Sat, Jan 24, 2009 - Page 19 News List

As the economy wilts, Brazilian soccer is on the up

AGENCIES , SAO PAULO AND RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo, left, runs onto the field with a mascot before a friendly match between his team Corinthians and Estudiantes at the Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo last Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Corinthians, missing new signing Ronaldo, scored twice in the last 10 minutes to force a 2-2 draw at home to Barueri in the Paulista championship on Thursday.

Striker Pedrao put the visitors ahead in the 22nd minute with the Corinthians defense appealing in vain for offside and added the second by converting a penalty just after the hour.

Chicao pulled one back from a controversial penalty in the 83rd minute and Jorge Henrique leveled with two minutes to play as Corinthians narrowly avoided a shock defeat in their first game of the season.

Ronaldo, who signed for Corinthians last month, is still trying to regain match fitness after suffering a serious knee injury while playing for AC Milan last February.

The veteran striker was acquired by Corinthians last month, the top signing by any Brazilian club this year.

His debut was cautiously penciled in for next month as he continues trying to regain his fitness following left knee surgery nearly a year ago. But the mere presence of the World Cup winner has boosted local soccer.

Even though he’s yet to play for Corinthians, Ronaldo is constantly making the sports headlines across Latin America’s biggest country and even abroad.

“I’m only practicing and the media is already all over me,” Ronaldo said. “Imagine when I start playing and scoring goals again.”

The Brazilian league won’t begin for another couple of months, but Ronaldo is hoping to make his debut in the traditional Paulista state championship.

The regional tournaments are extremely popular in Brazil as they promote several matches between rival clubs. They are also important financially for the smaller clubs that don’t play in the Brazilian league.

This season in Brazil could be one of the best ever, thanks in part to the world financial crisis. With teams abroad less likely to hire international players, local clubs have been able to keep some of the country’s top sensations from leaving.

“It looks like there will be a high level of football in Brazil in 2009,” said Benjamin Back, a columnist for the Lance sports daily. “With the low exodus of players to international teams, the national market suddenly becomes the best option for our talented players.”

Teams have been acquiring quality internationals from other Latin American clubs and nearly all of Brazil’s top clubs have been able to repatriate some players.

Palmeiras, who began their defense of the Sao Paulo state title by beating Santo Andre 1-0 on Wednesday, followed up signing Colombian left back Pablo Armero with World Cup veteran midfielder Edmilson, a former Barcelona player who was with Spain’s Villarreal.

The club, coached by former Real Madrid manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo, also signed one of Brazil’s top young talents, striker Keirrision, who played for Coritiba and has already been sought by some European clubs. Palmeiras also have World Cup veteran Marcos as goalkeeper.

Palmeiras’ rivals Corinthians begins the year trying to rebound from a season in the Brazilian league’s second division. But in addition to having Ronaldo, they also reached a deal with former Panathinaikos striker Souza and acquired Argentine defender Sergio Escudero from Argentinos Jr.

Defending league champion Sao Paulo added local players who failed to reach agreements with international clubs, including midfielder Arouca and veteran striker Washington, both from Fluminense.

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