It was billed as a make or break match for Palmeiras. The São Paulo club needed a win against Flamengo to remain in the league whilst Flamengo were playing for pride only in the match. In the end, Flamengo were the only team that came away happy from the match after the two sides thrashed out a 1-1 draw. Palmeiras, who led the match until an agonising late equalizer thar sealed their fate, how now been relegated from Brazil’s top league for the second time in 10 years. Palmeiras opened the scoring on Sunday with a long-range shot by substitute striker Vinicius, but Vagner Love’s late goal dashed hopes of a reprieve, in what was already a tense match. Crowd trouble before and after the match brought back memories for some of similar scenes when Argentinian legends Rover Plate were relegated a few seasons ago. In the lead up to the match, the Palmeiras players and coaching staff had been the subject of death threats from fans as they slowly started to realise that the possibility of dropping out of the league could become a reality. Indeed results against Fluminense and Botofogo in previous weeks, when Palmeiras threw away good leads and ended up losing and drawing the matches respectively, confirmed what the fans were dreading.
Palmeiras are one for Brazil’s most illustrious of clubs, having won the most national titles (11) and are current defending Brazilian Cup champions, but this season has not been impressive by any stretch of the imagination. In 36 games, they have only managed to win 9 games, drawing 7 and losing the remaining 20. Goals have been hard to come by, only notching 37 in the entire season (roughly 1 a match) but its their defensive record and goals conceded that has led to their demise – 49 goals this season (1.5 per match). So how did this happen? Nobody predicted this fate in 2010 when the Alviverde (Green and White) welcomed back for the second time legend Luiz Felipe Scolari as head coach. Scolari, who coached the club from 1997 to 2000, came back to the club after having spent the last 10 years coaching a variety of nations and clubs such as Brazil, Portugal, Chelsea and most recently FC Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan. He is remembered fondly in Brazil after leading his country to the 2002 World Cup, despite many critics blasting his tactics and classifying the win as a fluke.
Returning to Palmeiras in 2010 he led them to Copa do Brasil success that year with influential captain Marcos Assunção and goalscorer Luis Fabiano leading the charge. But it was the focus on this cup that led to eventual relegation. Scolari rested several key players in the run up to various cup matches resulted in valuable points being dropped. After the cup success, focus shifted back to the league but by that point Palmeiras was already sitting in the lower half of the table and struggling for form. Scolari eventually left his position and was replaced by Gilson Kleina but he couldn’t turn around the club and eventually conceded relegation in the 1-1 draw this sunday.
The lesson to be learned from this Palmeiras story is that focusing on one tournament can lead to disaster in another. Palmeiras, desperate to taste success once again, pushed all their energy into the cup competition and took its eye of the league. Although they did win the cup, their squad did not have the depth of talent required to cope with the demands of both and valuable points were dropped. Scolari, who had a spell at mega rich Chelsea in the English Premiership is partly responsible for this failure as he controls selection and transfers but its the players themselves that should take most of the heat as they got caught up in cup fever and forgot that their most important task was staying in the league.