By Louis Smith.
This weekend the second Clássico-Rei of the season takes place in Brazil and this time out there is much more than pride at stake for Ceara and Fortaleza.
Ceara sit 13th in the league, with Fortaleza in 14th only separated by goal difference. In Brazil, teams placed from 7th-13th earn a place for the Copa Sudamericana (depending on Brazilian Cup winner), which would be an incredible achievement for either of these clubs.
Vozão qualified for the competition back in 2011 for their first and only time, while Fortaleza have never taken part in continental competition in their history.
The winner on Sunday will stand a good chance of qualification.
For the loser, however, it could see them dragged closer to the drop as only three points separate the pair from the relegation spots.
A draw on Sunday would be no good for either side, which could mean a cracker of a game. On the negative side, it could mean that both teams are frightened to lose and try to cancel each other out.
The last game in August was a typical derby match. It had goals, red cards, penalties, and some questionable decisions from the referee. The game finished 2-1 to Ceara, who deserved the points.
Since then plenty of football has been played and Ceara’s form dipped dramatically. They didn’t win for two months and manager Enderson Moreira lost his job as a result.
New manager Adílson Batista was appointed last month, and Vozão have found their feet again at a perfect time, winning three of their last five matches — something their fans desperately needed as they feared relegation to Serie B.
In their most recent match, Ceara put in a fantastic display against Internacional who are chasing a place in the Copa Libertadores.
The key to success against Inter was their ability to soak up pressure and counter-attack quickly, with full-back Samuel Xavier bombing forward to provide chances for Bergson and Thiago Galhardo — all of whom will be key players for the huge game on Sunday.
Also performing well was Diogo Silva between the sticks, ensuring his side kept a clean sheet.
The only negative was that Ceara’s engine in midfield, William Oliveria, picked up a hamstring injury which will rule him out of Sunday’s clash.
In their last five matches, Ceara have played a mixture of both possession-based and counter-attacking football. It will be very interesting to see what method Batista adopts in his first experience of the Clássico-Rei.
On the other side of the city, at Fortaleza, it has been just as topsy-turvy since the last match. Rogério Ceni was replaced by Zé Ricardo in August. Ricardo only lasted seven matches winning only one game.
The sacking of Ricardo led to Ceni being rehired at the end of September. During his time away from Fortaleza, Ceni became manager of Cruizero, and was fired following off-field matters after a short period in charge.
In their last five matches, Leão has been in decent form winning two, drawing two, and losing once. During those five matches there hasn’t been a game in which both teams haven’t scored, showing that Fortaleza can score goals but they’re also shipping them.
This was evident in their last match with Corinthians when they lost a five-goal thriller, 3-2.
Wellington Paulista, who was rested for the clash with Ceara, has been pivotal for Fortaleza this season scoring 12 goals in 24 games. If his side is to win on Sunday, the 36-year-old will have to perform.
Captain Carlinhos, who was also rested, will need to make sure he has a calm head unlike last time against Ceara.
He spent his time trying to wind up the Ceara players and in the end it backfired as he received a red card.
For the Fortaleza faithful they will be hoping Carlinhos has learned his lesson and focuses more on what he can do to inspire his side, rather than trying to get involved in confrontations.
Juan Sebastián Quintero, Fortaleza’s Columbian defender, has played more minutes this than anyone else for his side and he will have the task of cutting out Ceara’s attacking threat.
In August we said Juninho has been Fortaleza’s best player this season and this has continued to be the case, he is the heartbeat of the side and the one controls the midfield, winning back the ball and dictating the tempo of the match.
The first goal in this matchup will be very important. In the 13 times Ceara have taken the lead, they have only conceded an equalizing goal three times. In the games in which Fortaleza have conceded first, they have only scored eight times.
The game is set to be a huge decider in terms of relegation and also in the battle for continental qualification, such is the nature of the Brazilian league.