A quartet of Brazil's most highly-rated coaches inspired four of its biggest clubs to state championship glory on Sunday. Adilson Batista masterminded Cruzeiro's 35th Mineiro triumph, Joel Santana guided Flamengo to a record-equalling 30 Carioca titles on his penultimate appearance at the controls, and Internacional's Abel Braga added the Gaucho prize to his impressive resume courtesy of an 8-1 second-leg victory.
The day nonetheless belonged to Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who won the Paulista crown for a fourth time with Palmeiras and an eighth time overall to tie Lula, at the Santos reins during Era Pele, as the competition's most-successful all-time coach.
"It's really great to equal this landmark, which has lasted for so long. Lula was in charge of a very strong side. Now I've won titles with different teams," said Luxa.
Brasiliense, Coritiba, CSA, Figueirense, Fortaleza, Mixto, Sport and Vitoria were also left celebrating regional ascendancy as the first half of the season drew to its conclusion, while Holanda and Itumbiara caused a stir by winning their first-ever crowns in Amazonas and Goias respectively.
Obina fires Fla
Few deemed Botafogo capable of mounting a serious title challenge. Inspired by the immaculate playmaking of Lucio Flavio and the goals of Wellington Paulista, however, O Fogão narrowly lost out to Flamengo in the final of the Taca Guanabara before booking a date with their conquerors in the overall Carioca decider courtesy of a Taca Rio triumph.
Ultimately, though, the campaign belonged to O Mengão, Joel Santana and Obina, who cemented his popularity among the red and black section of Rio de Janeiro by rising from the bench to score the only goal in the first leg, and then turning super sub again as his side came from behind to win the second leg 3-1 in front of over 80,000 at the Maracana.
Santana's popularity among the masses of Flamenguistas is also immense. He assumed the reins in mid-2007 with the club in crisis, but swiftly revived their fortunes, leading the 1981 world champions to a third-placed finish in the Brasileiro and on to the brink of qualification for the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores 2008. "My heart is crying," admitted Papai Joel. "I have such a special relationship with the supporters."
Midfielder Toro led the tributes to Santana. "Unfortunately he's leaving Flamengo but he really deserves to bow out with this title. I hope he has a lot of success in South Africa," he said.
Valdivia makes the difference
While Flamengo hit the ground running in 2008, Palmeiras stuttered out of the blocks. However, in danger of missing out on a play-off place, they won eight straight matches to finish second in the regular season standings. Jorge Valdivia was central to this run and his goal six minutes from time sealed a 3-2 reverse of Sao Paulo to move O Verdão into the final, where he headlined a 6-0 aggregate victory over Ponte Preta.
The result left Palmeiras on top of the Paulista podium for the 22nd time but first since 1996, and their success also owed much to the performances of goalkeeper Marcos, deep-lying forward Kleber and Alex Mineiro, whose top scorer award was indebted to the Chilean No10. "He created so many chances for me," said the striker. "Valdivia made the difference for us during the Paulista."
"This is just the start," added Luxemburgo. " ."
Palmeiras are now among the favourites for the Brasileiro and we
will fight to bring the title home
With Cruzeiro and Internacional high on confidence following 6-0 and 8-2 victories over Atletico Mineiro and Juventude respectively, Palmeiras and Flamengo will not be short company bidding to deny Sao Paulo a third successive national title in 2008.