It’s that time of the year again when local pride is at stake in the numerous state championships which are prevalent in the opening months of the Brazilian football calendar. From Amapá in the far north to Rio Grande do Sul in the south, from Acre in the west to Paraíba in the far east of the country, twenty seven regions of Brazil will be involved in their own local championship, mixing the big boys with the smaller village teams, with each club hoping to win their respective title and qualify for a place in next year’s edition of the national cup, the Copa Brasil.
The Rio State championship, more popularly known as Carioca, will begin next weekend with the first of the two component tournaments which make up the competition. The first of these is the Taça Guanabara (from 19th January – 10th March) which sees sixteen teams split into two groups. Each club will play the eight teams in the opposite group only once, culminating in a straight knockout between the top two of each group comprising of single 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 (16th March – 5th May). Each team will, in this competition, play the other seven teams in its own group once only with the top two in each group going through to a knockout stage just like in the Guanabara. If the same team wins both competitions then they are instantly crowned Carioca champions for the year. 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 on May 12th and 19th. In 2012 Fluminense claimed the Guanabara title whilst Botafogo were victorious in the Rio Cup, thus both clubs met in an overall title decider which was won by Fluminense 5-2 on aggregate. “Flu” therefore took the Carioca title for the 31st time, leaving them just one behind old rivals Flamengo, and went on to enjoy national glory in the Campeonato Brasiliero later that year to complete a remarkable double.
WATCH 2012 CARIOCA FINAL, 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
The other major state championship in Brazil is in São Paulo state, known as the Paulista. The duration of this tournament is the same as the Carioca beginning on January 19th and running until May 19th. 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 rounds of games the top eight go through to the knockout stages with the quarter-final and semi-final rounds played over one leg followed by a two-legged final. In the 2012 competition Santos finished in third place in the regular season table but managed to win their way through each of the knock-out rounds to take their 20th Paulista title, their third consecutive success at state level, by getting the better of Guarani in the final with a 7-2 aggregate victory.
WATCH 2012 PAULISTA FINAL, 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS:
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, Belo Horizonte giants Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro have won 77 of the 95 tournaments that have been played to date and their dominance is expected to continue this year. Atlético sealed their 41st title success last year with a 4-1 aggregate win over América in the final. Similarly, the Gaúcho championship will no doubt see the Porto Alegre rivalry between Grêmio and Internacional light up the campaign. Internacional will be hoping to reclaim the title they’ve won for the last two years, in 2012 courtesy of a 3-2 aggregate over Caxias in the final, but arch-rivals Grêmio are expected to put up a fight this time around. There’s more than just local bragging rights at stake for two clubs who have won all but two Gaúcho championships that have been played since 1954.
The Campeonato Paranaense was won in 2012 by Coritiba FC for the fourth time in five years as they faced off against eternal foes Atlético Paranaense in the final. Coritiba won out the penalty shoot-out which followed the second leg following an aggregate tie of 2-2 to claim the club’s 36th state title. It was back to business as usual in the Campeonato Baiano in 2012 as the big two of EC Vitória and EC Bahia fought out a tense final. Following Bahia de Feira’s shock maiden title win in 2011, the big two took it upon themselves to re-establish the old order in 2012 by reaching the final. Ultimately it was EC Bahia who emerged triumphant as they won the Baiano for the 44th time; the two-legged final against EC Vitória ended in a 3-3 aggregate draw but, due to the rules of the competition, Bahia’s superior record in the regular season won them the championship.
At this time of year we usually mention the Potiguar championship, held in the Rio Grande do Norte region, because of the dominance of ABC FC. The record champions at state level, ABC FC have won their local championship 52 times but they were unable to add to this total last year. América de Natal won their first Potiguar for nine years in 2012 by defeating ABC FC 4-1 in the final to claim their 34th overall win. Both of last year’s Potiguar finalists will sit it out during the first phase of this year’s championship, having a bye until the competition reaches its second phase in March.
WATCH 2012 POTIGUAR FINAL, 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
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.
