Robbie Blakeley

Sao Paolo Derby in the Copa Libertadores

Brazilian football expert Robbie Blakeley looks at the Copa Libertadores clash between city rivals Sao Paolo and Corinthians.

The Copa Libertadores – the South American equivalent of the Champions League – has always been a source of great angst between city rivals São Paulo and Corinthians.

The former, the Tricolor Paulista, are three-time continental champions, whilst also having made the historic triumph of becoming the first ever team to win three successive Campeonato Brasileiro crowns between 2006 and 2008.

Corinthians meanwhile, the Timão, team of the masses, had only disappointment and failure to reflect on when they looked back on their forays into South America’s premier club competition. Their lack of Libertadores success had given bragging rights to their Morumbi neighbours.

Recently, the tables have slowly started to change in recent years, and, if they have not turned completely, are slowly starting to rotate in the direction of the club that may now, following an aggressive marketing campaign over the last decade, legitimately claim to be the largest in Brazil.

First, there was a debut triumph for Corinthians in 2012, overcoming Argentine giants Boca Juniors 3-1 on aggregate in the final, with two expertly taken goals from Emerson Sheik at the Pacaembu.

On Wednesday night, they met their historically superior rivals for the first time in the Libertadores, at the gleaming Arena Corinthians. The stage was set, and television giants Globo recorded record numbers for the clash.

The pair have been drawn in Group 2, which has been described by some sections of the Brazilian press as this year’s Group of Death, alongside San Lorenzo, the defending champions, and Uruguayan outfit Danubio, winners of the 2013/14 Uruguayan league.

The atmosphere was highly charged, with over 40,000 in attendance. Much has been made, not just before the game but throughout the opening weeks of 2015, of São Paulo goalkeeper Rogério Ceni.

At 42, the one-club man has claimed this will be his final year at the Estádio Morumbí before he finally hangs up his gloves. Wouldn’t it be a fairytale ending if he could once again lift the continent’s biggest trophy in his final season as a professional?

Cue a convincing 2-0 victory for the home side and another grinding turn on the wheel of power. Coach Tite – who won that first Libertadores title, plus the FIFA World Club Championship back in 2012, is back at the helm of the Corinthians ship after taking a one year sabbatical in Europe.

On this evidence, the club look set to reap the benefits from the fruits of their leader’s labour.

Playing a 4-1-4-1, with the more industrial Danilo in for striker Paolo Guerrero, the home side, spurred on by that vociferous support, pressed from the off and never allowed their opponents time to settle on the ball; São Paulo managed a solitary shot on goal throughout the 90 minutes.

Goals from Elias and Jadson secured victory for a vastly superior home side. The tides of time continued their trajectory towards Corinthians.

With the game slipping away from them, São Paulo supporters resorted to ripping out chairs in the brand new arena – nothing like as repulsive as the scenes seen on the Paris metro earlier this week, but lamentable all the same as the power in South America’s biggest metropolis is slowly wrested from them.

On this evidence, there is little they can do to stop it. It remains of course early in this year’s competition, but if Ceni is to secure that fairytale ending, coach Muricy Ramalho cannot allow his charges to be as apathetic again, starting against Danubio next week.

For the time being, it is Corinthians who have the crowing rights.

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