Atletico Mineiro were unlikely title candidates last year. Spearheaded by Ronaldinho, who had finally walked out on Flamengo after the fee owed to the former Barcelona star in unpaid wages had reached one to many zeroes for his liking, and former Everton and Manchester City star Jo, they were something of a pack of misfits.
Coach Cuca, however, saw the potential and fashioned them into arguably the finest team to watch in all of Brazil last season. But despite Ronaldinho’s wonderful return to form as the Rooster kept pace with eventual winners Fluminense for much longer than many expected, the defining image of their campaign would arrive one evening in Porto Alegre.
Trotting over to the touchline to keep the ball in play after Leonardo Silva’s wayward header made its way towards the corner flag, a squat, slightly scruffy, pintsized teenager kept the ball in play, turned, used his instep to scoop the ball up and over one head before stepping past it and flicking a backheel to send it looping over both himself and a second defender.
Most impressive of all, however, was yet to come. As the ball dropped down in front of him, Bernard Anicio Caldeira Duarte, the boy they twice said was too small to be a footballer, looked up and picked his pass, volleying across goal for Jo to acrobatically convert from close range. Not only had he, as is so wonderfully referred to in Brazil, given two defenders ‘the hat’, but he won the game. Jo’s strike that night would be the only one of the match.
It was a moment that would typify the season he would go on to enjoy, playing a major role in his side’s 2nd place Brasileirao finish to seal Copa Libertadores qualification. He notched 11 goals and went on to pick up the Revelação title as the breakthrough star of the season.
And this past week saw his stock continue to rise as young Bernard announced himself on the continental stage, grabbing a fabulous hat-trick as his side trounced Arsenal in Sarandi. Julio Furch gave the Argentinians the lead inside 90 seconds, but Bernard sneaked in around the back to hammer home an equaliser just five minutes later. The 20 year-old completed his hat-trick in five second half minutes to seal all three points and a 5-2 victory for the Rooster – a game which also featured this horrific “tackle” from Diego Braghieri on Ronaldinho.
“It’s a moment that I will remember for a long time,” said Bernard of his evening. “To score three goals in a game is remarkable.” It was. And so is he.
Elsewhere on Tuesday night, Lucas Pratto struck a late winner for Velez at Penarol, Joshiro Salazar headed an even later one for Real Garcilaso in Tolima, and Tijuana hammered San Jose 4-0, with Edgar Castillo grabbing what may just go on to be goal of the tournament.
Wednesday night saw Argentinian giants Boca Juniors finally get their season off and running after a difficult period of transition under returning legend Carlos Bianchi. Barcelona are rightly disappointed with how little they troubled a side very much on the ropes by the time they arrived in Ecuador, but Bianchi was left delighted after Juan Manuel Martinez and Chiqui Perez struck second half goals to secure a 2-1 win.
Wednesday also saw Chilean side Iquique defeat Emelec 2-0, and Fluminense come back from a goal down to return from Huachipato with a 2-1 victory – though Wellington Nem, who did score a goal to rival that of Castillo's, won’t thank us for highlighting this. Corinthians – forced to play behind closed doors following the tragic death of a teenager when a flare shot from the Corinthians fans section struck the young Bolivian, killing him instantly – beat Millonarios 2-0 thanks to goals from Paolo Guerrero and Alexandre Pato.
This week’s action drew to a close on Thursday as Sporting Cristal saw off Tigre 2-0, thanks in part to this golazo from Renzo Sheput; Libertad scored a big 2-0 victory over Palmeiras, and goals from Osvaldo and Luis Fabiano gave Sao Paulo a 2-1 win over The Strongest.
Results & Highlights