Brazil: Easy as ABC as State Championships set for kick off (video)
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, Copa Brazil.
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 21st January – 26th 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 (29th February – 22nd April). Again the sixteen teams are split into two groups of eight but this time each club will play each of the eight teams in the 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 2011 Flamengo won both competitions and took the overall Carioca title for a record extending 32nd time. This time around the likes of 30-times winners Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama will hope to reclaim the title from the Mengão.
The other major state championship in Brazil is in São Paulo state, known to all and sundry as the Paulista. The duration of this tournament is longer than the Carioca beginning on January 21st and running until the May 13th. 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 rounds with the quarter-final and semi-final stages played over one leg followed by a two-legged final. In the 2011 competition Santos finished in fourth place in the regular season table but managed to win their way through each of the knock-out rounds to take their 19th Paulista title by getting the better of arch rivals Corinthians in the final. Following a goalless first leg Santos won the return fixture 2-1 at home and claimed the first of two major titles in that year with the club also going on to lift the Copa Libertadores. 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 77 of the 95 tournaments that have been played to date (Atlético hold a narrow 40-37 advantage) and their dominance is expected to continue this year. Cruzeiro defeated Atlético with a 3-2 aggregate win in last year’s final helping them to the title. The Gaúcho championship will no doubt see the Porto Alegre rivalry between Grêmio (36 titles) and Internacional (40 titles) light up the campaign with Inter hoping to reclaim the title they won over their arch rivals in last year’s competition. There’s more than just local bragging rights at stake for two clubs who have won all but two championships that have been played since 1954. The Campeonato Paranaense was won in 2011 by Coritiba FC for the third time in four years as they won both league rounds of the regular season, therefore making an end-of-season play-off match unnecessary. There was, however, one major surprise in the Campeonato Baiano as neither of the big two of EC Vitória or EC Bahia, winners of this tournament 69 times between them, could win the trophy leaving it up to Bahia de Feira to sample title success for the first time in the club’s history.
ABC FC, who hail from the city of Natal in Rio Grande do Norte state, are the most titled club at state championship level. The current Potiguar championship holders recorded their 52nd title triumph in 2011 having seen off the challenge of Santa Cruz with a 3-2 aggregate win in the final. Although they play in the second tier at national level, ABC FC carry on to dominate at regional level in a tournament which has been won by them five times in the last seven years. They will begin their 2012 campaign this weekend with an away fixture against Baraunas whilst the championships in the states of Pernambuco, neighbouring state Alagoas and Pará will also get under way over the next few days.