Wednesday, 26 October 2011

With apologies to John Updike, a few picked-up pieces on Santa and futebol in the centro-oeste, such as it is....

* The mighty Brasileirão Serie D, which tucks in just behind the Liga Dos Campeõs and in front of the Copa Do Mundo in the league table of global football tournaments, possesses one major flaw. The sole objective of Serie D is to escape (upwards, of course), and thereafter to never play in Serie D again. This is achieved by getting through the early group stage, then winning two knock-out rounds to claim a spot in the semi-final and, at the same time, a place in Serie C next year. The four promoted teams then have to battle on (a two-legged semi followed by a two-legged final) for the dubious honour of being Serie D Campeões. Which no-one, really, is that bothered about. Proof enough of this came at Arruda on Sunday when 34,000 of the 60,000 who had watched the quarter-final promotion decider against Treze the week before decided not to bother. 26,000 would be a good crowd for most Brazilian clubs, but for Santa it's almost disappointing.

* Vila Nova, SAD is told, is the time do povo in these parts. If so, there aren`t many povo in Goiania. Just over 900 people turned up at the 40,000 seater Serra Dourada last Friday night for Vila`s game against Barueri. Atlético Goianiense attract some of the smallest crowds in Serie A, ahead of only Avai and America (MG), and empty seats far outnumber the 9,000 or so who watch Goias every other week. It`s not entirely Vila`s fault - Brazilians don`t tend to waste their time watching losing teams, and Vila have been winless for several months and are doomed for Serie C, which means with a bit of luck SAD will get to watch Santa in Goiania next year.

* The main reason for this is that Goiania is one of those hellish one-horse towns where everyone supports teams from Rio or São Paulo. Up the road in Brasilia it`s the same - as Brasiliense and Gama die a slow death from lack of interest, replica shirts fly out of the big Flamengo club shop downtown. Goiania`s footballing roots point firmly in the direction of São Paulo. There`s a Morumbi-removed club shop in one of the swankier shopping malls not far from here, complete with a life size cutout of a grinning Rogerio Ceni in the window. Out for a stroll on Sunday afternoon, SAD was drawn towards a nearby bar by the sound of drums and low, rhythmic chanting. It sounded not unlike a sleepy Inferno Coral bateria. And true enough, it was a torcida organizada - the Gavioes Da Fiel, Goiania branch, watching Internacional v Corinthians on TV. There were about 20 of them, and they stared moodily out at the street as SAD walked past, eyes filled with sulky frustration at not having been born in the shadow of Héliopolis.      

* If fans are in short supply, then good old fashioned Brazilian footballing mentalism is not. Goias originally boasted two teams in Serie D, Itumbiara from the south and Anapolina, from Anapolis, the second biggest town in the state (and locally known, for no apparent reason, as the Manchester Goiana). Both ended up in the same group and an epic Greeks and Trojans battle ensued. The teams ended level on 13 points, one behind Tupi (MG), with Itumbiara taking the second qualifying spot on goal difference. This was after Anapolina, needing to win by five, had managed only a 4-1 victory in their last game against a Toncantinopolis side promised big bundles of cash by Itumbiara if they managed to hold Anapolina to a victory of four goals or less. Anapolina justifiably pointed out that Toncantinopolis had achieved this by, after having three players sent off, ordering one of their players to feign injury, meaning the game was called off with 20 minutes remaining. The CBF ordered the game to be replayed, and Anapolina won 6-1, taking Itumbiara's spot in the second round.

* This was clearly not enough drama for Anapolina tecnico Nivaldo Lancuna. Celebrating with his players on the pitch following the replayed game, he overheard a supporter calling him a burro, the result of some perceived strategic error or other. Outraged, Sr. Lancuna immediately resigned his position. Some idiot comes down here just to call me a moron? I don`t need it, I`m finished, he roared. His proud gesture lasted slightly under 24 hours before he was persuaded to return to his post. Anapolina, remarkably, are still alive in Serie D, and, if they beat Tupi over two legs, will play in Serie C next year. More excitingly, if both Santa and Anapolina reach the final of Serie D, Santa will play here in Goiania (probably) in a few weeks time!

* Forget Bruno e Maronne, Vitor e Leo and the rest of the ill-starred country double acts that pimple the centro-oeste like chicken-pox, the only duplo sertanejo that SAD would pay to watch are Renatinho and Natan.

* Last year`s epic journey to Sobral was slightly over 1000km. It took 20 hours. On Sunday Santa will play the second leg of their Serie D semi-final, against Cuiaba, in Rondonopolis, Mato Grosso, which is just over 700km from Goiania. The journey takes just over ten hours. There's an ovenight bus that leaves Goiania at 11pm on the Saturday night and gets into Rondonopolis at 9am on Sunday morning. I mean, how can SAD not go?

* In roughly 25 years of supporting football teams from Manchester to Recife, via Belo Horizonte, SAD thought that the biggest sporting prize in existence was not getting relegated. Since January this year, when the previously mentioned Francis Begbie appeared on the scene, Santa have won the Campeonato Pernambuco, been promoted from Serie D, and opened up a big can of whupass on the callow Recife B on a number of occasions. Man City won the FA Cup in May and are top of the Premier League, and as most will know, narrowly came out the better in last Sunday`s Manchester derby, courtesy of six lucky goals. If only for this, then SAD must continue to bear the multiple agonies of a long-term relationship.

Finally, which was better - this or this? If he had been there, jumping up and down like a fool in the away end, SAD would probably have said the former. But as he wasn't, and as it's hard to really care quite as much any more, it has to be the latter.

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