The Gaucho State Championship divides my own opinion. On one hand, it’s a great pre season where partnerships on the pitch can form early, morale can be boosted with winning every week and it can all end with a trophy in the cabinet. On the other hand, it’s long winded (11 games spanning over 3 months, 14 if you reach the final) and it’s only ever Internacional or Gremio who win it. However, as things stand we have no choice but to participate.
Things got off to a predictable winning start, with 6 wins on the bounce and 18 goals scored. Everyone was playing well and we were winning game after game (bar a 0 – 0 with Serie A side Juventude) but as mentioned previously, we won’t learn much about ourselves with this level of competition. The most significant of victories came against local rivals Internacional whom we beat 2 – 1 after falling behind early. This performance and result was an early indication of our capabilities and further proof that Gremio do not belong in the second tier of Brazilian football.
For context, the Gaucho State is a league format, with 12 participants who play each other once. The top 4 teams qualify for a 2 legged semi final with the chance to advance to a 2 legged final and possibly be awarded with the Gaucho State Championship Trophy. We finished top of the league by 3 points, setting up a semi final clash with Juventude.
Away from home first leg, we managed to go home with a 1 – 0 win. It was a cagey game in which we were able to come out on top thanks to a goal from right wing back Leanardo Gomes.
Onto the second leg at home, having already beaten Juventude twice now we were very confident. That confidence paid off when we advanced to the final with a 3 – 0 hammering of the Serie A outfit thanks to a Elkeson hattrick, setting up a mouth watering final against fierce rivals Internacional who will be out for revenge after we beat them in the league format of the competition.
The first leg of the final was always going to be tough against a very strong Internacional side, and on their patch we were very happy with a draw. That draw wasn’t to be as they beat us 2 – 1 and to be honest it could have been much more. They bossed proceedings and had a 2 nil lead before the hour mark. Ferreira pulled one back late on which gives us a huge chance in the second leg at home.
The second leg was a different story all together. Almost like it was 2 different teams taking the field. We exacted revenge in the best way possible by running out 4 nil winners and turning around the 1st leg defeat. With Diego Souza at the double and both centre backs Ulisses and Kannemann heading home at the near post from corners, we were not only celebrating a derby day victory again, but a Gaucho State Championship title.
With the Gaucho State in the cabinet, we were ready for the league. Promotion is a requirement, so we can’t afford to come up short. The good thing about a long, winning pre season is that partnerships can form over the pitch and familiarity will increase.
We got off to a flyer in the league, winning 6 of our first 8. Deigo Souza and Elkeson had formed a great understanding and were a real nightmare for defenders. 6 goals in 8 games for Souza and 3 in 6 for Elkeson. However, our season was to be disrupted when Elkeson was refusing to sign a new contract and only had 6 months left. Our hands were forced and Elkeson was sold, leaving us with 1 out and out striker and forcing a slight change of shape.
We were also forced to sell talented midfielder Lucas Silva due to similar reasons, and he wasn’t happy at this level so it was only right to cash in even though he had a place in my team. £2.1m is big money for our situation so it was the right thing to do in the end and it enabled us to strengthen in two areas.
With Elkeson departing and funds in the budget through the sale of Lucas Silva, we needed to recruit. Our main priority was upfront, and we were able to pick up Rwan from Santos for 350k. Only 21 years old, he is definitely one to develop and hopefully replace the ageing Diego Souza.
We also bolstered the back line. Playing 3 CBs often calls for depth at the back so we picked up Mendonca for £28k. A very small transfer fee for a player who will provide solid back up if we get injuries or fatigue to key players.
Although results were still strong, the system seemed to have become stale and we were grinding out results which was a stark contrast to our strong start where we were putting to the sword quite comfortably. With that in mind we changed shape and didn’t look back all season.
Our attacking wasn’t as fierce as I would like it to be and we weren’t creating enough, so we decided to bring the technical wingers into the fray and and play with a man behind the striker as an extra body in attack. A positive mentality as opposed to cautious and counter pressing as opposed to regrouping when out of possession in order to impose ourselves more on every game worked wonders.
After 19 games we were 6 points clear at the top of the league and momentum was rolling. In July we drew with Bahia thanks to a very late equaliser from Teixeira, and that would be the last game in which we dropped points all season.
From mid July we won 24 games in a row, ensuring we were promoted as champions. It was a monstrous effort from us and we really looked unstoppable. I feel if we had started the season with this system we may well have gone up as Invincibles.
