SAO PAULO, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Two 29-year-olds who fell out of favour with European club bosses were being hailed for their inspirational performances on Monday after Fluminense clinched their fourth Brazilian league title.
Up front, centre forward Fred had his best season since returning from a spell with Lyon in France. His 19 goals were crucial in ensuring the title went to Rio de Janeiro for the second time in three years.
At the back, Diego Cavalieri finally established himself as first-choice goalkeeper and was outstanding between the posts.
“Two names were crucial in this title win,” said Benjamin Back, columnist with Brazilian sports newspaper Lance!.
Cavalieri had “to suffer for a long time on the bench,” Back said. “But when he won his place he never gave it up. Experienced, centred and calm, he is technically the best goalkeeper playing in Brazil today.”
Fred, the striker who played for Brazil in the 2006 World Cup and was made Fluminense captain this year, “won games, took responsibility and was deservedly the league’s top goal scorer,” Back added.
Frederico Chaves Guedes - the striker’s full name - was clinical in front of goal, especially in close-fought contests. His goals proved to be the difference between the teams in 10 matches this season.
Cavalieri, returned to Brazil two years ago after failing to establish himself at Liverpool or Cesena in Italy. He kept 13 clean sheets this season, more than any other keeper in the Brazilian league.
“When you have a good set of players who are committed to the cause then you can’t have a bad season,” manager Abel Braga said after Sunday’s 3-2 win over Palmeiras clinched the title with three games to spare. “These guys are good... and they are committed.”
Fluminense, the team founded by Anglo-Brazilian Oscar Cox with a huge following among Rio’s light-skinned elite, dominated the league this year like no side in recent history.
Their 76 points over 35 games is more than any team since Sao Paulo in 2005. They have the best attack with 59 goals and the best defence, conceding just 28.
The club boasts one of the most expensive squads in Brazil, with players such as ex-Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder Deco and Rafael Sobis, the former Brazil striker who spent several years with Real Betis.
But with Deco out injured for large parts of the season and Sobis playing only a supporting role, others grew in stature. Fluminense used 27 players over the 35 games as Braga mixed youth with experience.
Wellington Nem’s powerful running and goals from midfield earned him a Brazilian call up, Edinho and Jean formed a formidable midfield partnership to break down opposing attacks, and Gum was rock solid as a central defender.
Although Braga took Internacional to the Copa Libertadores and World Club Championship in 2006, this was his first national title.
Internacional is his home town team and they reportedly want him back in charge for next season. However, Braga promised Fluminense supporters he was going nowhere.
Club president Peter Siemsen went even further. Fluminense is one of only three of Brazil’s big 12 clubs yet to win the Libertadores and Siemsen vowed that will soon change.
“Next stop?” he asked in an open letter to supporters. “Champion of the Americas.” (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)