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.
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:
The 2013 South American Youth Championship begins today in Argentina in a tournament which will help determine the four nations who will progress to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup later this year.
Eleven times winners Brazil are the defending champions having won the tournament two years ago with a squad which included the likes of Santos superstar Neymar, who finished the 2011 competition as top scorer with nine goals, and Lucas Moura who recently made headlines for signing for Paris Saint Germain for a club record €45m. The champions kick off the defence of their title with a match against Ecuador on Thursday evening in Group B, a group which also contains Peru, 2011 runners-up Uruguay and Venezuela.
Hosts Argentina will begin their tournament with a game against Chile and will hope to make a good start in their quest to improve on their third place finish in 2011. Argentina’s other Group A opponents come in the form of Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay. There are three places up for grabs in each group before the tournament concludes with a six-team group in which each team plays each other once, the conclusion of this phase will determine the South American youth champions and the three other finalists for the FIFA event which will be held in Turkey in June.
The tournament takes place until February 3rd and will be played in two host cities, Mendoza and San Juan, both of which lie in the west of the country.
The 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony has been held in Zurich with the undoubted star of the show once again being FC Barcelona and Argentina sensation Lionel Messi. He has picked up FIFA’s top award for individual footballers for the third consecutive year since FIFA’s World Player of the year and France Football’s Ballon d’Or awards merged in 2010, and his fourth overall.
The 25 year old has already achieved more in his career than most players would ever dream of but the personal accolades still keep rolling in for a player whose setting of a new record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year has grabbed lots of headlines despite the relative lack of success for his club side in 2012. Messi, with 41.6% of the vote, beat off challenges from Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and FC Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta (10.91%).
FIFA’s Manager of the Year went to Vicente del Bosque, the UEFA European Championship winning coach of the Spanish national team having secured 34.51% of the vote which put him ahead of Real Madrid’s José Mourinho (20.49%) and former FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola (12.91%)
In the women’s game top honours went to Abby Wambach, the American thoroughly deserving the accolade following a year in which her goals helped secure the Olympic gold medal for the USA women’s team in London. She won with a 20.67% share of the vote putting her ahead of five-time former winner Marta (13.5%) and compatriot Alex Morgan (10.87%). Coach of the Year went to Pia Sundhage, the Swede having led the United States Women’s national team to their gold medal, with 28.59% of the vote compared to challengers Norio Sasaki (23.83%) and Bruno Bini (9.02%).
FIFA’s Ferenc Puskas award, which goes to the scorer of the goal adjudged to have been the best, went to Miroslav Stoch for his goal against Gençlerbirliği in a Turkish Super League match (see below). He beat off competition from Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao and Brazilian hot shot Neymar, the winner of last year’s award in this category.
FIFA’s Presidential Award, a sort of lifetime achievement award given to an individual, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the game, was given to German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. “Der Kaiser” won everything there was to win in the game with FC Bayern München and the German national team and has played a vital role as a coach and as a football ambassador since he gave up his playing career in the early 1980s. The Fair Play award went to the Uzbekistan Football Association whose record in terms of fair play on the field has been exemplary throughout the last twelve months.
Finally, the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2012 was announced. This team is voted for by users of the FIFA website:
Iker Casillas (Goalkeeper); Dani Alves, Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos (Defence); Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez (Midfield); Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao (Attack)
Stoppage Time’s Player of the Year award could only go to one player, a player who surpasses all expectations of him with each and every passing year. It will be no surprise to see that FC Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi has won the award in a year in which he may not have achieved as much as usual with his club side (Barcelona ‘only’ won the Copa del Rey in 2012) but in which the man himself has created a piece of footballing history by beating the record for the most number of goals scored in a calendar year.
Former FC Bayern München and West Germany international striker Gerd Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year had stood since 1972 but was beaten by a stunning total of 91 goals this year by Messi whose individual exploits continually make people wonder just how much better he can become. Is there a chance that the maestro can become the first centurion in the future? One certainly wouldn’t bet against it and with FC Barcelona already a full nine points ahead of nearest challengers Atlético de Madrid in the 2012-13 La Liga title race, and a remarkable sixteen ahead of defending champions Real Madrid CF, could the ease of the current season help Messi achieve even more greatness in 2013? We certainly can’t wait to find out but, in the meantime, check out each and every one of the 91 goals which he scored in 2012.
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.
Montevideo giants Nacional have claimed the 2011-12 Uruguayan championship following last night’s play-off final against Defensor Sporting. Alvaro Recoba scored the only goal of the game in the 41st minute to ensure that Nacional win the title for the 44th time in their history, just two behind eternal rivals Peñarol. Nacional, as the team with the best aggregate number of points following this season’s Apertura and Clausura championships, only needed to win last night to claim the overall crown. Defensor Sporting, who won the Apertura title, needed to win last night in order to force a second leg but the defeat ensured that a return fixture won’t be necessary.
The UEFA European Championships have started in earnest but on the other side of the Atlantic there was only one match that mattered this weekend. The two giants of South American football, Argentina and Brazil, met in a friendly match in New Jersey and thrilled the capacity crowd of 80,000 with seven goals and some stunning football.
The game was a topsy-turvy affair with both teams taking turns to hold on to the lead. Brazil went 1-0 up in the 23rd minute through Vasco da Gama midfielder Romulo only for Lionel Messi to turn the game on its head by the 37th minute with two expertly taken goals. The Brazilians hit back after half-time with Internacional midfielder Oscar and Chelsea transfer target Hulk giving the Seleção a 3-2 lead with a little under a twenty minutes of the match remaining. That, however, was still enough for Federico Fernández to restore parity in the 78th minute before the irreplaceable Messi stunned the crowd with a beautifully struck goal with five minutes remaining to give the Albiceleste the win in an entertaining game.
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:
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.