In a thrilling final race for the Brazilian Serie A title, Internacional came so close to winning their first title since 1979. Let’s see what prevented Inter from conquering national glory a few weeks ago.

The Brazilian Serie A delivered a thrilling finale to the season as the title race went down to the wire in dramatic circumstances. With Flamengo losing to São Paulo, Internacional only needed to beat Corinthians to claim a first league triumph since 1979.

And when Edenilson turned the ball into the net in the 97th minute it seemed as if the 41-year wait was finally over. Inter’s euphoria was cut short though and joy quickly turned to heartbreak as the linesman raised his flag – correctly – for offside.

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On a day decided by the finest of margins, Internacional were left to rue a number of borderline incidents. In the first half, referee Wilton Pereira Sampaio reversed his decision to give a penalty for a handball by Ramiro and Yuri Alberto had a goal chalked off for offside by VAR.

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The second half continued in a similar vein. Caio Vidal hit the post and Cassio made a string of saves but, try as they might, the ball wouldn’t go in the back of the net. Despite an xG of 2.11 to 0.47 and 14 shots, the game ended 0-0 and Flamengo retained their crown.

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Inter had been leading the league for most of the season and their success was built on a well-organized defense which conceded just 35 times – the best record in the league – and kept 15 clean sheets in the process.

Well marshaled by Cuesta and Moledo, Internacional were aggressive and uncompromising in defense, as demonstrated by their disciplinary record of 89 yellows and 9 reds. They also excelled at breaking up the rhythm of opponents with tactical fouls and their average of 17.5 fouls per game was also the highest in the league.

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This strong and stable platform allowed Inter to launch quick, vertical attacks, predominantly down the flanks with the full-backs and wide players looking to stretch the pitch and create overloads. 39% of their attacks came down the left with full-back Moises (5 assists) and Patrick (4 assists) combining to great effect.

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This approach was reflected in terms of their ball possession; their average of 49.6% ranked about mid-table compared to the rest of the league and their pass accuracy (80.8%) was the 4th lowest in the division, while their 60 long balls per game was third-highest and underlined their direct approach.

While Internacional averaged a reasonable 11.9 shots per game, it was their efficiency that stood out with 37.6% of those on target. Thiago Gallardo and Yuri Alberto stepped up to fill the sizable shoes of Paolo Guerrero with 17 goals and 10 goals respectively.

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Arguably the team’s top performer was midfield engine Edenilson, whose all action displays saw him contribute 6 goals and 5 assists in Serie A and led to him being selected in the team of the year. The emergence of 19-year-old Bruno Praxedes was another positive to take from the season.

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So where did it go wrong?

Inter may well have been masters of their own destiny going into the final round but it is hard not to view their previous match against Flamengo as the de-facto title decider.

In an even contest, Inter’s right back Rodinei – on loan from Flamengo and only eligible to play after a fan paid a R$1mil clause in his contract – had a night to forget. He lost his man for Flamengo’s equalizer, hit the post just before half-time and then was unfortunate to see red after VAR reviewed a seemingly innocuous challenge on Felipe Luis.

Flamengo went on to win the game and leapfrogged Inter in the penultimate round of the championship. Equal parts bad luck and individual error, it nevertheless proved to be decisive.

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While the loss was clearly crucial, it must also be assessed as part of a wider dip in form during Internacional’s run-in. With just one win in the final five games, Inter crumbled when it mattered most.  No doubt the mental and physical exhaustion from a long, tightly-packed season was a significant factor.

It would be tempting to suggest that the loss of manager Eduardo ‘Chacho’ Coudet midway through the season played a part, but Abel Braga – in his 7th stint at the club – arrested their mid-season slump and put together a run of 9 wins on the bounce to maintain their grip on the title.

In fact, their records were eerily similar; Coudet managed 10 wins and 36 points from 20 games, while Braga also contributed 10 wins and 34 points from 18 games.

Credit must be given to Flamengo too. While it may be stretch to say they were deserved champions, praise must be given to the resolve and fight they showed to prevail from a particularly tough schedule and secure back-to-back championships for the first time since 1983.

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Given the strength and depth of their star-studded squad it is perhaps not surprising that they emerged from the pack and Gabigol returning to form just at the right time – with 7 goals in the last 10 matches, including the winner against Internacional – was enough to take the title by a point.

This will be of little comfort to Inter who will rightly see this as a massive missed opportunity.  With state leagues already underway and a Libertadores campaign on the horizon, there won’t be much time to lick their wounds and it will be fascinating to see if they can one better under highly-rated new Spanish manager Miguel Angel Ramirez.

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