By DAVID MOSSE
The recent World Cup draw didn't receive nearly as much attention in Brazil as one might expect thanks in large part to a spectacular game that same week between Flamengo and Santos, which dominated the headlines. Flamengo came from three goals down to claim a 5-4 victory, and the two star attractions didn't disappoint, as Ronaldinho and Neymar carried their respective teams.
Neymar scored twice, including a sensational individual effort replayed throughout the globe, but Ronaldinho found the back of the net three times for his first hat trick since returning to Brazil. The 31-year-old former World Player of the Year is enjoying a renaissance of sorts and has Flamengo second in the table heading into Saturday's clash with Coritiba (5:30 p.m., GOLTV).
Ronaldinho has bagged seven goals in the last nine games and is the top scorer in the Brazilian Championship with nine, as Wanderley Luxemburgo's side continues to surge up the standings. The Rio de Janeiro giants have yet to taste defeat this season and are just one point behind leaders Corinthians with the latest victory coming at the expense of Cruzeiro (1-0) on Wednesday.
Here's a look ahead to the other important matches in Latin America this weekend:
Internacional vs. Cruzeiro, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Both teams entered this season with great expectations, but now find themselves in the middle of the table, and with new managers. Paulo Roberto Falcao was unceremoniously dumped by Internacional following a string of disappointing results, and his replacement, Osmar Loss, is struggling to right the ship. The latest defeat came at the hands of Fluminense (0-2) on Thursday.
With Oscar away representing Brazil at the Under-20 World Cup, Andres D'Alessandro is being forced to bare too much of the play-making responsibilities. Cruzeiro recently replaced Cuca with former South Africa boss Joel Santana, but after knocking off Corinthians in the first game following the switch, the team dropped three in a row, including Wednesday's loss to Flamengo.
Santos vs. Ceara, Sunday, 3 p.m.
The predicament in which Santos finds itself is further proof of the absurdity of the Brazilian calendar. Muricy Ramalho's side fielded reserves in the first several weeks of the domestic championship in order to focus on the Copa Libertadores, then was forced to make do without Neymar, Elano and Paulo Henrique Ganso for a month due to their participation in the Copa America in Argentina.
As a result, Santos is currently in the relegation zone with virtually no chance of challenging for the title, despite boasting unquestionably the most impressive squad in Brazil. Neymar continues to shine, however, with a transfer to Real Madrid no longer seeming so imminent. The 19-year-old has scored three goals in the past three games and will take aim on the Ceara defense Sunday.
Godoy Cruz vs. Velez Sarsfield, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
After much discussion about combining the first and second divisions, and forming a monstrous 38-team league, saner heads prevailed in Argentina. The Apertura Championship kicks off this weekend with Velez Sarsfield as the team to beat following its Clausura triumph. Most of the same faces are back for Ricardo Gareca's side with two interesting new additions as well.
Velez added Francisco Cerro from Quilmes and Uruguayan Jonathan Ramirez in the transfer market to a nucleus that already includes Santiago Silva, David Ramirez and Juan Manuel Martinez. Ricky Alvarez was lost to Inter Milan over the summer, and Agustin Vuletich is busy taking part in the Under-20 World Cup, but El Fortin begins the campaign with very high hopes.
Olimpo vs. Boca Juniors, Sunday, 5:10 p.m.
Boca Juniors heads into its Apertura debut against Olimpo on Sunday with plenty of problems, as Dario Cvitanich and Walter Erviti are both ruled out due to injuries. Martin Palermo called it quits on a remarkable career, so most of the responsibility up front now falls on the shoulders of Pablo Mouche, who hopes to be on the receiving end of pinpoint passes from Juan Roman Riquelme.
Riquelme's name has once again come up in discussions about the national team as a result of the coaching change from Sergio Batista to Alejandro Sabella. A strong campaign for Boca would certainly boost his chances of earning a recall, but Boca boss Julio Falcioni knows the likes of Nicolas Colazo, Clemente Rodriguez and Lucas Viatri are also key to a successful season.
Chivas vs. Pumas UNAM, Saturday, 8 p.m., Telemundo
After knocking off Barcelona in a friendly, Chivas now turns it attention to domestic leaders Pumas in the marquee matchup of the fourth round of the Apertura Championship. Both teams sport perfect records, but Chivas has played one less game. Pumas took care of business on Wednesday, knocking off Monterrey 2-1, as Eduardo Herrera scored the winner in the 90th minute.
Efrain Velarde also found the back of the net for Los Auriazules, which eliminated Chivas in the semifinals of the most recent Clausura Championship en route to winning the title. Pumas must be prepared for an explosive Chivas attack, one that includes Marco Fabian, who scored a spectacular bicycle-kick goal against Barcelona. Omar Arellano, who was called up for Mexico's friendly against the United States, is a dangerous weapon as well.
Who do you see winning the Flamengo-Coritiba match? What matchup are you most looking forward to seeing?
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