With the four big sides of the São Paulo region arbitrarily kept apart in separate groups in the new-fangled state championship (don’t ask), progress to the next round was expected to be a formality. After all, even under the old system – which admittedly only lasted four years – not once had any of the big guns failed to make the knockout stages.
But Corinthians have never been a team to shy away from an early-season crisis. They went into the weekend in danger of becoming the first high-profile side to come unstuck in this year’s truncated estaduais, sitting third in their section behind Botafogo-SP and Ituano.
Qualification was not out of reach, but it was out of their hands. To stay in contention heading into the final round of the group stage, the Timão needed to avoid defeat against Penapolense on Sunday and then hope for a favour from bitter rivals São Paulo, 3-2 winners in the clássico a week earlier.
Corinthians started on the front foot in Penápolis, Jádson and Luciano (who bears all the hallmarks of being this year’s Bright Young Thing) buzzing around with intent. The breakthrough, though, would not come. Then came the news all Corinthianos feared. Ituano had scored at the Morumbi. Esquerdinha ('Little Lefty') had beaten Rogério Ceni with one fateful swish of his right boot.
That would turn out to be the only goal scored in either match. Corinthians huffed and puffed but could not muster a winner; São Paulo, who had already secured their place in the second round, were far from their best and never really looked like recovering from going behind.
The real drama would only begin at the full-time whistle, when, in entirely predictably fashion, Corinthians cried foul. Romarinho was the first out of the gate, letting out a classic loser’s moan before even leaving the pitch. “We knew this was going to happen,” he whined. “We knew they’d let them win. I think they’re scared of us.”
Coach Mano Menezes also piped up: “Every one of us has to live with his own conscience. The gods of football are watching and know how to deal with these things. Let’s see what they decide to do.”
In reality, of course, the vast majority of the blame lies with Corinthians themselves. It was neither São Paulo nor some all-seeing deity, for example, that inflicted four straight defeats on the Timão early on in the Paulistão. And it was Romarinho himself who spurned a golden chance to earn his side three points at the weekend.
Talk of collusion and such like is frustratingly de rigueur in the Brazilian game, with both fans and the clubs themselves happy to conjure conspiracy theories to obscure their own shortcomings. These imprecise grumblings tend to accumulate and morph together, blossoming into a feeling of persecution that has little to do with events as they actually occurred.
In a country whose football rivalries have been known to spill into mindless violence, players and managers might be wise to keep their thoughts to themselves.
The same principle also applies to members of Brazil’s judiciary. A number of Corinthians fans who were being held for invading the club’s training complex in February (another earthly contributor in their side’s poor form, no doubt) were released this week by an official who, judging by his accompanying statement, represents the depressingly boorish demographic that tends to shout loudest in all matters futebol.
“It was nothing more than a protest,” said apparent judge Gilberto Azevedo Morais Costa. “They are loyal fans who just wanted to call attention to the issues… to make the players earn their wages and play proper Brazilian football.”
You wonder just what that latter point has to do with a bunch of thugs threatening (and, according to some reports, attacking) players. Another issue brushed under the carpet with minimal justification.
Jack Lang - @snap_kaka_pop
- Sports & Recreation
- São Paulo