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:
It may not have been the most difficult challenge that FC Barcelona would have to face in their quest to become FIFA Club World Cup winners. That, however, did not dampen the celebrations as the Spanish and European champions strolled their way past a poor Santos FC team courtesy of a 4-0 victory.
The game was over bar the shouting after the first 45 minutes of the game were played following strikes from Lionel Messi and Xavi, both of whom would go on to win the Golden and Silver balls as the best two players of the tournament after the game, and Cesc Fabregas who helped himself to their third goal on the stroke of half time.
Santos showed slightly more ambition in the second half after being overwhelmed in the first but chances from Neymar and Borges went begging. With eight minutes of the game remaining Barça sealed the deal once and for all after Dani Alves set up Messi for his second goal of the game to complete the rout. South American champions Santos FC were never in the game from the first kick and precocious teenager Neymar found out, just like Cristiano Ronaldo had done a week earlier, that Messi is still the main man on the big occasion.
FC Barcelona’s victory was their second triumph in this competition following their maiden win over Estudiantes de La Plata in 2009. Earlier in the day Asian Champions League winners Al Sadd had claimed third place in the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup having got the better of this year’s J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol by virtue of a 5-3 win in a penalty shoot-out following a goalless ninety minutes.
Universidad de Chile are the deserved winners of the 2011 Copa Sudamericana. Their 3-0 second leg victory at home to LDU Quito last night completed a 4-0 aggregate win and brought with it the chance to compete in next year’s Copa Libertadores.
Eduardo Vargas, as so often in this competition, proved himself to be the hero for the Chileans. Vargas, who scored the only goal of the first leg last week in Ecuador, struck in only the third minute of the match to double Universidad’s advantage on aggregate. Second half strikes by Gustavo Lorenzetti and Vargas sealed the deal for La U who, as a result of their unbeaten run in this competition, won their first ever continental title.
Universidad de Chile have the chance to increase their trophy tally next year when facing off against 2011 Copa Libertadores winners Santos in the Recopa (South American Super Cup) and in the Suruga Bank championship which sees the Chilean champions face off against Japanese J-League Cup winners Kashima Antlers.
Kashiwa Reysol’s FIFA Club World Cup dream ended today at the hands of South American champions Santos FC. Neymar was amongst the goals for the Brazilians as they claimed a 3-1 win against the J-League champions whilst earlier in the day North and Central American champions Monterrey CF won the 5th/6th place play-off, getting the better of African champions Espérance Tunis by the odd goal in five.
Santos, in their first game of the new look Club World Cup, may have won the game against their hosts but Kashiwa continued to do themselves proud in this competition. Following earlier defeats of Auckland City and Monterrey, it was always going to prove tough to jump the final hurdle into the final but Kashiwa certainly weren’t overawed. Nonetheless Santos did what they had to do in a game which could prove to be a useful workout ahead of a potential final against FC Barcelona.
Quality strikes from Neymar and Borges gave Santos a two goal lead at the break but Hiroki Sakai reduced the arrears ten minutes into the second half to provide Kashiwa with a ray of hope. The hosts, however, would suffer a further setback in the 63rd minute when Danilo restored Santos’ two goal lead which they would preserve for the remainder of the game. Santos will now face FC Barcelona or, in the event of a massive shock, Asian champions Al Sadd in Sunday’s final and hope to claim a first world title since their second Intercontinental Cup win in 1963.
The day’s other game saw Monterrey CF restore some pride in the 5th/6th play-off against Espérance Tunis in a game which saw plenty of goals. Espérance, who controversially lost their quarter-final against Al Sadd, went ahead after half an hour to a Yannick N’Djeng goal only to see Monterrey turn the match on its head just before half-time with Hiram Mier and Aldo de Nigris getting on the score sheet.
Monterrey carried on where they left off in the second half with Jesus Zavala’s close range header increasing their lead to two goals but the Tunisians weren’t finished and made it a tight finish when Khaled Mouelhi scored from the penalty spot to make it 3-2 with a quarter of an hour left on the clock. However the Mexicans held out to ensure that they would chalk up a maiden victory in this tournament and they will hope, along with their African counterparts, to win their respective continental titles once more in 2012 and have another shot at world glory in Japan next year.
Brazilians Santos FC will participate in their first ever FIFA Club World Cup and are hoping to take the title back to South America after a five year period of domination for European clubs. Santos FC, who are based in Brazil’s second city of São Paulo, will face the winner of the quarter-final between Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol and North and Central American CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey CF on December 14th. Should Santos overcome that challenge then a meeting with UEFA Champions League holders FC Barcelona looks the most likely prospect. Having won the old Intercontinental Cup on two occasions back in the halcyon days of Pelé back in the sixties, Santos would revel in winning a world title in its current guise.
