Corinthians 1 x 0 Botafogo
Arena Corinthians, July 2 2017
Corinthians opened up a seven-point lead atop the Brasileirão table on Sunday afternoon with a 1-0 victory over Botafogo that stretched their unbeaten record under Fábio Carille to an impressive 25 games, which is now the best start to a campaign since the domestic championship adopted its current format.
Post-match, midfielder Bruno Silva provoked the São Paulo giants by scoffing over how they “suffered” to overcome his weakened Botafogo side with no less than five starters rested thanks to a typically-gruelling schedule and one eye firmly on their upcoming quarter-final Libertadores tie with Uruguay’s Nacional in Montevideo this week.
Be that as it may, Silva was completely outclassed by opposite number – the Brazil U20’s star Maycon – who, despite his attacking position in the line-up, controlled the tempo of the game throughout as more of a holding volante that continues to draw attention from European clubs.
So too does left-back Guilherme Arana – apparently wanted by a list of big names including Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and, as of last week, Bayer Leverkusen – a teammate of Maycon’s in the internacional youth set up, and a fellow Corinthians academy graduate. Save for a cross by Silva on the stroke of half time that passed Cassio’s far post and could have been met by João Paulo, Botafogo rarely threatened.
On the occasions that they did manage to at least get in Corinthians’ half, moves nullified by a Corinthians defence – a defence that has failed to concede in 450 minutes of league play – were returned and led out from the back by Maycon and Arana, who have a mutual and at times incredibly affective understanding of one another’s play.
Corinthians continued to prove a threat down the left flank but were forced to make changes themselves, with Clayson stepping in for Arana’s usual collaborative partner, the suspended Paraguayan international Ángel Romero. Noticeably more technically-gifted than Romero – a fan favourite nonetheless for his tireless, gritty performances – Clayson put in a worthy showing and has both the ability and confidence to try and take players on.
However, there was credence to Silva’s claims and Corinthians did indeed labour to secure three points.
In the first half, with both teams utilising 4-5-1 formations, they forced the issue with 77% of possession but failed to penetrate Botafogo’s well-held shape through poor, misplaced final balls that made actual shots on goal a rarity, save for an off-target header from Jô around the half-hour mark and a half-decent shot from Maycon that went wide.
In particular, Jadson – a shell of the man who helped his team to the title in 2015, and a poster boy for the detriments to one’s career by pursuing lucrative sabbaticals in the Chinese Super League – has become a master in the art of the under-or-overweighted pass.
In the second half, Carille’s men came out with a new lease of life and piled the pressure on from the offset. Recently-made Seleção international Rodriguinho drilled two shots that warranted consecutive saves from Gatito in just five minutes. When Arana was brought down outside the box, karma struck upon a wrongly-awarded penalty being missed by Jô and blocked by Gatito, who also kept out a rebound attempt.
To describe what followed, Brazilian media have applied the popular phrase “Agua mole em pedra Duran tanto bate até que fura”, commonly and loosely translated as “water dropping day-by-day wears even the hardest rock away”.
While Maycon, unlucky not to at least skim the bar with an excellently-curled free-kick, and Arana continue to be talked up as personally-reared stars of the future, bigger hopes are reserved for Pedrinho, who made an instant impact when replacing Clayson twelve minutes from time. Branded “sangue frio” (cold blood) for the manner in which he, as Arana did true to character minutes before, took out Botafogo defenders with a string of overhead flicks and tricks, he squared a ball to Jô on the edge of the six yard box.
On this move, Jô was again denied by Gatito, before Rodriguinho met the keeper’s gloves too, but the ex-Manchester City striker had a parry fortuitously land at his feet in order to finally convert a typical-scrappy goal that sent Corinthianos into the Seventh Heaven of a seven-point lead, prompting a deafening rendition of their own take on the classic “ole, ole, ole” chant.
For the last ten minutes, Corinthians expertly killed the game off and defended their lead, as Pedrinho wowed the crowd with a series of step-overs and held possession well.
Frequently employed on the right-hand side of midfield or as a right wing-back up until now in this year’s successful Paulistão campaign, a game-changing cameo on the opposite side of the field – coupled with promising chemistry between the 19-year-old and Arana – will no doubt have pleased Carille, who now has additional options when Romero or Clayson aren’t available. One day though, should he continue his predicted ascent, Pedrinho is sure to be a regular starter, regardless of which part of the pitch he inhabits, or who has to give way to accommodate him.
Out of action until Saturday, Corinthians have the rare luxury of a five-day break until another home fixture – of which there are four in July alone – against Ponte Preta. Facing champions Palmeiras a matter of days later at the Allianz Parque, they may similarly choose to rest players as Botafogo did this outing.