Brazil: Local pride at stake in state championships
As controversial as they are a regular feature of the Brazilian football calendar, the state championships are back in the next couple of weeks. Though derided as an unnecessary burden on teams and players alike it seems that these championships are going to remain for a long time as they are part of the country’s football tradition. The state championships are a throwback to the days when there was no national championship and it is surprising that they still remain forty years after the creation of the Brasileiro. Nonetheless the tournaments can still attract good crowds at the business end of the championships even if the teams are playing for merely local pride rather than Copa Libertadores or Sudamericana qualification. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews some of the bigger state championships ahead of the big kick-off in the coming weeks.
The Rio State championship, more popularly known as Carioca, begins this weekend with the first two inner tournaments which make up the competition. The first of these tournaments is the Taça Guanabara (from 19th January – 27th February) which sees sixteen teams split into two groups. Each team plays the other seven teams in its own group once only with the top two in each group going through to a knockout round comprising of one leg semi-finals and final. Almost as soon as the action in the Taça Guanabara is finished the second half begins with the Taça Rio (4th March – 1st May). Again the sixteen teams are split into two groups of eight but this time each team will play each of the eight teams in their opposite group once only. After eight games in the league phase there is another knockout phase involving the top two of each group using the same format as the Guanabara. If the same team wins both competitions then they are crowned Carioca champions. If the Guanabara and the Rio competitions see different winners then they will face off in a two-legged final to decide the overall champion of Rio State. In 2010 Botafogo won both competitions and took the Carioca championship for the 19th time in the club’s history. This time around the likes of record Carioca winners Flamengo, Brasileiro champions Fluminense and Vasco da Gama will fancy their chances of winning the title.
The other major state championship in Brazil is in São Paulo state known to all and sundry as the Paulista. This duration of this tournament is slightly longer than the Carioca beginning on January 16th and running until the May 15th. The format of this competition is rather more straightforward than its Rio counterpart with a twenty team league, each team playing the rest once only. After 19 games the top four go through to the two-legged semi-finals followed by a two-legged final. In the 2010 competition Santos finished top of the regular season table and negotiated their way through the knock-out rounds to take their 18th Paulista title but only after little Santo André gave them an almight scare in the final. Santos won the first leg 3-2 away from home but then went on to lose the second leg by the same scoreline recording a 5-5 aggregate score and the big boys only went on to receive the trophy not by extra-time and penalties but due to their superior regular season table position. In 2011 the likes of record Paulista champions Corinthians, São Paulo and Palmeiras will be determined to add to the honours board.
There are some other notable state championships outside of the big two but many of these will contain an outstanding rivalry which has been the focus for many a tournament over the years. In the Mineiro championship, played in the state of Minas Gerais, Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro have won 75 of the 95 tournaments that have been played to date and their dominance is expected to continue this year. Record champions Atlético had a surprise contender to face in last year’s Mineiro final coming up against Ipatinga but overcame their ambitious opponents with a 5-2 aggregate score to win their 40th title. The Gaúcho championship will see the Porto Alegre rivalry between Grêmio and Internacional spiced up even further due to the former defending the state title whilst the latter have just enjoyed a second triumph in the Copa Libertadores. There’s more than just local bragging rights at stake for two clubs who have won this tournament 75 times between them, including all but two championships played since 1954.
A special mention must also go to the club ABC FC, who come from the city of Natal in Rio Grande do Norte state, who are the most titled club at state championship level. The current Potiguar championship holders recorded their 51st title triumph in 2010 and are hoping to extend on that record in preparation of the oncoming Brasileiro second division season which begins in late May. ABC FC begin their title defence from January 30th.