The Bottom of Brazil, is it a good place to visit?
3 MAY 2017
America Futebol Clube
We stretched our undefeated streak in this competition to 39 matches, but that meant more excitement than we wanted. After 9 games in a stage the first and second placed squads play one match to decide who earns a spot in the final. Our first loss in this competition was in the closing stage playoff this year against our rival, ABF (ABC Futebal Clube). Which set up a two leg final between the heated rivals. We managed to end this drama as Wallace kept them out of the net in each match while we scored 3 goals in the 2 contests.
The Northeast Regional provides the real test in the first half of the Brazilian season. We were drawn with RIV, a Division 3 squad who we will see more of during the real season that starts in a week. Also included in our draw was BAH, they are a second division squad who have finished 9th in the last two seasons. Finally, Flamengo was included in our group from Division 4.
We were not expected to qualify from this group and instead not only topped the group, but allowed just 2 goals with both scored by BAH in our 2-2 finish on their pitch. We scored an impressive 22 goals in the group stage.
This advanced our squad to the Quarter Final where we were matched with Division 1 squad VIT who finished 10th last season. Worry that we were overmatched ended when we won the away leg 2-0. We continued to impress with a 2-1 victory in front of our fans.
Reaching the Semi Final, we were immediately reminded that there would be no rest at this point. We were drawn with the defending champions, CEA, a Division 2 squad. CEA opened the scoring in their stadium just 2 minutes into the match. Romulo's goal at 14 minutes made us realize that we could hang with these guys, but there was no more scoring. 68 minutes into the home leg, Romulo scored again. Our defense clamped down on the final minutes and we were going to the final.
Team history indicates we have 33 State Titles with 42 runner-up finishes. But, our fame comes from 1 title in this competition and 1 runner-up finish. The first thing you will find when someone talks about our team is that we are the only team from our State to win this competition. Our 1 win was in 1998 an our 1 runner-up finish was in 1976, it is not like it happens all the time. We know how big this is.
We will face STA who will play Division 2 football this year after being relegated from Division 1 last season. The opening match is held in front of almost 60,000 fans in Arruda located in Recife. The contest was generally even but their 38 year old striker Grafite scored in the 67th minute. Grafite's history includes more than 100 top league matches in Germany with Wolfsburg. He scored again in the 7th minute in front of a packed house in Natal and put a ton of pressure on our squad. Romulo answered the pressure with goals at 17 and 79 minutes but the rest of the squad was not as good with the pressure. We finished the match with 9 men. Silas who was brought on as a halftime sub got two yellows by the 78 minute mark and Augusto was sent off with a second yellow in injury time. We could not get the goal we needed to avoid the loss on away goals.
We did a much better job of using our squad this season. We hope that pays dividends in Division 3 play. The most interesting news there is that we have been named by the bookies as an even bet to get promoted this year, the second best chance in our Division 3 group. Our board expectation at the start of the year was that we again avoid a relegation battle. I have high hopes based on our performance against the better teams in the regional.
One thing I was not quite happy about was our chairman interceding to accept a 120K offer for our best defender, Ze Antonio just before the playoffs. To say that it had an impact would prove to be very easy since he started both games for STA in the final. But, I cannot say that I would have rejected the offer, 120K is a lot of money for our club.