on that one. Anyway, to business.

This week saw a full round of UEFA Champions League fixtures as well as the regular European leagues while in the USA, the competition reached it's conclusion. Here are the nominees, in no particular order:

Lionel Messi. One gets the feeling that we'll be mentioning this chap quite a bit over the weeks; we've heard he's a bit tidy at this football lark. This week, his audacious penalty effort against AC Milan was chalked off - and he was booked - but he slammed home the retake before teeing up Xavi for the winner with THE most audacious through-ball.
Edinson Cavani. Two goals in the UCL game against big-spending Manchester City sealed the win which put one Neapolitan foot into the knockout stages. He was so good that City were immediately linked with signing the Uruguayan come January.
Marcelo Oliveira. One of a number of unheralded South Americans at APOEL, Oliveira has been at the heart of a very effective defensive unit that's guided the Cypriot club to top spot in their UCL group, capped by this week's backs-to-the-wall effort away to cash-rich Zenit St Petersburg.
Pablo Aimar. 32 years old now, Aimar rolled back the years with possibly his best performance in something like six or seven years as Benfica secured progress to the knockout stages of the UCL with a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.
Matiás Fernandez. The Chilean midfielder was in sublime form and bagged a couple of goals at Sporting CP saw off União de Leiria to move within a point of Porto and Benfica at the top of the Liga ZON Sagres which is now open wider than the mouth of the Amazon.
Juninho (Vitor Junior). Beckham, Keane and Donovan may have grabbed the headlines on the night, but the Brazilian's tireless efforts in midfield, screening the back four, went a long way to ensuring LA Galaxy were not only easily the best defensive side in MLS this year, but also took home the bacon in the final against the dangerous, counter-attacking Houston Dynamo.

And the winner is....
Pablo Aimar
He was quite magnificent in Manchester on Tuesday. OK, so it's partly because we don't want to end up giving this to Messi every week, but Aimar deserves this one.

Agree? Don't? Comment below or join the debate on our twitter feed.

Copa Sudamericana - Semi Final First Leg

Vasco da Gama 1-1 Universidad de Chile
LDU Quito 2-0 Vélez Sarsfield

Vasco da Gama's home form in the Sudamericana had been pretty damned impressive. Three victories and fifteen goals scored in the process so when La U returned to the city of their stunning 4-0 success against Flamengo five weeks ago it wasn't the easiest game in the world to call. Vasco took a deserved lead with 33 minutes gone. Allan attacked down the middle of the pitch and his pass took a wicked deflection off Gustavo Lorenzetti. Bernardo got to the ball first, and his turn and shot beat Jhonny Herrera and into the left hand corner of the net. It was the first time that U de Chile had trailed in an away leg so far this season but they came out with a purpose in the second half and got themselves back into the tie, and a valuable away goal, ten minutes from time. A free kick from Marcelo Diaz dropped around the penalty spot, Fernando Prass got caught in no mans land and Osvaldo González headed home to get the vital goal.

At the Casa Blanca the night after, 2009 champions LDU Quito gained a huge advantage as they will take a two goal cushion back to Buenos Aires next week against Vélez Sarsfield. After a score less first half, LDU took the lead after Vélez lost possession deep in their own half and Hernan Barcos surged upfield and his shot from 25 yards out flew into the corner of the goal. The Argentinian strike doubled his teams lead six minutes from time as a great passing move split the Vélez defence before his shot from a tight angle flew in at Marcelo Barovero's near post. It was a cruel blow for Ricardo Gareca's side who will have it all to do in the return leg next week.

