Wins for Boca and Corinthians took the drama out of the title races in Argentina and Brazil respectively. Meanwhile, Dunga is planning for next week's World Cup showdown between the two countries.
There will be no grandstand finish to the Argentine championship. There was the prospect, in this weekend’s final round, of Rosario Central hosting Boca Juniors with the title at stake.
That, though, was dependent on Central winning away to Banfield and Boca not beating Tigres on Sunday. Boca, though, rendered all that academic with a single goal victory, which vindicated the option of Rosario Central’s impressive young coach Eduardo Coudet to rest some key players for the trip to Banfield, where his side went down 2-1. Because if there is no big showdown between Central and Boca on Sunday, there is another coming up first; this Wednesday the two sides meet in Cordoba in the final of the Argentine Cup.
And further north, with 5 rounds still go, the Brazilian Championship was effectively decided on Sunday. Corinthians took an 8 point lead to Belo Horizonte to meet second placed Atletico Mineiro, usually so strong in the tight Independencia stadium. A home win was widely seen as the only way to keep the title race alive, but the match turned into a 90 minute advert for the virtues of the visitors.
Under coach Tite, so unwisely overlooked by the national team after the World Cup, Corinthians are a mature side with a consolidated and attractive idea of play. They were never unsettled by the atmosphere – they did not pick up a single yellow card. They never allowed Atletico to impose their often hectic rhythm on the game, and with the team compact the passing moves flowed – especially in the last 25 minutes, when they took Atletico apart to win 3-0.
The two attacking midfielders, Jadson and Renato Augusto, were in fine form, as they have been throughout the campaign, and centre forward Vagner Love, the target of much criticism, was also impressive. Now 11 points in the lead, it is only a matter of time before Corinthians wrap up the title – and their excellence has been acknowledged with the presence of four of their players in the Brazil squad to face Argentina and Peru in World Cup qualification.
Midfielder Elias was in the starting line up for last month’s opening rounds, while Renato Augusto and centre back Gil were in reserve. They have now been joined by goalkeeper Cassio, who may well be in with a serious chance of being selected for the trip to face Argentina on November 12th. If he does get the nod, it will mean Brazil will have used four different keepers in the last four games.
Marcelo Grohe of Gremio played in the September friendlies, but has suffered an injury setback. Jefferson of Botafogo, the main post-World Cup keeper, started in the 2-0 defeat against Chile, and was then controversially replaced by young Alisson of Internacional for the home game against Venezuela.
It is true that Jefferson has not looked totally convincing for the national team. But dropping him from the team came across as a unfair attempt by coach Dunga to blame him for the loss to Chile. The coach was widely criticized, but was not impressed by Jefferson’s reaction. It is almost certain that Jefferson has only been included in the current squad to avoid kicking up a storm. If things go well for the team, he can be quietly discarded next year.
The problem is that Alisson, just 23, looked even more nervous against Venezuela. Can Dunga really trust a promising but relatively untried goalkeeper for the trip to Buenos Aires? Cassio, meanwhile, may have yet to appear for the senior side, but he has shown that he is a big occasion performer. He was undisputed man of the match when Corinthians beat Chelsea to win the club world title three years ago. And he was sound again in Sunday’s crunch match in Belo Horizonte.
It is a big decision for Brazil’s coach to make – and one, presumably, that he has already taken. In the previous World Cup qualification campaign the matches were usually played on Friday and Tuesday. This time round it is Thursday and Tuesday – so there is more time between the games, but almost no time to prepare before the first match. It is hard to believe that first team places are up for grabs in the few training sessions before the squad head for Buenos Aires, especially in such a key position.