Three years ago, Brazil's Sao Paulo beat Liverpool in the final of the World Club Cup, prompting legendary Brazilian TV commentator Galvao Bueno to keep repeating the phrase, "You don't have to be a giant to play football." It was, writes Tim Vickery, an articulation of Brazilian nationalist sentiment, saying that Liverpool "might have the money and all the glamor of winning Europe's Champions League...but our teams can still bring you down with a bump."
Having already qualified for next year's Copa Libertadores, Sao Paulo could get another chance to compete again in the World Club Cup. In the meantime, it needs just two more points from its last league two games to become Brazilian champion. On Sunday, it won 2-1 at relegation-threatened Vasco da Gama in a packed stadium after its bus was stoned on the way to the ground. "The team held its nerve," writes Vickery, "and the win looked even more important when rivals Gremio were defeated."
Despite Bueno's adage, Sao Paulo is in physical terms "characterized by big, strong players -- three giant center-backs and plenty of aerial power in both penalty areas. Their style of play would surprise those who think that Brazilian football is all about non-stop attack."
Such an approach is partly a result of so many top Brazilians playing abroad, and despite two or three young prospects such as midfielders Hernanes, 23, and Jean, 22, Sao Paulo, says Vickery, "is an experienced side -- average age over 27 -- made up of good players who didn't quite make the grade in Europe, and others who may never receive the call. In a context without stars, the collective is king."