The second legs take place next week and both will be live on Premier Sports TV

Vélez Sarsfield v LDU Quito - Wednesday 0015GMT
Universidad de Chile v Vasco da Gama - Wednesday 2350GMT

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Monday, 21 November 2011

Brasileirão Petrobras - Week 36

São Paulo 3-1 América Mineiro
Vasco da Gama 2-0 Avaí
Grêmio 1-3 Ceará
Botafogo 1-2 Internacional
Corinthians 2-1 Atlético Mineiro
Cruzeiro 1-1 Atlético Paranaense
Atlético Goianiense 0-0 Flamengo
Bahia 0-2 Palmeiras
Coritiba 1-0 Santos
Figueirense 0-4 Fluminense

On Saturday the América-MG revival was bought to a halt as they were left on the brink of relegation after defeat to São Paulo at the Morumbi. Luís Fabiano put São Paulo ahead half way through the first half and he got a second to double the lead on the stoke of half time. Juan made it three six minutes after the break but São Paulo suffered a blow when Xandão was sent off on the hour. Alessandro pulled a goal back for América-MG with twelve minutes left and it looks like their season long stay in the top flight will end this weekend. The Premier Sports TV cameras were on hand to see Vasco da Gama go to the top of the table when they condemned Avaí to relegation at the São Januário. The visitors were reduced to ten men with just twenty minutes gone when Junior Urso was sent off for a second yellow card offence. The ten men held on for a further half an hour before Felipe but Vasco ahead six minutes after the break. When Elton doubled the lead fourteen minutes later you could feel the relief from the Vasco fans. Ceará still remain in the relegation zone despite a fantastic win at Grêmio. Leading scorer Felipe Azevedo put Ceará ahead with half an hour gone but the lead lasted only seven minutes before Douglas got the tricolor back on level terms. A second for Felipe Azevedo, converting from the penalty spot, restored the Ceará lead four minutes after the break and he completed his hat-trick ten minutes later to wrap up the points.

After their title challenge floundered in midweek, managerless Botafogo's hopes of securing a place in the Libertadores next season suffered a blow when Internacional left the Engenhão with all three points. Leandro Damião put Inter ahead on the stroke of half time and Oscar doubled the lead fifteen minutes from time. Felipe Menezes pulled a goal back three minutes later but it as Inter who jumped into the final qualifying spot. In front of the Premier Sports TV cameras Corinthians went back to the top of the table after coming from behind to defeat Atlético-MG at the Pacaembu. When Leonardo Silva put Atlético-MG ahead ten minutes after the break it was just what the Vasco fans wanted to hear but Liédson thought he'd rescued a point for Corinthians thirteen minutes from time. Cometh injury time, cometh the man as Adriano, in only his fourth appearance of the season, grabbed a winner to leave Corinthians in the driving seat in the title race. Two teams threatened with relegation met in Sete Lagoas and there was nothing to separate Cruzeiro and Atlético-PR. The visitors took the lead with twenty-six minutes gone when Marcinho put them ahead but Charles levelled for Cruzeiro two minutes before the break. Neither team could find a second half winner and the result still leaves both teams in danger of the drop. No goals at the Serra Dourada as a point was enough to secure Atlético-GO's top flight status and make life very difficult for Flamengo's bid to be in the Copa Libertadores next year. It's a second straight scoreless draw for Flamengo who really need to be finding the back of the net if they are to be at the top table next year.

It took a long time coming but Palmeiras finally secured their place in the top flight next season after a first win in eleven when they defeated Bahia. Ricardo Bueno put Palmeiras ahead with twenty minutes gone to ease their fears but they only wrapped up the victory in injury time when Marcos Assuncão got the second as Bahia pressed for an equaliser. Coritiba can look forward to Copa Sudamericana action next year after they defeated Santos at the Couto Pereira. A goal from Leonardo on the hour was enough for to win it for Coritiba as Muricy Ramalho rested some of his star players with a place in Série A secured and the FIFA World Club Cup in mind. At the Orlando Scarpelli, Fluminense secured a spot in the Copa Libertadores when they ended Figuerense's fourteen match unbeaten run in spectacular fashion. After his four goal show in midweek, Fred was again the Fluminense talisman as he added a hat-trick to make it seven goals for the week and twelve in his last six games. The former Olympique Lyonnias man opened the scoring three mintues after the break and doubled the lead nine minutes later. Marquinho got in on the act with the third eighteen mintues from time before Fred wrapped up his hat-trick five minutes from time to take him to twenty for the season. It was a first defeat for Figueirense since a 2-1 defeat at home to São Paulo on September 3 and leaves them in a three way fight for the last Libertadores spot.

