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Inter in need of a miracle to avoid club-first relegation

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Inter in need of a miracle to avoid club-first relegation

 

One of the root causes of the problems that weigh on Brazilian football is the fact that so many teams fancy themselves among the elite. While Spain has its big two - sorry, Atleti - England has a rotating cast of four or five heavy hitters and both Germany and France have one dominant force, the field in Brazil always seems to be wide open.

 

At first glance, this would appear to be a good thing: having more teams believing they have a chance of winning major honours is testament to the competitiveness of the league and prevents long spells of tedious monopoly. But there is a down side: disappointment is spread wider in Brazil than it is in most countries.  

 

At the start of the season, there might be as many as 12 or 13 teams eyeing up a title challenge, but only one of them is going to win the thing. Another may keep the wolf from the door by winning the Copa do Brasil and one may even triumph in continental competition, but you're still left with a raft of clubs whose fans feel they have been let down in some way by the players, the manager and the board. And in Brazil, they're not afraid to shout about it. 

 

This season, the most frustrated supporters belong to Corinthians, Fluminense, Cruzeiro and São Paulo. Santos and Flamengo too, perhaps, as nonsensical as that would be. Oh, and whichever of Atlético Miniero and Grêmio fails to win the cup final. That's a lot of thwarted expectations and a lot of hand-wringing in prospect as those clubs scrabble around in the hope of finding a winning formula next term. 

 

Inter in need of a miracle to avoid club-first relegation

 

Some have it worse than others, however: the aforementioned clubs will all be plying their trade in Série A next season, which may not be the case for another of Brazil's so-called grandes. For with two matches of the 2016 season remaining, Internacional of Porto Alegre are odds-on to get relegated to the second flight for the first time in their proud history. 

 

It wasn't meant to be this way. With the sparky Argel Fucks at the helm, Inter won their sixth consecutive Campeonato Gaúcho title in the early part of the year and looked to be gathering momentum for the national championship. Their opening eight matches of the Brasileirão season yielded 19 points - enough to take them to head of the table, three points clear of the chasing pack. Given they had been handed some tricky early fixtures against São Paulo, Santos, Atlético-MG, the signs were positive. 

 

Then... well, you could only really call it a disaster. Or a series of them. Between the middle of June and the start of September - a 14-game stretch - Inter managed a grand total of zero wins. The sheer range of disappointments was impressive: there were derby defeats - a 1-0 reverse to Grêmio - losses to relegation strugglers Figueirense and Santa Cruz and draws snatched from the jaws of victory as they squandered leads against Coritiba and Sport.  

 

The Santa Cruz result cost Fucks his job. In came Paulo Roberto Falcão, a Colorado legend due to his days as a player, but a man who had not convinced in two previous spells in the Beira-Rio dugout. We can now call it a hat-trick; Falcão only lasted less then a month, managing just five miserable matches before the getting the axe.

 

His replacement was another old boy: down-at-heel Celso Roth came back for a fourth stint at the helm, charged with warding off the growing relegation threat. Initially, it looked like paying off: the winless streak ended and a mini run of four wins in five at the start of October lifted spirits. But then the rot set back in, the bad results arriving one after the other, and Roth also received his P45. 

 

Inter in need of a miracle to avoid club-first relegation

 

When Inter travelled to face Corinthians on Monday night, then, they were led by their fourth coach of the campaign. But if Lisca - nicknamed 'The Madman' - was expecting a new-manager bounce, he was to be disappointed: Inter turned in another limp display and fell to a 1-0 defeat that leaves them three points and an inferior goal difference adrift of 16th-placed Vitória. Mathematically, they're still alive; logically, the guillotine is already falling. 

 

Goalscoring has been an issue: Vitinho has netted 8 times, but no one else has managed more than five. There is a sense that excessive rotation and injuries - plus the managerial flux - have hindered fluency in attack: Inter have used 40 players in the league and the likes of Valdivia, Gustavo Ferrareis, Alex, Aylon, Anderson and Luis Seijas have been in and out of the side all season long. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that they have struggled with their passing (75.4%; 16th in Série A), dribbling (6.2 per game; 13th) and creation of clear-cut chances (4.1 shots on target per game; 13th). 

 

The attempt to bolster the squad with non-Brazilian 'gringos' was in keeping with Inter tradition, but those who came in have simply not cut the mustard. Seijas has the smooth style of the great playmakers but moves like he is wading through treacle and has yet to provide a single assist. Nico López, whose shots-per-game stat of 2.7 is the highest in the squad, has talent, but keeps getting injured. On the evidence provided since his arrival, Ariel Nahuelpán just isn't very good at football. 

 

Inter in need of a miracle to avoid club-first relegation

 

It is telling that much of the creative responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Vitinho - who is also expected to put the ball in the net - and William, a full-back by trade but now frequently used in midfield. The latter was at the centre of a controversial training-ground dust-up with Anderson a few weeks back but has been a rare bright spot for Inter on the pitch: he leads the squad in accurate crosses (40) and key passes (47). The problem is that he has not had enough support. 

 

Ironically, given their situation, Inter do lead the division in a number of metrics: they are statistically the best side in Série A in terms of aerial duels won per game (22.1), tackles per game (21.9) and interceptions per game (19.3). This, though, just shows how much defending they have been forced to do over the last few months, owing to their lack of control. This is a side whose best plan has been to cling on and hope for the best, often desperately; their fouls-per-game stat (18.1) is also the highest in Brazil.  

 

The fans, it won't surprise you to learn, are in revolt. There have been protests and scuffles at games. They cannot believe how swiftly their season went from promising to nightmarish - or that a squad with so much talent has so routinely failed to display it in matches.  

 

"The situation is complicated, but we still have faith," president Vitorio Piffero said after Monday's defeat. But faith is not going to be enough on this occasion; Inter need a miracle.

Inter in need of a miracle to avoid club-first relegation

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