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The Five Men Who Could Shape Brazil’s Battle Against Relegation

The Five Men Who Could Shape Brazil’s Battle Against Relegation

Posted by Laura Zúñiga on September 18, 2014

Finally, after over a year of utter dominance, it looked as though Cruzeiro may have company at the top of the Campeonato Brasileiro table. The reigning champions were defeated 2-0 at the weekend by São Paulo, who then proceeded to lose to relegation candidates Coritiba, moving back to seven points adrift going into the final three months of the season. However, without wishing to jinx anything before it materialises, we may still have a title race on our hands.

But while things are beginning to simmer at one end of the table, there’s a full-scale battle royale raging at the other. The scrap against relegation could hardly be more dramatic: after 22 rounds, the bottom eight are separated by just five points. While Flamengo appear to have done enough to stave off the threat, everyone from Figueirense down will be fighting to the death from here on in.

With margins so small, things really could be settled by a few hardy warriors. Here are five players who could shape the survival scrap:

Kieza (Bahia)

Livewire striker Kieza reminded Brazil of his ability on Sunday, inspiring Bahia to victory over Figueirense. He netted both of his shots on target in that game, while also managing a team-high passing accuracy of 87%. Although his previous eight games yielded just one goal, he has the ability to shine at this level – witness his exploits for Náutico in 2012 – and will be aiming to fire the Tricolor to safety in the coming weeks and months.

Alex (Coritiba)

Majestic in 2013, the veteran playmaker’s 2014 season has thus far been disrupted by a series of niggling injuries. Between spells in the treatment room, however, Alex has been as influential as ever for the Coxa: he has netted 4 goals in 12 games and is actually managing more key passes than he did last term (2.7 per game vs 1.9). Now fit again, he is Coritiba’s best hope of goals and assists.

Paulo Baier (Criciúma)

Some veterans still look young and sprightly: think Francesco Totti or Javier Zanetti. Paulo Baier is 39 years old and, with his hangdog expression and thinning hair, doesn’t look a day younger than 55. He remains, however, a reliable Série A performer and is likely to be the key man for goal-shy Criciúma in the run-in.

The former Atlético-PR man is the Tigre’s leading scorer with 3 goals thus far, while only goalkeeper Luiz has earnt more than his 2 WhoScored Man of the Match awards. Perhaps his real value, though, is his ability to coax the best out of Criciúma’s attackers: no regular in the side averages more than his 1.8 key passes or 1.7 crosses per game. He doesn’t have the legs to play every game, but all five of Criciúma’s league wins have come when he has started.

Edílson (Botafogo)

It is a fairly damning indictment of Botafogo’s season that one of their best attacking outlets in recent weeks has been a player who has historically been a right-back by trade. Always more capable on the front foot than tracking back, Edílson has been transformed into a roving midfielder since the departure of Nicolás Lodeiro, charged with spurring a misfiring attack into life.

No Botafogo player has come anywhere near his 27 key passes so far, while his record of 1.5 successful crosses per game is also a team high. 2 assists and 2 goals hardly screams end product, but then he has also been required to drop into his original position to cover for the injury-prone Lucas. Wherever he plays, he will be central to O Glorioso’s hopes.

Lúcio (Palmeiras)

After the disastrous reign of Ricardo Gareca, Palmeiras are just beginning to regain their balance under Dorival Júnior. Key to their chances will be former Brazil captain Lúcio, who is ready to return to the side after injury. He remains a dominant presence at the back, averaging 2.6 tackles (the highest in the Verdão squad), 2.9 interceptions and 3.3 clearances per game. If he can inspire his teammates to play to their ability, the São Paulo giants may just manage to avoid their second relegation in three years.

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