And you thought 42 years of hurt was bad!
Ponte’s first 107 seasons have been hard on the Campinas club. The net result of over a century of toil is a trophy cabinet that contains absolutely nothing. But now Ponte Preta (Black Bridge) are just two games away from breaking their seemingly endless duck.
Sergio Guede’s side of rejects, budget signings and youth team products may be feeling the weight of expectation upon their shoulders. But in a league that contains São Paulo, Santos and Corinthians, Ponte were never supposed to be in the Campeonato Paulista finals. So, in many ways the pressure is already off.
Ponte’s directors were very keen to get Sunday’s first leg match held in the estádio Moisés Lucarelli. The Paulista Football Federation ceded to the club’s request and so a modest 18,000 will be packed into the Majestoso (the majestic – though I’m told Ponte fans call it this without any sense of irony). But the Campinas outfit have good reason to stage this game in their compact arena. Earlier this year, one of Brazil’s leading football magazines listed the Moisés Lucarelli as one of the most difficult places for referees to officiate. That’s because the proximity of the fans to the pitch can make the stadium an intimidating place to go for both officials and the opposition.
Ponte have been stuck in Série B of the Campeonato Brasileiro since the end of 2006. Unfortunately, the result of this successful run in the Paulista will probably mean at least another year in the second division. The big clubs are already moving in to cherry pick Ponte’s best players. Midfielder Elias has already signed a pre-contract with Corinthians. But one bonus of making the Paulista finals is that Ponte are guaranteed a place in the 2009 Copa do Brasil.
Sunday’s game throws together the haves and the have-nots. Palmeiras keeper, Marcos, probably earns more than Ponte’s squad put together. And while Sérgio Guede’s outfit are the very definition of underdogs, hope remains if Ponte can get a result at home.
A full-strength Ponte have already proved that on their day, they are a match for anyone in the league. But for the first-leg they will be without the suspended Renato, Arroz and César. But Elias, who missed the semi-final second-leg vs Guaratinguetá, may be fit.
Big-spending Palmeiras are quite rightly favourites to win the Paulista for the first time since 1996. Vanderlei Luxemburgo did have some teething problems at the start of this campaign, but one defeat in the last fourteen is testament that the coach has things running the way he wants.
With so much flair in the squad, Palmeiras are rarely short of options. Alex Mineiro, Kléber, Diego Souza, Denílson, Lenny, and Léo Lima can unlock most defences. In Valdívia, Palmeiras have the best player currently operating in Brazil (if only someone would tell him to stay on his feet and stop all the playacting!). At the back, Henrique, Gustavo and Pierre have made it hard to get through to Marcos. All of this makes Palmeiras a handful; as Ponte already know from the 2×1 defeat in the Palestra Itália in the group phase.
Martinez, who was red-carded in the last week’s semi vs São Paulo, is out for this one. Léo Lima is a doubt after being taken off at half-time in the 0x0 draw with Sport Recife on Thursday in the Copa do Brasil.
Kick off: 27 April – 16:00 (Brasilia) GMT – 3 hours
Ones to watch: rather predictably, Ponte’s outstanding keeper, Aranha, and Palmeiras’ annoying yet highly-talented, Valdívia.
My prediction: with the two most prolific teams in the league on show, there should be plenty of goals. But the odds are so highly stacked against Ponte coming out on top; I feel duty bound to go for the underdogs in the Moisés Lucarelli.