The Copa Libertadores kicks off on Tuesday with twelve teams fighting it out for the six remaining places in the group stages which begin on February 12th.
The biggest team in the first stage of the competition are Brazilian giants São Paulo, a former three-time winner of this competition, who qualified for the Libertadores on the back of a controversial triumph in South America’s second tournament, Copa Sudamericana, at the tail end of 2012. São Paulo, leading 2-0 in the second leg of the final Argentinian side Tigre, were accused of intimidation during the half-time interval by their opponents who refused to come out for the second half. São Paulo were, therefore, awarded their first Sudamericana and also rewarded with a place in the more celebrated Libertadores and will face off against Bolívar in the first stage. Tigre, fortunately for them, qualified for the Libertadores on the back of being the best performing team from Argentina in the Sudamericana who hadn’t already qualified for the Libertadores via domestic competition. They will be big favourites to reach the group stages when they get their campaign started against Venezuelans Deportivo Anzoátegui.
Two former winners of the competition will meet with Brazilians Grêmio, winners in 1983 and 1995, paired with LDU Quito. The Ecuadorians were a dominant force in South American football in 2008 and 2009 when winning both the Libertadores and Sudamericana in those respective years but have only claimed one national title in the three years since then and qualified for this competition on the back of their 3rd place finish in Ecuador last year. Olimpia of Paraguay is another former three-time Libertadores champion having to start this year’s campaign early and will be involved in a tough two-legged encounter with Uruguayans Defensor Sporting. The remaining two fixtures involve clubs who have yet to win an international club title with Peru’s Universidad Cesar Vallejo making their debut in this tournament against Colombia’s Deportes Tolima whilst Chile’s Deportes Iquique will meet Mexicans CSD León.
Whoever makes it through the first stage of the competition will then look forward to mixing with the elite of South American football. Defending Libertadores champions Corinthians, who defeated Boca Juniors 3-1 in last year’s final to claim their maiden title, have an easy looking group on paper and should make it past Bolivians San José, Colombians Millionarios and Mexicans Club Tijuana. Last year’s losing finalists Boca Juniors feature in an interesting looking group which also involves Uruguayan giants Nacional, Ecuador’s FC Barcelona de Guayaquil and Mexicans Deportivo Toluca. All of the other six groups will be known upon the completion of the first stage.
The recent European dominance in the FIFA Club World Cup came to an end today in Japan’s second city of Yokohama as Copa Libertadores champions Corinthians became world champions for the second time with a narrow 1-0 defeat of UEFA Champions League holders Chelsea FC in a final which will hardly go down as a classic but which for followers of O Timão will go down as another chapter in their famous history.
Since fellow Brazilian club Internacional of Porto Alegre won the 2006 version of the FIFA Club World Cup, South American teams had struggled in this competition with European champion clubs winning the previous five tournaments in a row including two victories for FC Barcelona (2009, 2011) and one each for AC Milan (2007), Manchester United (2008) and Internazionale (2010). Corinthians’ victory in today’s final broke the dominance and added to Brazilian football’s wonderful history in this tournament with four title wins comparing to their South American neighbours, no other nation from that particular continent providing a winner of this tournament since it changed its format in 2005.
Corinthians had won the inaugural version of this event in 2000 when a dour final, played against compatriots Vasco da Gama, was decided by a penalty shoot-out following 120 minutes of goalless action. The second title win will perhaps be more celebrated due to the fact that Chelsea FC went into the game as most pundits’ favourites to win the title. Chelsea had qualified for the final with an easy 3-1 win over North and Central American champions Monterrey CF whilst Corinthians had to work harder to overcome the challenge of African champions Al-Ahly in a semi-final which was decided by a single goal from the Brazilians’ Paolo Guerrero, whose presence would ultimately also prove influential in the final.
With twenty minutes remaining, and the game stuck at 0-0, the deadlock was finally broken when Guerrero took advantage of some confused Chelsea defending to head home from close range and spark a mass frenzy of celebration amongst the Corinthians supporters, up to 30,000 of whom are said to have made the journey to Japan to transport the spirit of their São Paulo home Pacaembu stadium to FIFA’s showpiece event.