Next week all fixtures kick off at the same time with just 180 minutes left in the season. Flamengo take their home game to Macaé and América-MG move to Uberlândia due to Stadium clashes. The title is still up for grabs, as is the last Libertadores spot while two teams are still available for the drop to Série B. They line up like this

Palmeiras x São Paulo
Santos x Bahia
Flamengo x Internacional
Fluminense x Vasco da Gama
Grêmio x Atlético Goianiense
Atlético Mineiro x Botafogo
Figueirense x Corinthians
Coritiba x Avaí
Américo Mineiro x Atlético Paranaense
Ceará x Cruzeiro

Meanwhile, the last weekend of fixtures take place in Série B at the weekend. Portuguesa will return to the top flight as Champions whilst Náutico and Ponte Preta will join them in the top flight. Five teams, Sport Recife, Bragantino, Vitória, Boa and Americana are all still in with a shout of the fourth and final promotion spot.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Brasileirão Petrobras - Week 35

Fluminense 5-4 Grêmio
Internacional 1-0 Bahia
Atlético Paranaense 1-0 São Paulo
América Mineiro 2-1 Botafogo
Palmieras 1-1 Vasco da Gama
Avaí 0-0 Cruzeiro
Ceará 0-1 Corinthians
Santos 1-1 Atlético Goianiense
Flamengo 0-0 Figueirense
Atlético Mineiro 2-1 Coritiba

Four games left as the race for the title, Libertadores spots and avoiding relegation hots up in the Brasileirão. The week opened at the Engenhão as Fluminense kept their slim title hopes alive with victory over Grêmio in a crazy game. Rafael Marques put Grêmio ahead with seventeen minutes gone but Fred levelled for Flu eight minutes later but the visitors went into the break ahead when Marquinhos struck on the stroke of half time. A second for Fred eight minutes after the break levelled matters again and the home side took the lead just after the hour when Rafael Sóbis got his tenth of the season. After a crazy two minutes spell it looked like Flu's title dream was over when first Brandão and then Adílson had Grêmio ahead with just fourteen minutes to go. However Fred converted from the spot to level the match with twelve minutes to go and then the former Lyon man won it with his fourth of the game nine minutes from time. Brandão was then sent off two minutes later and the home fans had to endure an agonising six added minutes before the three points were in the bag. Internacional remain in Libertadores contention after a ninth minute Gilberto goal was enough to see them home against Bahia at the Beira-Rio. The visitors are still not safe from the drop after this result but another victory should guarantee them top flight football next season. Atlético-PR's battle against the drop continued as they defeated a São Paulo side that will now be lucky to bring Libertadores football to the Morumbi next year. A tenth minutes strike from Ecuadorian strike Joffre Guerrón, only his fifth goal of the season, was enough to give Atlético-PR a valuable victory.