Realistically, there was no one who could stop us before a ball was kicked. However, to win the league at a canter the way we did gives me a lot of confidence going into Serie A and I don’t feel as if we’ll need much of a transition period.
Unfortunately the man who had just became Gremio’s record goal scorer for a single season called a day on his playing career. I tried to convince him to reconsider in the hope he’d play a part in Serie A but his mind was made up. What a player he has been for my first season here and I’ll always remember those goals every week.
COPA DO BRASIL
Around the league fixture we were competing in The Copa Do Brasil, Brazil’s equivalent of The FA Cup. We didn’t place much emphasis on this when looking at the fixtures as the main priority was the league. We scraped through against 3rd tier side Ferroviara, going through after the scores were level as we were the higher seed. Safe to say we got away with one. The next 3 games were pretty straight forward, allowing us to use some reserve players and rest the starting 11. After we beat Fortaleza 1 – 0 at home, all of a sudden this competetion was very relevant to our season as we were now in the Semi Final.
The Semi Final saw us at home vs Serie A side Cuiaba. It was hard to call this one, but being at home I fancied our chances of getting to the final.
In what was a fairly even game, Cuiaba went ahead just before the 20 minute mark and we had some work to do. It felt harsh to be one down but we couldn’t panic. Just before half time we were awarded a penalty for handball from a corner. Mr Reliable Diego Souza slotted home and the scores were level.
The second half ticked by, with chances for both teams but nothing to really trouble either goalkeeper. With the scores level we were facing a dreaded penalty shootout. The clocked ticked into the 94th minute, the last minute of stoppage time, when Lucas Leiva played a wonderful ball forward from the half way line for Diego Souza to latch onto. He was one on one after beating the offside trap and rattled it into the top right hand corner. In the very last minute, we had won the Semi Final. Even if we fell at the last hurdle, this was something to be very proud of.
The final pitted us against Flamengo who were currently sitting top of Serie A. A much more fancied side than we were with talent and experience gracing their starting 11, the main name jumping off the page being Artruro Vidal.
Unfortunately I couldn’t see us defying the odds here, and could see a silver medal being a more realistic outcome of this final. The game kicked off and Flamengo showed us why they were top of Serie A. Chance after chance after chance and it felt like a matter of if and not when. We hung in there though, and on the 30th minute, completely against the run of play, Villasanti slotted home a lovely cut back from out wide and put us 1 nil up. We had the advantage and more importantly, we had something to hold on to. Our defence were performing excellently in the league and would be called up on for the remainder of this game. In the 35th minute, Souza was played through in the centre and was able to get behind Flamengo’s now higher defensive line, and just like he had done all season, he kept his composure and put us 2 nil up. A huge, huge goal which made us really believe we could be lifting the trophy come full time. On the stroke of half time, Jaminton Campaz showed his flair, dribbling past 2 defenders from the left hand side and blasted home from close range. 3 nil, surely we were going to win it now. I couldn’t quite believe it and had to be honest, we were absolutely robbing them. They’d outplayed us the entire first half, and we had managed to score 3 goals from 3 shots. We’ll take it.
We were given a scare early in the second half when Flamengo pulled one back, and the way the momentum was going we really needed to focus to avoid a sensational come back. We imposed ourselves on the game more than we did in the first half, but never really testing their keeper again. It was a barrage of attacks from Flamengo, but ultimately they came up short, not being able to put a second past Brenno who was having an excellent game in goal. In the 83rd minute, Vidal got sent off for a very poor tackle, and it was now a case of holding shape until the final whistle. That we did, and against all odds, we had won the Copa Do Brasil as a Second Division Side!
I really didn’t think we’d be competing for silverware until at least 2 seasons into our top flite campaign, but here we were, cup winners as a much less fancied side. This cup run and triumph has really given me the belief that we will compete for honours in Serie A, and it may not be next season, but I can see a Serie A title on the cards very soon. Furthermore, an added bonus to us winning the Copa was that we qualified for the Copa Libertadores which comes with a healthy financial package, ensuring we’d already repaired the club’s financial damage. So next season we’ll be competing on the biggest stage, bringing Gremio back into prominence and where they belong.
Onto The Next One
With season one being a glorious success, it’s time to plan for next season. Back amongst the elite, competing against the likes of Flamengo, Sau Paulo, Palmeiras, Santos and bitter rivals Internacional. With the right recruitment, I back us to have a very strong season next season. Here we go…