Corinthians conquer in thrilling campaign
© AFP

Though only two sides went into the final day with a chance of glory, fewer than in the previous three seasons, the Brasileirao 2011 proved to be one of the most unpredictable and fluctuating of recent times.

When the dust finally settled on Sunday, Corinthians had seen off the challenge of Vasco da Gama, clinching their fifth national title with a goalless draw at home to local rivals Palmeiras. Having failed to feature in the last three title races, O Timão and Vasco were only too happy to be in the mix again, with the resurgent Rio outfit underling their renaissance by winning the Brazilian Cup. FIFA.com rounds up their duel, and the rest of an intriguing campaign that kept everyone guessing.

The champions
Lacking a major star in their ranks, the watchwords of Corinthians’ push for glory were unity and teamwork, qualities highlighted by the players and coach Tite alike during Sunday’s celebrations. The champions’ most consistent performers were Danilo, Julio Cesar, Ralf, Paulinho, Leandro Castan and Liedson, while vital contributions were also made by Alex, Emerson, Paulo Andre, Ramirez and Adriano, who scored the goal that capped a crucial late-season comeback against Atletico Mineiro.

The men in black and white made a strong start to the season, going unbeaten in their first ten matches, and set records in winning seven games in a row and becoming the first side since 2003 to remain in the top five all the way through. Leaders for 27 of the 38 matchdays, O Timão also had their off days, though they handled the league’s lesser lights better than anyone, suffering just two unexpected defeats, to the relegated duo of Avai and America Mineiro.

The best of the rest
The revitalised Vasco da Gama pushed Corinthians all the way and collected some silverware of their own by lifting the Brazilian Cup, a triumph put into perspective by the serious stroke suffered by coach Ricardo Gomes halfway through the season. O Bacalhau led the way in a fine campaign for Rio clubs, with third-placed Fluminense recording the best statistics in the second half of the season and Flamengo in fourth leading the table for a spell in the first half.

On an exciting final day featuring no fewer than seven regional derbies, Internacional snatched the final Copa Libertadores qualification berth by beating Porto Alegre foes Gremio to jump above Sao Paulo and Botafogo, two sides once in the thick of the title fight but who lost momentum at a crucial time.

The stars of the season
Coach Tite put Corinthians’ success down to the fact they did not have a star in the side. Such is their team ethic in fact that several players distinguished themselves, among them Seleção new boys Ralf and Paulinho, who both excelled in their midfield holding roles, and Liedson, whose goals did so much to take them over the line, while members of the supporting cast such as Adriano and Peruvian midfielder Luis Ramirez did their bit too.

Vasco would not have been able to mount their bid without the vibrancy of the creative midfield unit formed by Juninho Pernambucano, Felipe and Diego Souza, while centre-half Dede confirmed his status as one of the mainstays of the team, earning his second nomination for the Brazilian Player of the Year award.

Among the other leading lights were Santos’ much-coveted Neymar, who entertained despite making infrequent appearances in the wake of their Libertadores win, and Flamengo playmaker Ronaldinho, putting in his first appearance in the Brasileirão since 2000. Also impressing were Walter Montillo, who was Cruzeiro’s midfield saviour, Deco, an inspiration in Fluminense’s late push, and strikers Borges and Fred, who caught the eye with their goals.

Relegation and promotion
Ten years after their surprise title triumph Atletico Paranaense dropped down to the second tier, where they will be joined by Avai, Ceara and America Mineiro. It was not all bad news for the state of Minas Gerais, however, with Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro saving their skin after troubled seasons. Up in the north west of the country, Pernambuco sides Nautico and Sport made up for Ceara’s relegation by climbing out of Serie B. The other teams to earn promotion were the Sao Paulo twosome of Ponte Preta and Portuguesa, the latter winning the league after the second-best campaign of their history.

Final standings
Top three
1. Corinthians, 71 points
2. Vasco da Gama, 69
3. Fluminense, 63

Top scorers
1. Borges (Santos), 23
2. Fred (Fluminense), 22
3. Deivid (Flamengo), 15

The stat
3 -
The number of consecutive titles Emerson has now won, all with different clubs. A winner this season with Corinthians, the forward was part of Flamengo’s championship-winning team in 2009 and Fluminense’s in 2010.