Brazilian Serie A, Weekend Preview: First At Second When Fluminense Visits Cruzeiro

This photo is available for distribution be Andre Marmota, some rights reserved (http://www.flickr.com/photos/marmota/).

Midweek struggles from Corinthians and league-leading Fluminense allowed Cruzeiro to move into second place, their 0-1 win at Goiás putting the Celestials on 51 points, one off the lead. On Sunday, Cruzeiro gets Flu in Belo Horizonte - a chance to take the next step up the table heading into the season's final two months.

Unfortunately, Cruzeiro's rise has been as much on account of other team's failings as their own success. Granted, A Raposa has seven points in their last three matches, a good haul, but were it not for Fluminense's one point in two and Corinthians getting only two draws in their last four, Cruziero would remain safely in their third place wasteland, stranded between the title race and the battle royal that's forming for fourth. As is, Cruzeiro is a good bet to be top on Sunday night.

Regarding fourth place, Internacional's mid-week loss pulls five clubs within two points of the final Libertadores spot, with all of Atlético Paranaense, Botafogo, Santos, Grêmio and Palmeiras closing the gap. Behind them, São Paulo and Vasco de Gama have stayed close enough to add two big names to an eight club race.

Between that race, the battle for the title, and a relegation battle that remains for all but bottom-dwelling Grêmio Prudente, only one or two teams can coast at this point of the season. While much attention has been paid to Brazil's rediscovered ability to retain and re-attract talent, it's now time from somebody besides the BBC's Tim Vickery to start trumpeting the parity in the most competitive league in the world.

And with that, our preview of Round 29 in the Campeonato Brasileirao Serie A, counting down the ten fixtures from least to most compelling:

#10. Ceará versus Guarani
Location: Estádio Governado Plácido Aderaldo Castelo (Fortaleza)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 5:30 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Ceará, 8-11-9, -7, 12th
Guarani, 8-10-10, -10, 13th

Two teams on the edge of Brazil's Sudamaericana spots, needing to hit a rough patch to be pulled into the relegation battle - it's a hard sell. At this match's start time, most will be looking to Porto Alegre, slightly ironical considering Ceará's coming off a mid-week, 1-0 victory over the continental champions. That match was Ceará's first win since September 12, with Guarani only having two, 1-0 wins in the same span.

#9. Grêmio Prudente versus São Paulo
Location: Estádio Municipal Eduardo José Farah (Presidente Prudente)
Date: Saturday, October 9
Time: 5:30 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Prudente, 5-9-14, -17, 20th
São Paulo, 10-8-10, -2, 10th

Paulo César Carpegiani gets easy fair in his first weekend running São Paulo, with Grêmio Prudente the one club that seems destined for the Serie B. The mid-week win over Vitória, a 2-0 result that saw early goals from Dagoberto and Fernandinho, was a small indication the Tricolor is ready to surge for a Libertadores spot, but with six table spots to transcend in ten matches, Carpegiani has little time for a feeling-out period.

#8. Corinthians versus Atlético Goianiense
Location: Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho (São Paulo)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Corinthians, 14-7-6, +17, 3rd
Goianiense, 7-5-16, -9, 18th

Corinthians gave up two second half goals at Atlético Mineiro, losing 2-1 and, as important, continuing a slide that's seen them drop from first place. Goianiense could serve as a perfect tonic, having lost three in a row, but with Cruzeiro and Fluminense playing each other (assuring at least one club will pick-up points), Corinthians' title hopes will take a big hit if they can't get full points from the Dragão.

#7. Internacional versus Atlético Mineiro
Location: Estádio José Pinheiro Borba (Porto Alegre)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 5:30 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Inter, 13-5-9, +7, 4th
Mineiro, 8-4-16, -15, 17th

Like Corinthians, Inter gets a bottom-dweller to help salve the wounds of a mid-week loss. Their 1-0 loss at Ceará continues the Reds' uneven form, having exchanged wins for losses since September 19. Ultimately, it may not matter, with the club having already qualified for next year's Libertadores. Inter can either use Mineiro to start a title push or cruise through the rest of the Campeonato. Regardless of direction, the Reds will play this match without Giuliano, who is on international duty with Brazil.

