Heaven and horror for Paulistas


Sao Paulo's untouchability may have prevented the exhilarating climax the neutrals so desired, but there was still plenty of excitement during the 2007 Brasileiro. After all, where else would a player post his 1,000th career goal, a team rise from second-bottom at the midway point to take third place, a goalkeeper finish as the champions' joint-top scorer or relegation befall a team boasting the competition's leading marksman and another 24 months after they had lifted aloft the trophy? There is no doubt that the championship's latest edition upheld its thrilling individuality.

Ultimately, there were mixed feelings for the 'big four' from the state of Sao Paulo. Vanderlei Luxemburgo's Santos ran home in second, albeit 15 points shy of the Tricolor Paulista, but two of their regional rivals suffered final day agony. Palmeiras were in control of the three-way battle to line-up alongside the top two, Flamengo and Fluminense in next year's Copa Libertadores, but they lost at home to Atletico-MG on Sunday to allow Cruzeiro to book a continental adventure.

Corinthians' fate was significantly worse. Only two years ago they conquered the Brasileiro, but on Sunday their mission was to stay afloat in the upper tier. Victory over Gremio would have achieved this, but O Timão were held to a 1-1 draw and Elson's double, which earned Goias a 2-1 comeback win over Internacional, condemned them to demotion alongside Parana, Juventude and America-RN.

"It's a very sad day for us," lamented Corinthians goalkeeper Felipe. "We didn't honour this shirt. The supporters didn't deserve this but unfortunately, we were unable to deliver joy. There is no scapegoat - various factors contributed to our relegation and we're all to blame. But we'll be back. We have to use Gremio as an example. They were relegated [in 2004] but they achieved promotion at the first attempt," he added.

The relegation trapdoor is something that appeared destined to swallow Flamengo, who languished in the penultimate position after 19 of 38 rounds. However, the Rubro-Negro raced up the standings to seal an unlikely Libertadores qualification. Their Carioca neighbours Fluminense - who had already claimed a berth in South America's flagship event by winning the Copa do Brasil - also had reason to cheer after finishing fourth, their highest placing since the competition's reversion to a straight league format.

There was, however, no doubt that the campaign belonged to Sao Paulo. After claiming seven points from their first five games, Muricy Ramalho's charges lost just one of their ensuing 23 outings before making sure of their fifth Brasileiro title with over a month remaining. In doing so, O Tricolor Paulista became the first outfit since Corinthians in 1999 to retain their crown.

"It feels great to have won the title and even better to have made sure of it so early," said goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, after a 3-0 defeat of America-RN on 31 October clinched gold. "But we're already thinking about 2008 and about bringing home the Libertadores and world titles."

*Stars of the season * Central to Sao Paulo's triumph was the emergence of teenage defender Breno, who only turned 18 in October, and the influence of stylish, multifunctional midfielder Richarlyson, whose father Lela helped Coritiba win the 1985 Brasileiro.

And then there was the infallible Rogerio Ceni, who chipped in with seven goals and conceded just seven times in Sao Paulo's first 25 games, by which time they already had one hand on the prize.

In a competition perennially headlined by outfield players, Rogerio was one of a crop of goalies to excel. Felipe's exceptional performances for Corinthians did not warrant a drop into Serie B, while the exploits of Palmeiras' Diego Cavalieri deserved a Copa Libertadores place, something Flamengo achieved, in part, courtesy of Bruno's reflexes.

Not that the league was short of attacking headline-grabbers. Romario made history by scoring his 1,000th career goal in Round 2, but it was his Vasco colleague Leandro Amaral who emerged as the Brasileiro's standout forward. Kleber Pereira and Beto Acosta also shone for Santos and Nautico respectively, with Parana's Josiel finishing as the 20-goal top scorer.

Fluminense playmaker Thiago Neves, Palmeiras' Valdivia and Ibson, who stimulated the Flamengo midfield following a mid-season loan move from FC Porto, also thrived.

The 2007 season's top individual talent may be open to debate, but its transcendent team was apparent. The rest of the Brasileiro must now endeavour to deny Sao Paulo the honour of becoming the first side to win three straight titles.

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