Let’s get this straight from the start, despite the excitement and drama that is undoubtedly set to unravel in the next few weeks, the Brazilian Campeonato should already be over. The only reason why the destination of the title is not yet a foregone conclusion has been the stuttering form of Cruzeiro and Fluminense – neither of whom look as though they want to finish above the other.
While Corinthians have to be given credit for winning four of their last five matches, they too could already have been crowned champions, had they not failed to win for seven consecutive matches prior to their recent revival. Now, like Cruzeiro and Flu, Ronaldo’s Corinthians go into the final three matches of the season knowing that the title is still very much up for grabs, with just three points separating first from third.
The most recent twist in the title race came at the weekend, as Fluminense shunned the chance to retain their lead at the summit by drawing 1-1 at home with second from bottom Goias. That result, only secured thanks to a last-minute penalty from Dario Conca, means that Fluzao have now won just two of their last nine matches and they continue to struggle in front of goal – scoring eight times in their last ten encounters.
The saving grace for Muricy Ramalho and his team has been the fact that Cruzeiro have looked just as unwilling to win the title as they have lately. The recent form for the Belo Horizante club reads LLWLWL and at the weekend they lost a crucial match against Corinthians, with Ronaldo winning a last-gasp penalty and then stepping up to score it himself. Cruzeiro now find themselves in third-place in the table, three points behind the leaders Corinthians, but with two home matches left to play – if that counts for anything at this stage.
The return of Ronaldo after injury has certainly played a part in Corinthians recent revival and, of the top three teams, they appear to have the easiest run-in. Not only that, but while Cruzeiro and Fluminense are stuttering at such a crucial stage of the season, Corinthians are in decent form and face Vitoria and Goias in the final weeks – both of whom currently reside in the bottom five places. Of course, one only has to look at Goias’ performance against Fluminense last weekend to see that anything is possible at this stage, but, with Vasco da Gama as their third opponents, Corinthians are undoubtedly the favourites heading into the last few rounds.
Fluminense on the other hand are just one point behind the leaders but face tough away trips to Sao Paulo and Palmeiras before they host Guarani on the final day of the season. The only positives they will take from their fixture list are knowing that Palmeiras have the Copa Sudamericana semi-finals to focus on and that if they are still in contention in early December they should win their last game at home.
While predicting the destination of the title has been an impossible job in recent weeks, the summit could get even more crowded after the round of matches this weekend, with both Flu and Corinthians playing away from home. Should they drop points in their afternoon matches, Cruzeiro will have the opportunity in the evening to potentially draw level or close the gap on the leaders to just one point – adding even more pressure to the final two rounds.
With the title already passing through the grasps of all three teams, it is now Corinthians chance again to see if they can hold on and win their first Brazilian Championship since 2005. Should they be victorious in their last three matches then they will be guaranteed to finish top and Flu and Cruzeiro will be left to rue missed opportunities, however, as this league has proven in recent weeks, nothing is guaranteed…