At the Copa – Old friends and new faces

This article is part two of a preview of the Copa do Brasil quarter finals. To read part one, click here.

Of the eight quarter-finalists, there is no doubt about which club needs a cup win the most. Grêmio have not won a major trophy since 2001, which considering their size is shameful. To make their 15-year dry spell even more torturous, they have seen their rivals Internacional become champions of South America twice during this period, even beating Barcelona in the 2006 World Club Cup.

The 2016 season started in promising fashion for Grêmio and until fairly recently they were credible candidates for the national championship. However, a slump in form and a change in manager have left the Porto Alegre club with all their eggs into a Copa do Brasil-shaped basket, their only remaining chance of silverware.

New (old?) coach Renato Gaúcho was brought in this month with the sole objective of winning the Copa do Brasil, a project which very nearly came a cropper in Renato’s first game. Grêmio lost 1-0 at home in their last 16 second leg against Atlético Paranaense, which took the tie to a penalty shootout. Thanks to some hopeless penalty taking from the visitors, Grêmio qualified by the skin of their teeth.

 

They got back to winning ways last weekend with a 1-0 home victory against mid-table Chapecoense, but their performance was anything but convincing. Renato’s principal quality is his motivation skills, specifically his ease in empathising with his squad and connecting with them on their level. This is certainly not a sustainable long term strategy, but they will need that confidence if they are to get past quarter-final opponents Palmeiras, the current leaders of the Brazilian championship.

With Flamengo breathing down their necks in the league, you would expect Palmeiras to take it easy in the cup and devote their attention to the national championship. However, their next league match is not until Monday evening against Santa Cruz, meaning they should be able to field a full-strength 11 on Wednesday without worries.

In a comparable situation to Renato Gaúcho at Grêmio is Corinthians caretaker coach Fábio Carille. After former boss Cristóvão Borges was thrown to the wolves last weekend, Carille was handed the reins and tasked with Copa Libertadores qualification, be that through their final league position or winning the Copa.

Carille started his reign with two games at home against Fluminense. The first came in the last 16 of the cup, where Corinthians came away with a narrow 1-0 win. Days later, the two sides faced in the league, with Carille’s side suffering a 1-0 defeat. Neither performance was convincing and fan patience is running out, highlighted by the low attendance at Sunday’s match. The Arena Corinthians was not much over 30% full at the weekend, in a stadium which typically attracts good crowds.

Corinthians’ quarter-final opponents are Cruzeiro, who are led by Mano Menezes, a familiar face to the Timão faithful having managed the club twice (2008-2010 and 2014). Mano is likely to field a well-organised side that should defend in their own half and strive to be difficult to break down, making this a tough prospect for a Corinthians side under pressure.

What could work in the home side’s favour is that similar to Internacional, Cruzeiro are also in relegation trouble. Mano has somewhat steadied the ship since being brought in in July, with recent performances suggesting the team should have enough to save themselves, however they have a tricky run of games coming up and staying in the first division is certainly the priority.

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