If you're going to bottom of the table for most of the year and you're going to go on a three game winning run, who better than Corinthians, Fluminense and now Botafogo as your victims as América-MG ended the Alvinegro's title hopes in Sete Lagoas last night. When Kempes put América-MG ahead from the spot, his 12th of the season, ten minutes before the break Botafogo were on thin ice and when Fábio Júnior made it two five minutes later the cracks began to appear. Sebastian Abreu got Botafogo back in the game just after the hour and when Gilson got sent off just after the visitors had a man advantage. But they couldn't make it count and now have a fight on their hands for a Libertadores spot, which they will do without Caio Júnior who was shown the door on the teams return to Rio de Janeiro. The title race took a turn when Palmeiras did hated rivals Corinthians a favour by holding Vasco da Gama at the Pacaembu. Vasco made the perfect start to the game when Dedé scored for the third game in succession with just four minutes on the clock. Now you would have expected the Palmerias fans to be happy with that, but Felipão is under huge pressure at the moment and the Big Green are in danger of the drop and they levelled eighteen minutes after the break when Luan got his ninth of the season. Avaí's three year stay in the top flight is as good as over when they were held to a goal less draw by fellow strugglers Cruzeiro at the Ressacada. The point leaves Avaí eight points short of safety now with just nine to play for. Cruzeiro remain a point ahead of safety but finished the game with ten men after Naldo was sent off five minutes from time. Vasco's draw was Corinthians gain as the Muskateers secured a vital draw at the Castelão against Ceará. The Peruvian substitute Luís Ramírez with the vital goal nine minutes from time to leave Corinthians two points clear at the top of the table. Ceará, who remain deep in relegation trouble, had Fabrício sent off after a second yellow card five minutes from time.

Where as Wednesday has produced goals galore it was a different story on Thursday night with only one game seeing a positive result. Santos left it late at the Vila to claim a point against an Atlético-GO side which is still not quite safe from the drop yet. Atlético-GO took the lead nine minutes before the break when Leonardo gave them the lead but the suffered a blow on the hour when Agenor was sent off. Cue the charge from the home side as they searched for the goal to get them back on level terms and it eventually came in the fifth minute of added time as Paulo Henrique Ganso claimed his second goal of the season to rescue a point. No goals at the Engenhão as Figuerense's six game winning run was ended by a Flamengo side who's own title challenge was all but ended. Ronaldinho Gáucho took the brunt of the Flamengo fans abuse but Figueirense blew a great chance to win the game when substitute Aloisio missed from the spot on the hour. The result also ends Figueirense's title hopes but they will still have a big say on where the crown ends up. Finally Atlético-MG moved five points clear of the relegation zone when they made it five wins out of the last seven games when they defeated Coritiba in Sete Lagoas. Neto Berola put Atlético-MG ahead with twenty minutes gone but they had to wait until ten minutes from time before Leonardo Silva grabbed the crucial second. Coritiba pulled a goal back through Bill's 12th of the season two minutes from time but Atlético-MG held on the claim the win and got one win away from safety.

Only three weeks left to go and the two title challengers are both at home this weekend.

São Paulo x América Mineiro
Vasco da Gama x Avaí - Coverage on Premier Sports TV
Grêmio x Ceará
Corinthians x Atlético Mineiro - Coverage on Premier Sports TV
Botafogo x Internacional
Cruzeiro x Atlético Paranaense
Atlético Goianiense x Flamengo
Figueirense x Fluminense
Coritiba x Santos
Bahia x Palmeiras

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Copa Sudamericana - Week 16

Libertad 1-0 LDU Quito
3-3 on points, LDU Quito advances 5-4 on penalties
Universidad de Chile 3-0 Arsenal
Universidad de Chile advances 6-0 on points

2009 winners LDU Quito made it through to a semi final clash against Vélez Sarsfield after needing penalties to get past Libertad of Paraguay in Asunción. LDU Quito came to the Estadio Dr. Nicolás Leoz quite happy to park the bus and hang on to their first leg advantage. With LDU moments away from going through courtesy that Luis Bolaños fluke last week Libertad levelled the tie in the last minute of regulation when a headed goal from Pablo Velazquez rescued them. No extra time is played at this stage of the competition so it was straight to penalty kicks. With LDU Quito first up to the plate the first four kicks were successful before Bernardo Medina saved Diego Calderón's poor effort. Uruguayan Omar Pouso put Libertad ahead before Jorge Guagua levelled again. The LDU keeper, Alexander Domínguez, saved from Ignacio Canuto to level it at 3-3 after 4 kicks. It was basically sudden death from here on in, Hernan Barcos edged LDU ahead before goalkeeper Medina sent it into official sudden death. Neicer Reasco confidently put LDU in the box seat before a poor penalty from substitute Manuel Maciel was saved easily by Domínguez to sent LDU through to the last four.

