Ceara host Sao Paulo on Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa Sudamericana quarter-final clash.
The tie still hangs in the balance after Sao Paulo won 1-0 at home last week.
After having six shots on target to Ceara’s two across 90 minutes, Sao Paulo may have felt aggrieved to have only claimed a one-goal lead in the tie.
However, Ceara showed excellent defensive resilience to shut out their more illustrious opponents until substitute Nikao’s 70th-minute strike finally broke the deadlock.
Indeed, Marquinhos Santos has made Vozao more defensively assured since taking over as head coach in June, with only Palmeiras and Fluminense – who occupy two of the top three positions in Brazil’s Serie A table – scoring more than one goal past them in their last 12 matches.
Should this continue on Wednesday, Ceara will have every chance of progressing into the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana as they look to win a continental competition for the first time in the club’s history.
Sao Paulo, of course, dwarf their forthcoming opponents in terms of historical achievements, having won this competition in 2012 to add to their three Copa Libertadores triumphs and six league titles.
However, the last of those came in 2008 as Tricolor Paulista wrapped up a third successive title, with them falling to 13th last season, hardly bettered by currently sitting 11th after 21 matches.
Rogerio Ceni, who is in his second managerial spell with the club after lasting six months between January and July 2017, does boast a more than reasonable 48% win rate from his 65 games in charge, with last week’s 1-0 win over Ceara putting them in a strong position in the tie.
Clearly, with their league form significantly stuttering after the weekend’s 2-0 home defeat to Flamengo extended their winless run to six games, the pressure is on the 49-year-old to deliver in this competition.
Ceara appear to have no injury or suspension issues heading into Wednesday’s big clash.
Santos surprisingly only made three changes for the weekend’s 1-1 draw away to Botafogo, with midfield playmaker Diego likely to return to the side having been rested.
Sao Paulo, on the other hand, have several injury concerns, including attacking midfielder Andre Anderson with a muscle strain.
Jandrei, Robert Arboleda, Walce, Luan and Caio will all stay at home on the treatment table, too, significantly restricting Ceni’s options to choose from.
The former Brazil goalkeeper made seven changes for the 2-0 defeat to Flamengo, which clearly shows his hands in terms of prioritising the Copa Sudamericana this season.
As such, Luciano and Jonathan Calleri should return in tandem in attack after a solid showing in the first leg last week.
Ceara possible starting lineup:
Ricardo; Nino, Messias, Otavio, Luis; Richard, Richardson, Diego; Iury, Vinicius, Mendoza
Sao Paulo possible starting lineup:
Alves; Costa, Miranda, Leo; Igor Vinicius, Gomes, Neves, Nestor, Welington; Luciano, Calleri