Seven thrilling tales of the Brasileirao

The 2011 Brazilian Championship ended on a high note, with a host of regional derbies taking place across the country on a thrilling final day. That last act was very much in keeping with an exciting season, one that threw up no shortage of unforgettable moments.  

From champions Corinthians’ early-season thumping of Sao Paulo to a clash of generations between Ronaldinho and Neymar and a vital late Adriano goal that kept O Timão on track for the title, the eight-month campaign produced many highlights that will live long in the memory.

Reflecting on it all, has picked out seven of the games that helped make the newly concluded Brasileirao one of the most gripping and unpredictable of recent times.

Corinthians 5-0 Sao Paulo
(Pacaembu, 26 June 2011, Matchday 6)
Sao Paulo went into this crunch meeting with confidence high after winning their opening five games and conceding just one goal in the process. Form is no guarantee of success when it comes to big-city derbies, however, as O Tricolor Paulista found out on a harrowing afternoon. Already hampered by the absence of Lucas, Casemiro, Rhodolfo and Rodrigo Souto, they were further inconvenienced by Carlinhos Paraiba’s dismissal just before half-time, the prelude to a second-half collapse.

Danilo coolly opened the scoring after the break, with Liedson then taking over, O Levezinho ghosting into the spaces afforded him by Sao Paulo’s undermanned defence to help himself to a hat-trick. As the Timão faithful celebrated, Jorge Henrique completed the five-goal rout with a drive that squirmed beneath goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni and over the line, setting the seal on Corinthians’ biggest ever win in the fixture and leaving Sao Paulo’s perfect record in tatters.

Santos 4-5 Flamengo
(Vila Belmiro, 27 July 2011, Matchday 12)
Billed as a duel between the old master Ronaldinho and the young wizard Neymar, this mouth-watering clash more than lived up to expectations as the Brasileirao’s two most bankable stars turned on the style in one of the most exciting games for many a year.

Laying down an early gauntlet to his idol, Neymar helped tee up Santos’s opening two goals, conjuring up a remarkable overhead assist for the second while lying flat on the ground. He then made it 3-0 with a spectacular solo effort, playing a one-two with Borges before slicing through the Fla defence and sliding the ball past Felipe.

Accepting the challenge, Ronaldinho tapped in from close range to spark a Flamengo fightback that brought the scores level by half-time. And though Neymar dinked O Peixe back in front at the start of the second half, it was the former Barcelona star who had the last word, rolling back the years with a trademark free-kick under the wall and then completing his hat-trick and a stunning Fla comeback with a side-footed finish.

Vasco da Gama 2-2 Corinthians
(Sao Januario, 2 October 2011, Matchday 27)
Eventual runners-up Vasco went into this game with a two-point lead over the side that would pip them to the title. The hosts landed the first blow in a match that underlined how little there was to choose between the teams over the season, star centre-half Dede rising highest at a corner to head home.

O Timão hit back when Alex converted the selfless Danilo’s pass at the far post only for Fagner to put the home side back in front with a coolly chipped finish. Though Danilo restored party with a fine header, Corinthians could and should have won the game, wasting a string of presentable chances in the closing stages. Ultimately, those misses would not prove costly, and it was Os Cruzmaltinos who were left to rue the share of the spoils as they finished two points adrift of the Sao Paulo side in the final reckoning.

Fluminense 5-4 Gremio
(Engenhao, 16 November 2011, Matchday 35)
Another nine-goal thriller in which Fluminense, who have acquired a reputation for the improbable in recent times, fell behind three times before Fred fired them to an unlikely win. The ex-Lyon striker enjoyed a purple patch at the season’s end, striking four goals here and notching another eight in the next three games to finish just behind Santos’s Borges in the Brasileirao scoring charts.

Rafael Marques got the ball rolling when he nodded in from close range to give Gremio the lead. Fred scored his first of the evening to level things up and popped up again to make it 2-2 after Marquinhos had put the visitors back in front with an exquisite free-kick. Rafael Sobis then got in on the act to give Flu a brief lead, but back came Gremio with two goals in a minute from Brandao and then Adilson. The insatiable Fred had the last laugh, however, tying it up at 4-4 from the spot and then hooking in the winner to cap an epic victory.

Corinthians 2 -1 Atletico-MG
(Pacaembu, 20 November 2011, Matchday 36)
When Corinthians’ fans look back on their triumph in the 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro, they will undoubtedly point to this clash with Atletico-MG as being pivotal in their success. Going into the game in top spot, two points clear of closest chasers Vasco da Gama, O Timão went a goal behind and were only able to level in the 77th minute via the wiliest of poachers Liedson.  

Despite being the stronger side and piling the pressure on O Galo, Corinthians’ siege looked destined to end in frustration. That was until the last-gasp intervention of substitute Adriano, who has been ravaged by injury since joining the club earlier this year, with the former Inter Milan and Brazil star collecting Emerson’s pass before firing an unstoppable left-footed shot past Renan Ribeiro. O Imperador’s first competitive goal for Corinthians could barely have come at a better time.

Vasco 2-1 Fluminense
(Engenhao, 27 November 2011, Matchday 37)
Vasco may have been taking on Fluminense, but they had one eye on fellow championship chasers Corinthians who were hoping to clinch the crown in their match against Figueirense. Knowing that O Timão had won 1-0 thanks again to that man Liedson, 2011 Copa do Brasil winners Vasco thus needed to beat Rio de Janeiro rivals Flu at any cost to prevent Os Corintianos from guaranteeing the title with a match to spare.

Os Cruzmaltinos it was who struck first, with striker Alecsandro coming off the bench to head Vasco into the lead. Yet their hopes were hit just seven minutes later, when Flu’s lethal frontman Fred grabbed an equaliser for O Tricolor Carioca. But with the Corinthians' players already assembled on the pitch at the Ressacada stadium in Florianopolis, ready to celebrate title success, Vasco kept the race alive in the most dramatic of fashions. A last-minute strike from fan favourite Bernardo made it 2-1 to the home side as the victory kept them within two points of the summit to guarantee a thrilling final round of matches packed with spice-laden regional clássicos.

Cruzeiro 6-1 Atletico-MG
(Arena do Jacare, 4 December 2011, Matchday 38)
While the Brasileirao title was being settled by the results of two of the country’s biggest clássicos – Palmeiras-Corinthians and Vasco-Flamengo – another regional derby between Cruzeiro and Atletico-MG looked all set to go down in history. For the former, A Raposa, only three points would do to avoid relegation to Serie B for the very first time. O Galo, for their part, had the tantalising opportunity to consign their biggest rivals to the dreaded drop.

In the event, proving once more that logic goes out of the window in derby games, previously out-of-sorts Cruzeiro emphatically banished their relegation fears with a 6-1 demolition of their arch-rivals at the Arena do Jacare. Goals from Roger, Leandro Guerreiro, Anselmo Ramon, Fabricio, Wellington Paulista and Everton thus prevented A Raposa from experiencing the lowest point in their history while, at a stroke, achieving their biggest and most significant win in the clássico Mineiro.