Santos qualified for this tournament by virtue of winning their third Copa Libertadores title in 2011, the club’s first win in this competition since 1963. Santos finished second, by virtue of goal difference, in their group behind Paraguayans Cerro Porteño and ahead of Chileans Colo Colo and Venezuelans Deportivo Tachira with a record of three wins, two draws and one defeat in six games. In the knockout phase Santos scraped past Club America in the Round of 16 and 2004 Copa Libertadores champions Once Caldas in the quarter-finals before meeting group rivals Cerro Porteño again in the semis. Having won that round by the odd goal in seven, Santos ended the campaign with a narrow 2-1 aggregate win in a bad-tempered final against Peñarol. Following a goalless first leg in Montevideo Santos made home advantage count in the return fixture. Neymar put Santos ahead just a minute into the second half before Danilo doubled their advantage twenty minutes later. The Uruguayans reduced the arrears with ten minutes remaining to set up a nervous finish but the Brazilians held on to win the Libertadores for the third time in their history.
Since Santos lifted the South American crown back in June they have been involved primarily in their national championship and, with the comfort blanket of a place in next year’s Copa Libertadores already assured, finished the league season in a comfortable tenth place in the 20 team Serie A. If Santos are to lift the FIFA Club World Cup this year they ought to remember not to get too complacent before their semi-final tie against supposedly weaker opponents especially after last season’s Libertadores winners, Internacional of Porto Alegre, went crashing out to African champions TP Mazembe in the semi-finals of the tournament played in the United Arab Emirates.
SANTOS FC v PENAROL FC – COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL, 2ND LEG
The 2011 Copa Libertadores final will see two of South America’s pioneering club sides take the competition back to its halcyon days of the 1960s. Uruguayan giants Peñarol are one of the grand old clubs of the continent having won South American football’s greatest club competition on five occasions, just two behind record champions Independiente. Their opponents Santos FC also have a rich history in the tournament having won back-to-back titles in 1962 and 1963 in the days of the legendary Pelé. The former of those two triumphs for Santos came at the expense of their upcoming opponents Peñarol and, for that reason alone, ensures an intriguing clash pitting the past with the present day.
Peñarol are back in the big time after reaching their first final since they last won the trophy back in 1987. In the group stage Peñarol finished second in Group 8 after a closely fought four-way battle for the two places saw them finish just one point behind group leaders LDU Quito and one and two points ahead of Argentinian sides Independiente and Godoy Cruz respectively. Their knockout adventure began in the Round of 16 with a difficult tie against defending champions Internacional Porto Alegre. Their task seemed all the more daunting after they only claimed a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg but somehow Peñarol emerged triumphant with a 2-1 victory in the Brazilians’ back yard. That 3-2 aggregate win saw them face Chilean champions Universidad Católica in the quarter-finals from which they progressed by the same aggregate score line. Argentinians Vélez Sársfield, who have just won their eighth domestic championship, stood between Peñarol and a place in the final and a tight affair was won via the away goals rule with a 1-0 home win for the Montevideo club followed by a 2-1 defeat in Argentina.The away goal from Matias Mier secured Peñarol a welcome return back into the Libertadores final after an absence of 24 years.
Santos FC were involved in Group 5 of the competition along with Paraguay’s Cerro Porteño, Chile’s Colo Colo and Venezuelan whipping boys Deportivo Tachira. A slow start to the tournament saw Santos pick up just two points from their first three games and an early exit from the competition looked a distinct possibility. However the Peixe managed to win their final three group matches to finish on equal points with Cerro Porteño whose superior goal difference ensured them the top place finish while Colo Colo trailed both teams by just two points. Santos’ first opponents in the knockout phase came from Mexico; Club America were defeated by the only goal in a tight two-legged tussle allowing Santos to meet surprise 2004 Libertadores winners Once Caldas in the last eight. Following a 1-0 win in Caldas’ home ground in Colombia, Santos held out by drawing the return fixture 1-1 to set up another double header with group rivals Cerro Porteño in the semi-finals. A tight home fixture for Santos was decided by Edu’s 43rd minute strike which they took to the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion for an eventful second leg which saw both teams share six goals between them in a 3-3 draw, thus ensuring Santos’ progression with a 4-3 aggregate victory taking them to their first Libertadores final since they lost out to Boca Juniors in 2003.