In the National Stadium in Santiago, Univerdidad de Chile made it through to the last four when they brushed aside the challenge of Arsenal of Argentina. Eduardo Vargas put La U ahead with just ten minutes on the clock and Fernando Castro doubled the lead in injury time at the end of the first half. Gustavo Canales for the third eleven minutes after the break to wrap up a comfortable passage for the Chilean Champions. Frustration got the better of the Arsenal side and Luciano Leguizamón was sent off with 65 minutes gone just four minutes after coming on for Nicolas Aguirre.

The Semi Final begin next week, with both games to be covered by Premier Sports TV. Dates and times have yet to be confirmed.

Universidad de Chile v Vasco da Gama
LDU Quito v Vélez Sarsfield

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Uruguay steal a march

Picking up where we left off last month, the road to Brazil continued with another double round of fixtures and it was all about as South American as you've come to expect.

Round 3

Argentina 1-1 Bolivia
Uruguay 4-0 Chile
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Colombia 1-1 Venezuela

The main stories of the third round of fixtures in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying competition both centred around the game in Montevidéo where Chile were the visitors and it was they who made the early headlines as the game happened to coincide with the baptism of Jorge Valdivia's daughter. A joyous occasion, no doubt, and one that Valdivia enjoyed in the company of his team-mates Gonzalo Jara, Arturo Vidal, Carlos Carmona and Jean Beausejour to the point that they rocked up to the team hotel after curfew and a touch the worse for wear. Manager Claudio Borghi summarily sent the lot of them home. Jara was an injury doubt for both games and Beausejour was suspended for the Uruguay match, but all five are big players for the country and would be missed. Meanwhile, Luis Suárez was about to put his issues emanating from Liverpool's Premier League clash with Manchester United some weeks ago behind him and come up with his finest display for his nation as he bagged all four goals as Uruguay routed the sorry Chileans. His first came three minutes before the interval, a low, scudding shot from 20 yards that found the bottom corner and he made it two in first-half stoppage time. Gaston Ramirez put pressure on Chile keeper Claudio Bravo who dropped a cross at the feet of Edinson Cavani whose attempted lob was headed off the line. Suárez was following in though and nodded it back past the defence for a 2-0 half-time lead. Midway through the second half and Suárez completed his hat-trick with a superb header following some great work up the right hand side from Diego Pérez and Martín Cáceres who supplied the killer ball. And the fourth followed six minutes later, though Suárez did rather nick it off Cavani's toes as he smacked it right-footed from the edge of the box.
With Peru the side to sit the third round of games out, Uruguay's big rivals for top spot failed to match la Celeste's result which left them clear at the top. Most surprising was Argentina's draw at the Monumental with lowly Bolivia - very much the least fancied side in the competition. Argentina battered them. Chance after chance came and went - Javier Pastore, Gonzalo Higuaín and Lionel Messi all went close - and they had the ball in the net twice, but were twice pulled back for offside. That failure to take chances bit them hard when Marcelo Martins seized on some lackadaisical defensive work from Martín Demichelis and fired Bolivia ahead. Ezequiel Lavezzi came on following the goal and brought Argentina level almost immediately with a beautifully curled effort from the edge of the box.
Without star man Radamel Falcao, Colombia could only manage a draw against fast-improving Venezuela, but Fredy Guarín put them ahead with an early thunderbolt from all of 30 yards. They couldn't find a second though and were made to pay late on as a long ball wasn't dealt with and substitute Frank Feltscher nipped in to level it up in the Barranquilla downpour.
Paraguay notched their first win of the campaign at home to Ecuador and were ahead a couple of minutes into the second half as Cristian Riveros got round the back to meet a deep free-kick and turn it in. Ten minutes later and another set piece undid Ecuador, Dario Veron with a splendid diving header to double the lead. Ecuador did get one back late on, Joao Rojas walking past a statuesque defence to get on the end of an Edison Méndez cross and head in.