For interim Chelsea coach Rafael Benítez, the winning coach when Internazionale won the title in 2010, today’s final was a bitter disappointment and there is no doubt that those fans who have failed to warm to him will use this as a stick to beat him with. For Corinthians’ coach Tite, however, legendary status is now assured. Having taken over the coaching role in 2010, Tite led the Paulista club to their fifth Campeonato Brasiliero title in 2011 before sealing the club’s first ever Copa Libertadores title this year following a 3-1 aggregate win over six-time South American champions Boca Juniors. With the world title now in the trophy cabinet it is fair to say that Tite will bask in the celebrations as much as those fans who travelled all that way to see their team triumph in Japan.
No sooner have Brazil’s vast array of localized state championships reached their conclusion does the time come for the national championship to commence. The “Brasileiro” is now in its 41st year and the quality of the competition has increased in recent years thanks to the adoption of a standard round robin league format, as used in many of Europe’s top leagues, which has brought about many a dramatic finish since it was introduced in 2003.
Corinthians are the defending Brazilian champions having pipped Vasco da Gama to the 2011 season title with just two points separating the top two as the Timão sealed their fifth national crown in dramatic fashion. Corinthians were involved in a big derby clash against São Paulo city rivals Palmeiras whilst Vasco were due to face off against their eternal rivals Flamengo CF in Rio de Janeiro on the last day of the campaign. Corinthians could only muster a goalless draw at home to Palmeiras but, with the visitors thinking that they had done enough to deprive their arch-rivals of the title, news came through that Vasco had blown their big chance, dropping two points with a 1-1 draw.
The allocation of places for the South American club tournaments has certainly played its part in helping to create a more interesting domestic championship. At the end of the season only four clubs will finish in a league position (i.e. from 13th to 16th) with virtually no meaning other than league safety. The top four, along with the winners of the domestic knockout competition “Copa Brasil”, qualify for South America’s premier continental competition Copa Libertadores whilst the next eight teams qualify for the secondary tournament Copa Sudamericana. The bottom four, meanwhile, go straight down into Serie B with famous clubs such as Grêmio, Corinthians and Vasco da Gama having seen the drop at some point over the last decade which is an indication as to how competitive this league has become.
Four clubs – Corinthians, Santos FC, Vasco da Gama and Fluminense – may lose some of their focus in the first few weeks of the season as they play out the latter stages of this year’s Copa Libertadores competition, which is currently at the quarter-final round, but should feature prominently as the Brasileiro season progresses. Out of that quartet, Santos and Fluminense have had state championship success to celebrate over the past seven days; the former defeated Guarani in the Paulista final to win their 20th São Paulo title whilst the latter got the better of Botafogo to claim their 31st Carioca state crown. Amongst the other state title winners in the Brasileiro include Internacional of Porto Alegre (Campeonato Gaúcho), Coritiba (Paranaense), Atlético Mineiro (Mineiro) and EC Bahia (Baiano) with those clubs have varying degrees of potential for success in this year’s national championship. Famous clubs such as São Paulo FC and Cruzeiro will have their eyes on one of the South American spots with the former hoping to win their first title since the famous “Tri-Campeão” season of 2008 in which they won the Brasileiro for the third successive year, the first time a club had accomplished that feat in the modern era.
This season’s Brasileiro begins this weekend and is due to finish in early December. In the first round of matches Corinthians will begin their title defence with a home tie against Fluminense, Vasco da Gama welcome Porto Alegre giants Grêmio whilst Santos FC, champions in 2010, must travel to face EC Bahia. Other stand out fixtures on the opening weekend sees São Paulo FC play host to losing Carioca state finalists Botafogo, three-time champions Internacional face off against Coritiba and 2003 champions Cruzeiro play against Atlético Goianiense. The four teams that were promoted from Serie B last season will also begin their campaigns. Portuguesa, promoted as Serie B champions, begin with a difficult away tie against Palmeiras whilst Club Náutico also find themselves on the road with an away day at Figueirense. Ponte Preta and Sport Recife, on the other hand, will begin the new season with home fixtures, the former against Atlético Mineiro and the latter face up to the challenge of Flamengo CF.