Such is life in Brazilian football that there is hardly any time left to get your breath back after the completion of the various state championships before the national championship (Brasileiro) gets back into action from this weekend. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the big kick-off in South America’s most competitive football league:
It is hard to imagine that the most successful nation in world football has only had a national championship since 1971. This makes the Brasilero much younger than its counterparts in other footballing superpowers such as England, Italy and even Germany whose Bundesliga is pretty young by European standards having only been created in 1963. For many years the Brasileiro suffered from political meddling and ever-changing tournament formats but the 2003 season heralded a whole new way of thinking in Brazilian league football; a home and away, round-robin, first-past-the-post system with points accumulated throughout the season determining the winner. This has eventually proven popular with supporters and it is appropriate that the league should enjoy such stability as it celebrates its 40th championship this year.
Flamengo are the current defending champions having seen off Internacional and São Paulo on the last day of the season pipping their two nearest challengers by just two points. This was all the more remarkable given that O Mengão were a full twelve points behind the league leaders with just ten matches of the championship left. Striker Adriano, who was suffering a personal torment in Italy, was brought back to his homeland by Flamengo and he repaid their faith in him by scoring a joint best 19 goals in the Brasileiro to help his team climb the table and secure a sixth national title. It is perhaps fitting that they are involved in the pick of the ties on Matchday 1 of the new season as they are playing fellow six-time Brazilian champions São Paulo. Will Sunday’s game signal the start towards potential seventh heaven for either club?
Two Copa Libertadores teams face-off on Sunday with Internacional from Porto Alegre hoping to go one better than last season’s second place by starting off with a victory over Cruzeiro from Belo Horizonte. Corinthians, who cannot win the Copa Libertadores having been knocked out of the competition on Wednesday, will hope that they can win the Brasileiro in their centenary year and plays at home in their opening fixture against Atlético Paranaense. There’s an intriging tie on Saturday with the state champions of Rio and São Paulo facing off against each other. Botafogo and Santos FC will be heavily fancied after their local exploits but the Brasileiro has a habit of catching up on teams who have a good start to a season and squad rotation could prove to be important. This weekend also sees the welcome return to the top league of Vasco da Gama who comfortably won Serie B last season after suffered the ignominy of relegation in the 2008 season. The Rio-based side are hoping to signal their return with a welcome three points but they will have their work cut out away at Atlético Mineiro who will be on a high having won yet another state championship last weekend.
As well as Vasco da Gama three other teams – Guarani, Ceará SC and Atlético Clube Goianiense – will also enjoy their first matches back in the top flight as they compete against Goiás Esporte Clube, Fluminense and Grêmio Porto Alegre respectively. Palmeiras, four-time Brasileiro champions, have a home tie against EC Vitória, whilst Avaí, who finished a respectable sixth place last season, play against Grêmio Prudente to complete the weekend’s matches.
CAMPEONATO BRASILEIRO – MATCHDAY 1
Botafogo v Santos FC
Goianiense v Grêmio Porto Alegre
Palmeiras v EC Vitória
(All matches played on Saturday, May 8th)
Atlético Mineiro v Vasco da Gama
Corinthians v Atlético Paranaense
Flamengo v São Paulo
Internacional v Cruzeiro
Avaí v Grêmio Prudente
Ceará SC v Fluminense
Guarani v Goiás
(All matches played on Sunday, May 9th)
Fresh from winning the Campeonato Brasiliero for the first time in seventeen years in 2009 Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, more popularly known as just ‘Flamengo’, will be hoping to keep up their recent domination of the Rio State Championship (Carioca) which begins this weekend. “O Mengão” won their third consecutive state championship last year which also helped them overtake arch-rivals Fluminense in the list of overall title wins (Flamengo have 31, Fluminense 30). Flamengo hope that they can carry on from where they left off in 2009 and begin another era of success for the club, starting this weekend against little Duque de Caxias on Sunday.