Much of the build up to this game has reflected upon the past as it has the present with history recalling that these teams met in the 1962 final. The Copa Libertadores was a much smaller tournament in those days with just ten teams participating. Santos got the better of Cerro Porteño and Deportivo Municipal in a mini-group before defeating Universidad Católica 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals. Peñarol, meanwhile, had a bye straight to the semi-finals of the tournament following their 1961 title win and they overcame the challenge of eternal rivals Nacional after a three game series in which each team won one game with the final game drawn. Peñarol went through having scored five goals to Nacional’s four in the three games and thus set up their famous encounter with Santos.
Santos FC were away in the first leg but came away with a 2-1 victory, Coutinho’s double strike cancelling out Alberto Spencer’s opener for Peñarol. In the second leg it was Peñarol’s turn to emerge triumphant with Spencer’s brace followed by a José Sasia winner in their 3-2 win on Brazilian soil. This set up a third and final game which was played in neutral Buenos Aires where an Omar Caetano own goal was followed by a brace from Pelé to seal a 3-0 win for Santos gifting them their first Libertadores title.
Could tournament top scorers Neymar (Santos) and Juan Manuel Oliveira (Peñarol) write themselves in the tournament’s history books and help seal their team’s next Libertadores triumph? The first leg will be played in Montevideo on June 15th with the return leg in Santos on June 22nd.
WATCH 1962 COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL GOALS HERE:
Corinthians are leading the way in the Brasileiro (Brazilian championship) after five games leading by two points from nearest challengers Ceará. The Timão have only dropped two points from their first five games and kept up their near perfect start to the campaign at the weekend with a 4-2 home defeat of São Paulo city rivals Santos FC.
Jorge Henrique gave the home side the lead after just two minutes after tapping home from close range after Santos’ keeper Felipe failed to keep out an earlier effort. Santos restored parity eight minutes into the second half after André shot from just inside the box to guide the ball into the bottom corner but the joy was short-lived as Corinthians went back up the other end almost immediately when Bruno César took advantage of some poor defending to shoot home from short range. From this point on Corinthians began to take charge of the game and extended their lead further after 67 minutes when Ralf created some space for himself to run into and shoot low past Felipe in a well executed individual move. Paulinho made it 4-1 with five minutes to play heading home after a beautifully crafted Corinthians move down the left hand side. Marcel pulled one back for Santos with two minutes to play but the damage was already done and the home side ensured that their unbeaten start to the season remained intact. Watch match highlights HERE:
Little Ceará Sporting Club have started well and trail the league leaders by just two points in the table after their 1-0 home win against Cruzeiro. A solitary strike from Lopes was enough to ensure that the surprise challengers, promoted from Serie B last season, are the only team other than Corinthians to have an unbeaten record after five games having won three and drawn two of their fixtures so far. Rio giants Fluminense have started this campaign well and now lie in third place having disposed of Atlético Mineiro by three goals to one on Sunday. Goals from Gum, Alan and Fred in the final thirty minutes of the game turned it around for the Flu who had trailed from the second minute to a goal from Muriqui. Below Fluminense a whole host of teams were involved in stalemates including fourth place Avaí (0-0 against Vitória), fifth place Botafogo (1-1 v Vasco da Gama), whilst sixth and seventh place clubs Palmeiras and São Paulo were also involved in goalless draws against Grêmio Prudente and Guarani respectively.
At the bottom end of the table poor Atlético Goianiense are the only team in the Brasileiro so far without a win in five games. Things went from bad to worse for them on Sunday when they lost 3-1 at home to local rivals Goiás which gave the away side their first victory of the campaign. A brace from Romerito and a goal on the hour mark from Bernando gave Goiás a come from behind victory after they had trailed to an 11th minute Elias penalty. Watch match highlights HERE:
There are two more rounds to play before the championship takes a break for the FIFA World Cup. The pick of the matches sees league leaders Corinthians face up to Internacional on Matchday 6 and Botafogo on Matchday 7 whilst Ceará will hope to keep up their good run of form against fellow surprise package Avaí FC on Matchday 6. There are a couple of “Clasico” matches to look forward to with Palmeiras facing up to defending Brazilian champions Flamengo, who currently lie a disappointing twelfth in the table, and Cruzeiro playing against Santos FC on Matchday 6. The following round of games sees six-time champions São Paulo play at home to Grêmio Porto Alegre, Santos FC against traditional club and newly promoted Vasco da Gama and Internacional play Palmeiras. The championship will then take a break from June 7th and resume after the FIFA World Cup on July 13th.