Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Stop all the clocks.....the league stage of the Campeonato Pernambucano has grumbled to an end, and, despite three-fifths* of Recife hoping for the contrary, Central's late collapse meant that despite an awful campaign (7 defeats!), the city's Unhumbles, Sport, crept into the last semi-final spot.

"I'd prefer Sport in the semis, they've been the most inconsistent of the four this year", double-bluffed Santa coach Zé Teodoro last week. He's right - against their semi-final rivals Sport have won one, drawn one and lost four. But no-one at Arruda was fooled. Only the most bullish tricolor would really have hoped for a bloodbath between Recife's Spartans and Trojans at this stage. Such an apocalypse is best left for the final. And Sport's whopping one million and change wage bill, plus the likes of Charlie The Bullet and Little Marcelo the Paraiban still make the nerves jangle.

Plus, of course, which of us accustomed to living in the darkness really believes Santa would be able to roll of four successive victories against the hated Lion in the space of a couple of months? Not this doubting See A Darkness - life is rarely so kind.

So it will be Nautico, who pipped Santa to top spot on the last day, against Sport, in the Classico Dos Classicos, and Santa against a youthful and dangerous Porto side in the other. And with the semis upon us now seems as good a time as any to dole out mid-term report cards.

A+: Thiago Cardoso, surely the best goalkeeper in the country** at the moment, and Gilberto, the (not so) little train that could. Whether smacking them in with right or left foot from outside the area, or piledriving his way onto the end of cross in the six-yard box, Gilberto is the complete article, and watching his transformation into craque-dom has been a pleasure. Highlights were his swashbuckling performance against Nautico in the 3-3 draw, his single-handed downing of Sport at the Ilha, and the burst down the left that led to Rodrigo Souto scoring the winning own goal against São Paulo in front of 45,000 at a rockin' Arruda.

B+: Midfield schemers Wesley and Natan. Wesley, now signed up to an unheard of four year deal, is a more complete player than Natan - hitting a mean free kick and with a nice range of passes. Natan, more obviously talented, is hypnotic when on his game, frustrating when not. Needs to cut out the diving, too. B+ also goes to Leandro Souza, who resembled a two week old foal with ricketts on his arrival, but has developed into a commanding, and, what the hell, elegant centre half alongside Thiago Mathias, who gets a.....

B: For leadership and sterling defensive work, only missing out on a higher grade because he's about as fast as a milk float. B too for the surprising Memo and the Gandalfian Jeovanio, who when harrying oppostion players reminds See A Darkness of an elderly black labrador chasing rabbits he can never hope to catch. He doesn't give up though, and when he finally gets one it's worth the wait. Cleber Goiano gets a B too, for doing a nice job of filling in the gaps and shoring things up at the back following his arrival from Fortaleza.

B-: generously goes to the frustrating Renatinho Little Pants, possessor of buckets of talent but who is not yet as mentally prepared as other youngsters Memo, Natan, Gilberto or Everton Sena. A great goal against Sport at Arruda will live long in the memory, but Little Pants needs to learn how to both pass and tackle if he's going to be a success. Not at all generously, Everton Sena also gets a B-, almost entirely due to his devastating leech-like man-marking performances against Lucas of São Paulo and the much less scary Ciro of Sport.

C: is awarded to the hapless Landu, to wonky full backs Jackson and Alexandre Silva, and pretty much everybody else, because it's been a great few months in the darkness, and every one of Santa's players and staff has given their utmost.

Finally, a word of praise for coach Zé Teodoro, or, as he is now known, Zé, Te Adoro! (Zé, I love you!), which is in itself a great step forward for open-mindedness, given that expressions of love towards other men do not often escape from the mouths of Pernambucanan males. Mr. I Love You has created a marvellously tightknit group at Arruda, shown not a little tactical nous (particularly in the games against São Paulo and Sport), sailed a clear path through the Gilberto to Corinthians saga, and nursed a fine group of young players into first team action.

Time De Guerreiros indeed!

* Source - See A Darkness Independent Research Group

** The country being not Brazil, obviously, but the separatist republic that is the nordeste.

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