Round 4

Colombia 1-2 Argentina (some jerky footage - careful if you suffer from vertigo)
Ecuador 2-0 Peru
Chile 2-0 Paraguay
Venezuela 1-0 Bolivia

Uruguay, unbeaten in the competition, sat out round four safe in the knowledge that someone would have to go golo-loco to dislodge them from top spot and went off to Italy for a friendly. Which they won. They are, however, joined at the top of the standings on seven points by two other nations.
Argentina needed a late, late winner from Sergio Agüero to see off a determined Colombia side, still without star man Falcao. They had to come from behind as well after Colombia went ahead in the last minute of the first half through Dorlan Pabon's free-kick from the edge of the box, though the final touch was Javier Mascherano's, just enough to turn it past Sergio Roméro. Cometh the hour; cometh the man. Lionel Messi hasn't been getting the praise by his countrymen that we Europeans are used to dishing out to him, but he started the move that got Argentina back into it. He took it past two men and shipped the ball wide for José Sosa. His cross was too near David Ospina, the Colombian keeper, but he couldn't hold it. Messi, following through, tidied up and squared matters. And that's how it looked to be staying until Messi, again, took on the defence and fed Gonzalo Higuaín. His shot wasn't held - again Ospina at fault - and Agüero swooped to snatch the win.
The other side that join the favourites on seven points are everyone's new favourite underdogs Venezuela. Bolivia had the better of the early exchanges, but found Renny Vega in inspired form in the Vinotinto goal. On their first real foray into Bolivian territory, Venezuela earned a corner which was met with a towering header by Oswaldo Vizcarrondio - not for the first time this campaign - for the opening goal. The second half was wide open, but Bolivia didn't work Vega enough and Venezuela held out for a well-earned win and a share of top spot that their steady improvement over the last four years has warranted. Bolivia look to have no chance.
Two late goals helped Ecuador get past Peru and into fourth place. Cristian Benitez laid the first on a plate for Edison Méndez after a surging run down the middle of the park and Benitez finished the second after brilliant work from Jaime Avoyí down the left hand side. Chile put their disappointments from the Uruguay game behind them with a morale-boosting win over Paraguay. A Matías Fernández corner was met with a bullet header by Pablo Contreras midway through the first half to give Chile the lead. They wrapped up the three points late on as Mauricio Isla teed up Matias Campos whose 20-yard effort took a huge deflection to loop over Diego Barreto and in for 2-0.

The competition goes into cold storage now until June next year when everyone will reconvene for another double-header.
On June 1st 2012, they line up like this:
Argentina v Ecuador
Bolivia v Chile
Peru v Colombia
Uruguay v Venezuela

And a week later, it's:
Bolivia v Paraguay
Venezuela v Chile
Uruguay v Peru
Ecuador v Colombia

Brasileirão Petrobras - Week 34

São Paulo 2-0 Avaí
Fluminense 1-2 América Mineiro
Figueirense 2-1 Atlético Mineiro
Corinthians 2-1 Atlético Paranaense
Ceará 2-3 Santos
Coritiba 2-0 Flamengo
Grêmio 2-2 Palmeiras
Vasco da Gama 2-0 Botafogo
Cruzeiro 1-0 Internacional
Atlético Goianiense 0-1 Bahia