#6. Goiás versus Vitória
Location: Estádio do Governo do Estado de Goiás (Goiânia)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Goiás, 6-7-15, -17, 19th
Vitória, 7-10-11, -7, 15th

With ten matches left in the season, it's time to start looking at these matches as six-pointers, which may explain why Vitória dismissed Ricardo Silva on Thursday, replacing the coach with Antonio Lopes. A win for Goiás will push them to the edge of survival, while a victory for Vitória could give them some much needed breathing room, with the other clubs threatening to pass them facing top-of-the-table competition.

#5. Avaí versus Flamengo
Location: Estádio Aderbal Ramos da Silva (Florianópolis)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Avaí, 7-8-13, -7, 16th
Fla, 7-12-9, -2, 14th

Coming-off a 4-1 loss to surging Palmeiras, Avaí finds themselves on the edge of the drop. Their match against Fla, along with the match-ups for Mineiro and Goianiense, should give them reason to hope for breathing room come Sunday night. Still, a new focus may accompany the wayward holders, having brought in coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo this week.

#4. Vasco de Gama versus Grêmio
Location: Estádio Club de Regatas Vasco de Gama (Rio de Janiero)
Date: Saturday, October 9
Time: 5:30 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Vasco, 8-13-6, +2, 11th
Grêmio, 11-9-8, +12, 8th

Amongst the cluster of teams with hopes of fourth, Grêmio is in the thick while Vasco's on the periphery. If Vasco wants to climb into the middle of the race, they'll need to find a way to slow down a Grêmio team that's won four in a row while averaging three goals per match over their last six. During that stretch, Jonas has eight goals, including a mid-week hat-trick against Prudente. Grêmio has not been shutout in 14 matches, though with Victor away with Brazil, this weekend may see the Imortal in greater need of those goals.

#3. Santos versus Atlético Paranaense
Location: Estádio Urbano Cladeira (Santos)
Date: Saturday, October 9
Time: 5:30 p.m Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Santos, 12-6-9, +10, 7th
Paranaense, 12-7-9, -2, 5th

Having lost Carpegiani to São Paulo, it may be time for Paranaense to come back to earth, and although a prostitution story surrounding Neymar threatens to serve as a distraction for Santos, the black-whites' mid-week demolition of Fluminense - winning 0-3 after a Zé Eduardo hat-trick - shows Santos may be ready for another run at the top, one that's not dependent on their star 18-year-old.

#2. Botafogo versus Palmeiras
Location: Estádio Olímpico João Havelange (Rio de Janeiro)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Botafofo, 10-13-5, +10, 6th
Palmeiras, 10-12-6, +6, 9th

Palmeiras will be without the services of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, serving the first of a two match suspension for verbal abuse of officials - a ban that threatens to break the momentum established by the Verdão taking 13 of their last 15 possible points. If Kléber keeps scoring, Scolari's absence may not be noticed. The attacker's four goals in five matches doubles the haul taken in the first 14 matches of his Palmeiras return.

#1. Cruzeiro versus Fluminense
Location: Estádio Municipal João Havelange (Uberlandia)
Date: Sunday, October 10
Time: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Records (W-D-L, +/-, Place):
Cruzeiro, 14-9-5, +12, 2nd
Flu, 15-7-6, +19, 1st

Oversimplifying these matches can be dangerous, but it's hard to overlook Sunday's match as the league's best defense against its best attack. Flu's 49 goals is tied for most in the Serie A, thanks in large part to Dario Conca providing for an array of goal scorers. Unfortunately, that array will be two fewer on Sunday, with Flu set to miss both Fred and Emerson. Washington and Rodriguinho will start in front of Conca, with a newly-healthy Deco expect to be the other part of Fluminense's attacking midfield duo.

How that tandem performs against Cruzeiro's holding duo - two of Henrique, Fabricío and Fabinho - should define the match. If Conca and Deco aren't able to create for the likes of Washington, Cruziero could extend their 270 minute scoreless streak. If, however, the deep-sitting midfielders don't hold-up, we could see something just short of Santos's recent 4-1 romp of Cruzeiro.

Though the names Wellington Paulista and Thiago Ribeiro speak of danger men in attack, their 2010 output hints Cruzeiro's unlikely to keep up with Flu in a shoot-out.

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