WATCH THE CONCLUSION OF THE 2011 BRASILEIRO SEASON HERE:
The Brazilian national championship has made a habit of last day climaxes in recent years and this season’s competition is no exception. Corinthians (Played 38, Points 71) won their fifth Brasileiro tonight, their first league title since 2005, following a goalless draw against arch rivals Palmeiras. This came at the expense of Vasco da Gama who, needing all three points in the event of a slip up by Corinthians, were only able to draw 1-1 at home to Flamengo in another high profile derby match. On a day in which Brazilian football legend Socrates passed away, it was perhaps a fitting tribute to him that one of his old clubs should go on to win the title. Socrates served the São Paulo based club with distinction from 1978-84 in what was his most productive spell with any one club.
It was derby day in Brazil as the national federation had decided that the final round of matches should produce some thrilling drama on the last day and they weren’t disappointed. Although Corinthians’ match with Palmeiras remained goalless both teams were reduced to nine men as each side battled to get one over the other in a derby where there is no love lost and in which emotions certainly ran high with confrontations amongst the players commonplace throughout the game. Palmeiras thought they had ruined Corinthians’ title party by getting the draw but news came through of Vasco’s draw with Flamengo which prevented the former from overtaking Corinthians in the standings, the margin between the top two teams remaining at two points. Just to add a little spice to that encounter there were two red cards in that game as well, one for each side.
But it wasn’t just at the very top of the table where things were interesting. With places in next season’s Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana to be sorted and relegation matters to be resolved at the bottom there were very few teams playing tonight for whom nothing mattered. Fluminense and Flamengo got the point they needed to secure Copa Libertadores placings for next season along with Internacional who, in the Porto Alegre derby, got the better of arch foes Grêmio by a 1-0 score line. Santos FC (2011 Copa Libertadores champions) and Vasco da Gama (2011 Copa Brasil winners) were already assured of their Libertadores places for next season before tonight’s games took place.
Copa Sudamericana places went to eight clubs - São Paulo, Figueirense, Coritiba, Botafogo, Palmeiras, Grêmio, Atletico Goianiense and EC Bahia – whilst four clubs were unfortunate to experience that sinking feeling as Avaí, América Mineiro, Ceará SC and Atlético Paranaense were relegated into Serie B next season. Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte and Atlético Mineiro were lucky to stay in the top flight as they finished just two and four points above the relegation zone respectively.
CORINTHIANS v PALMEIRAS MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
The Campeonato Brasileiro has reached the halfway stage and it once again is proving to be a tightly fought contest with six teams at the top of the standings separated by just five points.
Corinthians currently lead the way with 37 points from 19 games but they have already lost four games this season including yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Palmeiras who, as a result of the victory, maintained their sixth placed position and are not far behind the league leaders. Just as well for Corinthians that the big Rio de Janeiro derby between Flamengo and Vasco da Gama finished goalless especially as a win for the former would’ve seen the Rubro-Negro jump to the top of the standings whilst a win for the latter would’ve seen Vasco join Corinthians at the top with the same number of points.
Third place São Paulo were ten minutes away from joining Corinthians at the top but they let a one goal lead slip to draw 1-1 away at Copa Libertadores champions Santos FC who have recovered domestically following a terrible start and now lie 14th in the standings after taking seven points in their last three games. Fifth placed Botafogo are also looking like potential title challengers and their Saturday night 2-1 win away at defending Brazilian champions Fluminense will certainly have a the front runners looking over their shoulders. Fluminense have had an average season up to now, lying in eleventh place and twelve points behind Corinthians, and look unlikely to defend their crown at the moment.
At the bottom of the standings things are looking bad for the city of Belo Horizonte with América propping up the table with thirteen points gained so far whilst neighbours Atlético Mineiro are just one place and two points ahead of them. Both sides were on the receiving end of crucial home defeats at the weekend with América and Atlético losing to Goianiense and Cruzeiro respectively by a similar 2-1 score line.
