Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Like a pneumatic drill through butter: Five great Ronaldo goals you've probably never seen before

Ronaldo – the original Ronaldo – turned 40 last week, prompting a fresh wave of appreciation for one of the icons of the modern game.

Ronaldo was also the master of reinvention, battling past a string of serious knee injuries that forced him to continuously adapt to diminishing physical capabilities, yet always remaining vital – both to his clubs and country.

We all know some of Ronaldo's great goals by heart. But there are plenty of lesser-known gems in the back catalogue.

Here are five – plus the stories behind them – I picked out for Unibet.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Flamengo may be homeless, but they can smell another Brazilian title with 'Ricardiola' at the helm

They haven't been able to play matches at the Maracanã all year, due to the Olympics and Paralympics. But that has not stopped Flamengo feeling right at home wherever they have travelled this term.

For with brilliant former youth team coach Zé Ricardo in the dugout, the Rubro-Negro have captured the hearts and minds of Fla fans throughout Brazil, many of whom have flocked to see them in 'home' games in São Paulo, Brasília and Natal.

Palmeiras continue to set the pace in Série A but there is a growing feeling that the Rio giants might just be able to overhaul them to secure an unexpected title. As their supporters would have it, the 'cheirinho de hepta' is in the air.

In my latest for WhoScored, I take a look at Flamengo's surge and Zé Ricardo's ability to squeeze performances out of previously unloved players.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Golden prospects: Why Brazil's Olympic summer could prompt an upturn in fortunes for the Seleção

For some, the excitement that attended Brazil's success at the Olympic Games was just one more symbol of the decline of this once-great football nation. 

Questions abounded: Why were Brazil going wild about success in an under-23 tournament as if it was the moon landing? Had they forgotten what happened at the World Cup? They don't expect this to mask the corruption and incompetency of those who organise the domestic game, do they?

There was an element of straw-man assassination to these missives; few if any experts were making blanket proclamations about the overall health of the Brazilian game. The buzz about the success was for the most part more modest, more measured.

You can read my take on Brazil's victory at the 2016 Olympics in the latest edition of When Saturday Comes Magazine. It's available in newsagents, can be ordered here and read online (with a subscription) here

Oh and I didn't get paid extra for the Vine. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

Gold soundz: Making sense of Brazil's Olympic football success, with help from Andy Murray

Andy Murray entered the London Olympic Games at a fairly low ebb four years ago. Earlier in the summer, he had come up short against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. Murray must have wondered whether the Grand Slam glory he had pursued for so long would ever arrive.

The Olympics provided a salve for his wounds. Murray breezed to the gold medal match and nonchalantly dispatched Federer. It wasn't Wimbledon (although it was staged there) and it did not make up for the previous defeat. But as Murray thanked a partisan Centre Court crowd, it was hard not to feel that a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

A month later, he won the US Open.

The comparison between Murray's watershed moment and Brazil's Olympic football breakthrough on Saturday night is an imperfect one for a number of reasons (the Scot's success was not set against a wider story of decline, for one). But when the dust settles on a dramatic night in Rio de Janeiro, those seeking to contextualise and measure Brazil's 5-4 victory over Germany in a penalty shootout (following a 1-1 stalemate) may find instructive – and inspiring – echoes here.

Read my take on Brazil's Olympic success at ESPN FC.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Four is the magic number as Robinho, Fred, Maicosuel and Pratto drag Atlético Mineiro into title contention

Someone in Brazilian football needs to put a call in to De La Soul and break the news: the results are in and – for now at least – four, not three, is very much the magic number.

That's certainly the case for the Brazil men's team at the Olympics. After watching his charges slump to back-to-back goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq, coach Rogério Micale decided that enough was enough and decided to play all of his forwards – Neymar, Gabriel Jésus, Luan and Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa – against Denmark, Colombia and Honduras. The outcome? Three victories and 12 goals scored, some of them stunners.

But it's not just at international level that four is the law. In the Brasileirão, which naturally hasn't paused for the Olympics, Atlético Mineiro have rocketed up the standings courtesy of their storied fantastic four: Fred, Robinho, Maicosuel and Lucas Pratto.

Read my latest for WhoScored here.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Neymar under fire as Brazil start Olympics on back foot – but win over Denmark eases pressure

"Resuscitated," read the front page of sports daily Lance! on Thursday morning, which seemed just about right. After the choking tedium of the games against South Africa and Iraq, Brazil breathed life into their Olympic campaign with a 4-0 win over Denmark – a result that restores belief, even if it will not fully neutralise doubts.

On the face of it, the key moment of the game was Gabriel Barbosa's scuffed opening goal, which settled the nerves and allowed the hosts to go about their business with a renewed sense of conviction. But of greater long-term significance may be the third goal, scored by Luan, not because it was an especially memorable finish but because its construction suggested that Brazil's most potent attacking force might be awaking from his slumber.

In my latest for ESPN FC, I look at a tough couple of weeks for Neymar and explain why his critics should be careful what they wish for.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Paulo Henrique Ganso is finally ready to show what he can do in Europe. What took him so long?

Even in the early days, before the hype and the hardship, he was different. Otherworldly, almost, drifting nonchalantly through matches and through life. While others scurried around making work for themselves, everything looked so easy for Paulo Henrique Ganso.

He was a first-team player at 17; a year later, his contract at Santos included a €50million buyout clause. Soon there were trophies, awards and Brazil caps. Ganso took it all in his languid stride, collecting assists as though they were going out of fashion, yet rarely operating at anything beyond walking pace.

Brazilian midfields can be battlegrounds, all sound and fury. Ganso, though, played as if he had exclusive access to a pause button, floating into space and spinning intricate webs of passes from behind the strikers. Tall and impossibly elegant, he was a throwback to golden age of the playmaker, a Gérson or a Sócrates refracted through Juan Román Riquelme's wonky Technicolor lens.

But things would not turn out to be as simple as expected for the man nicknamed 'Goose'. Read my piece on the rise, fall and resurrection of Ganso on the FourFourTwo website.