So far in 2015, Palmeiras has played well and gotten results against lesser competition, but had struggled against their main rivals in the Paulistão. That is, until Wednesday night, when Palmeiras played their best match of the campaign, dominating rival São Paulo by a scoreline of 3-0 thanks to a brace from Rafael Marques and poor decisions that left São Paulo with just 9 men at the conclusion of the match.
It was the type of performance that Palmeiras fans had been craving since the arrival of Oswaldo de Oliveira as manager. Verdão lost their first two derbies of the Paulistão, 1-0 to Corinthians thanks to a poor pass by defender Vitor Hugo, and 2-1 to Santos, when Palmeiras jumped out to a 1-0 lead, before being pegged back by their rivals from the coast.
Those previous results made this match all the more important for Palmeiras. They had already locked up their place in the quarterfinals of the Paulistão, in large part because of their ability to grind out unimpressive victories over lower sides, but they had failed to live up to the expectations as far as quality of play.
Palmeiras dominated this match from the opening whistle. Just over 2 minutes in São Paulo’s 42-year old keeper Rogério Ceni made a crucial error that led to the first goal for Palmeiras. Ceni ventured out of his box in an attempt to clear the ball, but a poor clearance left the ball at the feet of Robinho and Ceni far off his line. Robinho did well to chest the ball down, and loft an arcing ball that settled into the back of the net, getting there just before Ceni could to give Palmeiars a 1-0 lead.
The goal is unquestionably the best so far in the Paulistão, and could be in the running for goal of the year in Brasil. Robinho manages to somehow arc the ball at the perfect angle so that it falls just over the outstretched arm of Ceni and into the back of the net.
It’s difficult enough to place that sort of arc on the ball from a free kick, let alone on a ball that you’ve just chested down. The degree of difficulty is only increased by the fact that Robinho is around 40 yards away from the goal, making it all the more difficult to apply the right power to the arcing shot. It’s a stunning goal, especially given the reputation and abilities of Rogério Ceni.
Following the goal, things went from bad to worse for São Paulo when Rafael Toloi was sent off in the 7th minute for a retaliatory foul on Dudu. Toloi became incensed following contact from the Palmeiras forward, and retaliated by kicking out at Dudu away from the play. The confrontation was seen by the fourth official, who advised the main official to show the red card to Toloi.
Palmeiras created 2 excellent chances against a weakened São Paulo back line, forcing Muricy Ramalho to sacrifice his best goalscorer, Alexandre Pato, in favor of a replacement at centre back, Edson Silva. The substitution did little to help, and Palmeiras scored just two minutes later on a counter attack led by Dudu. The speedy winger brought the ball near the box, and sent a low pass between two defenders across the box.
The pass ended right at the feet of Rafael Marques, who took a touch, settled himself, and slotted the shot into the far corner of the net to give Verdão a 2-0 lead. Marques would score again, in the opening minutes of the second half, thanks to a beautiful pass from Palmeiras captain Zé Roberto. The 40-year old left back lofted a pass across the box, which Marques volleyed into the net to create the final scoreline of 3-0.
There were many other chances for Palmeiras, and the match could have easily ended at 5-0 or even 6-0. Regardless of the final scoreline, it was a statement performance that establishes Verdão as one of the favorites in the Paulistão.
The loss leaves São Paulo winless against their main Paulistão rivals in 2015. It was a poor performance, as São Paulo failed to force Palmeiras keeper Fernando Prass to make even one difficult save. There is little time for São Paulo to dwell on this performance, as they are back in action on Sunday against Linense, before a crucial match in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores against San Lorenzo next Wednesday.
The win showed the full potential of this Palmeiras side, even without playmakers Jorge Valdivia and Clayton Xavier. If Dudu and the other midfielders can continue to play at this level, creating great chances for each other, it will put pressure on opposing defenses, making it difficult for teams to pressure Palmeiras, as was the case Wednesday night.
This was the level of play that Palmeiras must achieve if they wish to make a deep run in the Copa do Brasil, or finish high enough in the Brasileiro to qualify for the Copa Libertadores. At this level, there is no team in Brasil that Palmeiras can’t beat, meaning they could be in for a very successful year.