In a dramatic last day of action in the Campeonato Brasileiro the championship was won by Fluminense. The Rio de Janiero based club claimed only their second ever league title following their final match. Emerson scored the only goal of the game for Fluminense after 69 minutes in their home game against Guarani EC and it was enough to see Flu finally get their hands on the Brazilian league trophy which they hadn’t won since 1984. Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte finished second in the table thanks to Wallyson’s 90th minute winner in their 2-1 victory at home to Palmeiras whilst Corinthians had to make do with third place as they could only muster a 1-1 draw away at Goiás.
The fight for 2011 Copa Libertadores places is not quite finished due to Goiás’ continuing involvement in the Copa Sudamericana. Should Goiás hold out to win South America’s second club tournament, in which they currently have a 2-0 lead over Argentinians Independiente after the first leg of the final, then the already relegated team will find themselves in the remarkable situation of playing in Brazil’s second division whilst simultaneously participating in South America’s elite club competition in 2011. At the moment champions Fluminense along with defending South American champions Internacional, Copa Brasil winners Santos FC, Cruzeiro and Corinthians are guaranteed to play in next year’s Libertadores whilst fourth place Grêmio must sweat it out to see if Goiás will rob them of their place in the competition.
There are eight places available for the 2011 Copa Sudamericana and these are usually given to those teams finishing from fifth to twelfth place but because of the situation involving Sudamericana finalists Goiás it isn’t quite so straightforward this season. At the time of writing Atlético Paranaense, Botafogo, São Paulo FC, Palmeiras, Vasco da Gama, Ceara SC and Atlético Mineiro will be playing in South America’s equivalent of the UEFA Europa League next season with Grêmio likely to join them depending on what happens in this week’s second leg of the 2010 Copa Sudamericana final.
Joining Goiás in Brazil’s second tier next season will be bottom placed Grêmio Prudente, Guarani EC and Vitória EC who were unable to save themselves on the final day. They drew 0-0 at home in what was effectively a relegation play-off against Atlético Goianiense. The visitors stayed up only due to a better number of wins in the overall table than their hosts. Last season’s Brasileiro champions Flamengo have had a season to forget as they, not merely annoyed at having seen their arch-rivals Fluminense win the title, could only finish in 14th place and avoided the relegation zone by a mere two points. Coming up to replace those four unfortunate teams going down into the second division will be Serie B champions Coritiba, Figuierense, Bahia and América Mineiro.
Following on from yesterday’s preview into the Carioca championship taking place in neighbouring Rio de Janeiro, the Paulista championship of 2010 begins this weekend in São Paulo where defending champions Corinthians go in search of their 27th title.
There are hopes among everybody involved in Sport Club Corinthians that 2010 will be a truly memorable year. Having won the 2009 Paulista state championship and the Copa do Brasil, the Timão will be hoping to do better in their centenary year, winning either the Campeonato Brasileiro (national championship) or a maiden Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League). But first they will concentrate on winning the Paulista tournament for a second successive year, starting today away at Monte Azul.
The Campeonato Paulista has a different format to the Carioca (indeed, each state championship decides its own format). In the first stage the twenty clubs play each other once only and the top four go through into the two-legged semi-finals followed by a two-legged final with teams playing at each other’s stadiums in contrast to the Carioca, where teams play the final games at the Estadio Maracanã. The first stage of last year’s competition was topped by Palmeiras (44pts from 19 games) followed by São Paulo FC, Corinthians and Santos FC. Out of the top four though only Corinthians managed to maintain an unbeaten record, the others losing at least one game. In the semi-finals Corinthians came from behind in the first leg to beat São Paulo FC 2-1 before seeing off their arch-rivals with a 2-0 return leg victory at the Estadio Morumbi to clinch the tie 4-1 on aggregate. The final proved to be more comfortable for Corinthians as they defeated Santos FC 3-1 away from home in the first leg with newly-returned Brazilian legend Ronaldo scoring twice. In the second leg at home Santos FC scored early on through Kléber Pareira on 28 minutes before an equaliser six minutes later from André Santos restored the overall two goal cushion of the tie and the match petered out into an easy triumph for Corinthians who won 4-2 on aggregate to seal their 26th title, the fifth Paulista championship which they had won with an unbeaten record (they did likewise in 1914, 1916, 1929 and 1938). The trophy presentation that took place after the match proved to be the abiding memory of the championship. Upon receiving the trophy on a raising platform the Corinthians captain William had an almighty scare as the fireworks and streamers going off around him flew on to the trophy which promptly caught fire, forcing him to drop the cup. Thankfully neither he nor any of the presentation party were hurt in what proved to be a comical episode (watch the video clip here).