The Avaí hangman has his hand firmly on the trap door lever after they were pushed to the brink of relegation after a 2-0 defeat to São Paulo in the Morumbi. Luís Fabiano was the hero for the home side with his first two league goals since his return from Sevilla. The first came twelve minutes after the break and the second followed eight minutes later as São Paulo continue their fight for a Libertadores spot. The Premier Sports TV Cameras were on hand to see América-MG cap a remarkable week after they followed up victory over Corinthians by stunning Fluminense in the Engenhão. Kempes put the visitors ahead seven minutes before the break and the 40,000 strong crowd were left stunned when Alessandro double the lead twelve minutes from time. Substitute Rafael Moura pulled a goal back three minutes later to set up a frantic finish but Fluminense's hopes of retaining their title were surely left shattered by this defeat. What price Figueirense for the title after they made it six wins on the spin with a come from behind victory that stopped the mini revival of Atlético-MG. After winning their last three, Atlético-MG took the lead eight minutes before the break when Werley put them ahead. Figueirense levelled seven minutes after the break through their leading scorer Wellington Nem before Julio Cesar grabbed a winner three minutes from time to leave them in a Libertadores spot.

Corinthians will go into week 35 top of the pile after a fast and furious start gave them victory over Atlético-PR at the Pacaembu. With just two minutes on the clock Paulinho, who was being watched by representatives from Milan, put the home side ahead and Emerson doubled the lead just three minutes later. Paulo Baier pulled a goal back for Atlético-PR three minutes after the break but the home side held on for a vital victory. Santos are on their best league run of the season as they continued their preparations for the FIFA Club World Cup with victory over Ceará at the Castelão. Bruno Aguair put Santos ahead with ten minutes gone but Ceará went into the break ahead thanks to a Felipe Azevedo penalty with twenty four minutes gone and thirteen minutes later Osvaldo put the relegation threatened home side ahead. A second for Bruno Aguair levelled matters six minutes after the break before Diogo got the Santos winner with an absolute stunner eighteen minutes from time. Flamengo's title challenge also seems to be over after they fell to defeat at Coritiba in front of the Premier Sports TV cameras. Two goals in the space of six first half minutes from Leonardo and a deflected effort from Maranhão were enough to make it three wins in a row for Coritiba and leave Vanderlei Luxemburgo wondering what just has gone wrong this season. Palmeiras were moments away from a first win in eight but had to settle for a point after throwing a two goal lead away at Grêmio. Cicinho put Palmeiras ahead with twenty five minutes gone and when Marcos Assunção doubled the lead on the hour they were on course to become the fourth team to take the points from the Olímpico this season. However, Brandão pulled a goal back eight minutes later before Fernando rescued a point for the Tricolor with an injury time leveller.

Arguably the biggest game of the weekend was at the São Januário where it was second v fourth in the Clássico Alvinegro between Vasco da Gama and Botafogo. After their remarkable fightback in the Sudamericana in midweek it was Vasco who vitally hit the front with a quarter of an hour gone when Fellipe Bastos struck. After his double in midweek, Dedé got the second on the hour and although Vasco were reduced to ten when Rômulo was sent off seven minutes later there was to be no revival from Botafogo who must now surely prioritise a finishing spot in a Libertadores position. Cruzeiro hauled themselves out of the relegation zone when they dented Internacional's Libertadores hopes in Sete Lagoas. Argentinian strike Ernesto Farias with the vital goal with twenty minutes on the clock. The win puts Ceará back into the relegation zone with four games to go. Finally Bahia moved seven points clear of the relegation zone at the Serra Dourada when they inflicted a fourth straight defeat for Atlético-GO. Souza got the crucial goal for the Salvador club with just ten minutes gone but twenty minutes later he was sent off alongside the home side's Gilson after the two had been swinging the handbags.

The final midweek round takes place in midweek, the two main title protagonists are both hit the road with Corinthians at Ceará, Vasco at the Pacaembu to take on Corinthians' main rival Palmeiras and a huge relegation clash in Florianópolis between Avaí and Cruzeiro. They line up like this

Fluminense x Grêmio
Internacional x Bahia
Atlético Paranaense x São Paulo
América Mineiro x Botafogo
Palmieras x Vasco da Gama
Avaí x Cruzeiro
Ceará x Corinthians
Santos x Atlético Goianiense
Flamengo x Figueirense
Atlético Mineiro x Coritiba

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