By DAVID MOSSE
The last unbeaten in the Brazilian Championship fell on Thursday night, as Flamengo was thrashed at home by Atletico Goianiense. Next up is a high-profile clash with Internacional on Sunday (3 p.m.), one that Wanderley Luxemburgo hopes will represent a return to normalcy for the Rio de Janeiro giants, who suffered only their second defeat of the year and are three points behind Corinthians.
Ronaldinho and Renato both return from suspension, and the former World Player of the Year will be buoyed by his recall to the Brazilian national team this past week. Ronaldinho is the joint top scorer in the Brasileirao with nine goals, but not far behind is Internacional hitman Leandro Damiao, who was also included in Mano Menezes' squad for the upcoming friendly with Ghana in London.
Ronaldinho always thrived against Internacional back in his Gremio days and will look forward to another confrontation. Damiao, meanwhile, notched the winner in the 1-0 victory over Botafogo last time out and will pose a major threat for the Flamengo back-line, especially with an in-form Andres D'Alessandro providing the service.
Here's a look ahead to the other important matches in Latin America this weekend:
Sao Paulo vs. Palmeiras, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Sao Paulo let slip a great opportunity to move into second place on Thursday night, surrendering a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with America Minas Gerais. Rivaldo's influence continues to grow at the club, while Dagoberto is the best hope for goals, but manager Adilson Batista has a major headache ahead of the upcoming showdown with Palmeiras.
Lucas Moura is out suspended after the youngster picked up his third yellow card against America, robbing Sao Paulo of its most dynamic player. Palmeiras is in disarray after behind held to a 1-1 draw by Bahia last time out. The team is winless in four games and questions are being asked of manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, but Palmeiras is still fifth in the standings and could get back on track with a win on Sunday.
Vasco vs. Fluminense, Sunday, 5 p.m.
Fluminense fans have a new hero in the form of 18-year-old Argentinean playmaker Manuel Lanzini, signed from River Plate one month ago. Lanzini impressed in a 3-0 victory over Figueirense last time out and has already drawn comparisons to the recently departed Dario Conca. Manager Abel Braga intimated that Lanzini will start against Vasco da Gama on Sunday.
Rafael Moura scored twice against Figueirense, while Alejandro Martinuccio and Rafael Sobis are proving to be good additions as well for a Fluminense side showing positive signs under Braga. Vasco, meanwhile, is the hottest team in Brazil with seven wins in nine games. Felipe could be back in the lineup alongside Diego Souza, while Dede is the key figure in the center of defense.
Arsenal Sarandi vs. Velez Sarsfield, Friday, 8:15 p.m.
Santiago Silva is serving a two-game suspension and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Guillermo Franco, as Clausura winners Velez Sarsfield seek their second straight victory in the Apertura Championship. Silva found the back of the net last week in a 3-0 win over Atletico Banfield with Fernando Ortiz and Juan Manuel Martinez accounting for the other goals.
David Ramirez will be the most influential figure in the center of the park, while Sebastian Dominguez and Ortiz form an imposing center-back partnership in front of Marcelo Barovero. Ricardo Gareca's side is still adjusting to life without Ricky Alvarez, who left for Inter Milan in the summer, but Velez still boasts plenty of talent and will be confident of taking care of business.
Newell's Old Boys vs. Boca Juniors, Sunday, 5:10 p.m.
Juan Roman Riquelme is back in the national team for two upcoming friendlies against Brazil in which both countries will be restricted to using domestic-based players. Riquelme was in sparkling form last week, as Boca Juniors picked up its first victory of this Apertura campaign with a 4-0 thrashing of Union. The veteran playmaker found the back of the net with a right-footed blast.
Lucas Viatri scored twice and will start alongside Dario Cvitanich on Sunday against Newell's Old Boys with Pablo Mouche relegated to the bench. Julio Falcioni is forced into one change with the injured Diego Rivero replaced on the right side by Cristian Chavez. Goalkeeper Agustin Orion has earned praise for his first two performance and was also included in the squad to face Brazil.
Chivas vs. Monterrey, Saturday, 8 p.m.
Monterrey boasts the most expensive roster in Mexican soccer with strikers Humberto Suazo and Cesar Delgado among the highest paid players in the country, but Chivas is actually ahead in the standings with a squad full of youngsters heading into Saturday's showdown. Both teams are hot on the heels of leaders Pumas and could take over first place depending on this weekend's results.
Chivas is unbeaten in four games and knocked off Morelia 2-1 last time out, despite having two players sent off in the second half. Jonny Magallon and Patricio Araujo both saw red and are suspended for the clash with Monterrey, while Los Rojiblancos are without several players taking part in the Under-20 World Cup, but Jose Luis Real will still be confident in his team.
Puebla FC vs. Pumas UNAM, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Pumas is looking to get back in the win column and remain in first place when it takes on Puebla FC on Sunday. Los Auriazules were somewhat fortunate to salvage a draw last time out against Santos Laguna, as the visitors took the lead in the second half through Oribe Peralta before Eduardo Herrera equalized 10 minutes from time. Pumas is still unbeaten in five league games.
Puebla FC also drew with Tijuana last weekend and finds itself near the bottom of the standings with only one victory. Goalkeeper Alexandro Alvarez figures to be busy against the likes of Herrera and Martin Bravo. Pumas Defender Marco Antonio Palacios saw red in the clash with Santos Laguna and is suspended, but Guillermo Vazquez will expect a convincing performance.
Who do you see winning the Internacional-Flamengo match? What Latin American matchup are you most looking forward to seeing?
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