Not only will Corinthians have Ronaldo on their roster but another Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos comes back to play in his home country having spent many years at Real Madrid and the last two and a half seasons at Fenerbahçe Istanbul. The pair will hope to bring domestic and international success to the club having won many titles together with the Brazilian national team. If the Corinthians team can catch fire in a similar manner to the Paulista trophy then one expects that they will be celebrating again at the end of the competition.
Brazilian giants Flamengo were, eventually, made to work hard for the Brazilian national championship (Brasileiro) after they toiled to a 2-1 victory over Grêmio at a sell-out Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The “Rubro Negro” (Red and Blacks) have now won six Brazilian national championships, thus equalling the number already achieved by outgoing champions São Paulo.
At the start of the day there were four teams with a mathematical chance of winning the title: Flamengo, Internacional, São Paulo and Palmeiras. The fact that Flamengo were playing at home to Internacional’s arch-rivals from the city of Porto Alegre, Grêmio, meant that many fans and pundits had written this game off as a certain three points for “O Mengão”. What wasn’t in the script though was Grêmio taking the lead, Roberson turning home a corner in the 22nd minute to stun the home supporters. Thankfully for the Red and Black masses they didn’t have too long to wait before parity was restored. Centre-half David shot from distance to level it at 1-1 on the half-hour mark and it was to remain at that score at half-time. Elsewhere Internacional’s 2-0 lead at home to already relegated Santo André meant that if scores stayed the same after 90 minutes then Flamengo would lose the title that they craved more than any other. They simply had to win.
The second half started quite slowly but Flamengo soon created chances. They were rewarded in the 70th minute when Dejan Petkovic’s left-sided corner was headed home by another unlikely scorer, centre-half Ronaldo Angelim, and the Flamengo fans started to party in the Maracana. Ten minutes from the end the party was very nearly brought to a halt as Adilson wasted a glorious close range effort for Grêmio. After that though both teams just saw the game out and at the final whistle the party really could begin. Adriano, who returned to Brazil after a roller-coaster period at Internazionale in Italy, finished the season as joint top scorer in the Brasileiro (along with Mineiro’s Diego Tardelli on 19 goals) and, more importantly, as a champion.
In the other matches Internacional beat Santo André 4-1 to secure the runners-up spot from São Paulo, whose three year reign as champions ended with a 4-0 win against Sport Recife. Flamengo, Internacional and São Paulo are joined in the 2010 Copa Libertadores by Cruzeiro, who finished fourth after their 2-1 victory against Santos was coupled with a defeat for nearest challengers Palmeiras (2-1 away to Botafogo). Corinthians, home of Ronaldo and recent signing Roberto Carlos, also have a berth in the Libertadores thanks to their Copa Brasil triumph over Internacional in the early months of the season.
Eight teams qualified for next year’s Copa Sudamericana: Palmeiras, Avaí, Atlético Mineiro, Grêmio, Goias, Barueri, Santos and Vitoria. At the bottom of the table a dramatic finish saw Rio giants Fluminense avoid relegation by one point after their 1-1 draw at Coritiba was enough to send their opponents down into Serie B along with Sport Recife, Náutico and Santo André. Those four clubs will be replaced in the 2010 Brasileiro by Vasco da Gama, Guarani, Ceará and Atletico Goianiense.