The Carioca championship is divided into two stages, the “Taça Guanabara” and the “Taça Rio”. In the first stage the sixteen clubs are divided into two groups of eight teams and each team plays against the teams in their own group once only. At the end of the group stage the top two from each group will play in the semi-finals (first of each group plays against the second team in the other group) and the winners will go to the one-leg final at Estadio Maracanã. In the Taça Rio the groups remain the same but each team, rather than playing the other teams in their group, will play all of the teams from the other group once only. Similarly the top two in this tournament go into the semi-finals with the final played at the Maracanã. If the same team wins both stages of the tournament then there is no need for a two-legged play-off to decide the overall champion. In 2009 Botafogo came close to becoming overall champion in this manner. However having won the Taça Guanabara with a 3-0 win over surprise package Resende, they couldn’t quite manage to win the Taça Rio, losing to Flamengo 1-0 which forced the championship play-off. Both legs of the 2009 Carioca final finished 2-2 so the title was decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Leandro Guerreiro missed Botafogo’s fourth kick in the shoot-out and this was enough for Flamengo to celebrate their 31st state championship.
The state championships may not be as important as they once were in Brazil but they still retain a place in the calendar as many fans see them as part of national footballing tradition, much the same as English football has a special place for the FA Cup. Flamengo will be optimistic of winning their 32nd tournament in 2010. Brazilian international player Vágner Love, who was being chased by German club Hamburger SV, has now opted to stay on loan in his homeland having been loaned previously to Palmeiras from his club CSKA Moscow. Love will team up with Adriano in the heart of the attack for the Rubro-Negro (Red and blacks) and will hope to add to a personal trophy cabinet that includes two Russian championships, a UEFA Cup and two Copa America titles which he won with the national team in 2004 and 2007.
Now that their national championship drought has been fulfilled can Flamengo create a new team to rival the the great side of Zico from the 1980s by capitalising on recent success? The 2010 Carioca championship will be the first place to find out.
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.
Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, better known as LDU Quito, have won the 2009 Copa Nissan Sudamericana after what became an angst-ridden 5-4 aggregate victory in a two-legged final against Brazilian giants Fluminense. This is the third continental success for the Ecuadorians after winning the 2008 Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League), again beating Fluminense, and the 2009 Recopa (a South American version of the European Super Cup) in which they defeated another Brazilian team Internacional of Porto Alegre 4-0 over two legs. It has been a meteoric rise for the club who have steadily built a good footballing side and have become the dominant force in Ecuador. Their appearance in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup final against Manchester United made the football world take notice despite their narrow defeat to a lone Wayne Rooney strike.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for LDU this year. In the 2009 Copa Libertadores they came crashing back down to earth after the previous year’s joy of success. LDU finished bottom of their group behind Sport Recife, Palmeiras (both from Brazil) and Chilean representatives Colo Colo. Thankfully for LDU they finished second in the first stage of the Ecuador Serie A championship, thus qualifying for the Sudamericana, and from there they rediscovered their form in continental competition. After a first round 2-1 aggregate win against Libertad of Paraguay LDU then went on to beat Argentinians Lanus 5-1 (agg.) and Velez Sarsfield 3-2 (agg.) to set up a semi-final tie with Uruguay’s River Plate. A 7-0 drubbing of their opponents in the first leg meant that LDU could afford to take their foot off the gas in the second leg, which they lost 2-1. This set up a second major final with Fluminense who had overcome Paraguayans Cerro Porteno 3-1 (agg.) in their semi-final.
In the first leg of the final in Quito it was the Brazilians that struck early, Marquinho giving the visitors the lead after sixty seconds. After that though LDU dominated with Edison Mendez scoring a hat-trick before the hour mark and two late goals from Franklin Salas and Ulises de la Cruz securing a 5-1 lead to take to Rio de Janeiro. In the second leg the Ecudorians were on the defensive from early on as Dieguinho and Fred gave “Flu” a 2-0 lead at half-time. Any ideas that LDU may have had before the game of cruising this second leg were dashed even further eighteen minutes from the end when Gum made it 3-0 on the night to the Rio side. However despite the best efforts of Fluminense they couldn’t get the fourth goal necessary to take the match into extra-time (away goals not counting in this tournament) and the party could start once again in the Ecuadorian capital after LDU held out to win the final 5-4 on aggregate. LDU are now the envy of Ecuador having shown that they are in a league of their own for handling the big occasion. As a reward for this victory LDU will play Estudiantes de la Plata, the team that replaced them as Copa Libertadores champions in 2009, in the 2010 Recopa final.