I’ve totally screwed up with my timing of this blog. I was going to write it once the State Championships finished (last Sunday), but then I got tickets to see the World Cup Trophy while it’s here in Rio at the Maracana this Friday so I thought I’d wait a little longer and write about both. But then something happened that I should have been all too aware of, and now I’ve got loads to write about and not much time to do it…
First things first, then. THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE OVER! Well, why they even start in their current formats is beyond me, anyway. They kick off in January and last until April – don’t forget that January is the height of our summer so during January and February games can be played in temperatures close to (and sometimes exceeding) 40°C. They are played in various formats, but are usually based on a round robin system which means the state’s top teams are automatically pitted against tiny clubs from the 4th and 5th divisions, in some cases even lower. Don’t forget that the national league ends barely a month before these competitions start.
Thankfully, this year’s Campeonato Carioca (Rio State Championships) was cut to a shorter format to accommodate the World Cup. We eventually got to a 2 legged final between Vasco da Gama and Flamengo – this is currently the most passionate Rio derby (both sets of fans hate each other deeply whilst viewing Fluminense and Botafogo as more of an irritation), but it is a derby we will miss out on in the coming year thanks to Vasco’s relegation in 2013.
Flamengo only needed to draw in the 2nd leg to win the title but after a truly, truly dreadful 75mins, Vasco, who were playing a dangerous high line, won a penalty, converted it and immediately dropped 10 men behind the ball*. Flamengo continued to play with the urgency of a Newcastle side chasing a 2 goal deficit, epitomised by their defence collecting the ball and advancing unchallenged to the halfway line, AT WALKING PACE, with 6 players in a line chatting about, oh, I don’t know, which club would be the best to hit after the final whistle… They half-heartedly plugged away until the final whistle approached and then 2 minutes into stoppage time a blatantly offside Fla player slotted home a rebound to ‘earn’ a draw, steal the title and continue the ongoing VICE DENOVO (‘runners-up again’) crack that has been aimed at Vasco for the past 2 years. The relief at the conclusion of another drawn out ‘Top Dogs Trophy’ was palpable. In my house, anyway.
*You may have heard that Brazilians talk about futebol arte and futebol de resultados – of course Brazilians play futebol arte (‘football as an art form’) while we English play futebol de resultados (‘it’s the result that counts, no matter how ugly you play’ = hoof ball), but I have to say – there’s very little futebol arte played on Brazilian soil. With the vast majority of the national team based in Europe, what’s left over here (young kids who want to be in Europe, bog standard players who weren’t good enough to go to Europe and older pros who came back cos European footy became too demanding (Jo, Elano, Adriano) or to try to regain a spot in the national team (Ronaldinho) serve up what reminds me of Italian football, were it to be played a lot slower. Now that Neymar is based in Spain, there’s very little ginga going on.
Over in Minas Gerais the final was duelled out between the reigning Brazilian champions, Cruzeiro, and the reigning South American champions, Atlético Mineiro. You’d have thought they’d have given us a cracking game, but two 0-0’s meant that Cruzeiro won thanks to them having the better league position prior to the playoff stage.
Down south in Rio Grande do Sul, the Porto Alegre giants Gremio and Internacional went head to head in the GreNal derby in the Campeonato Gaúcho. I have a soft spot for Gremio so was disappointed to see them thrashed 6-2 on aggragate.
São Paulo managed to spring a surprise, which was nice. The Campeonato Paulista is arguably the strongest of the state championships with giants such as Corinthians, São Paulo FC, Santos, Palmeiras it’s little wonder that the state dominates Brazilian football (though Cariocas will argue long and hard that they do). Thanks to a favourable draw a tiny 4th division club from the São Paulo countryside, Ituano, made it to the final against a weak Santos team. Both teams won a leg 1-0, and so to the great leveller, penalties. Amazingly Ituano won the shootout 7-6, adding the Paulista championship alongside it’s not-too-impressive list of titles (the pick of the 4 trophies being the 3rd division championship it won back in 2003. Well done you little buggers!
As for the rest of the titles, I’m not fussed, if I’m honest…
The World Cup Trophy is on a world tour, apparently, and it’ll be in Rio between the 22nd and 25th of April. My brother-in-law is one of the chief engineers at the stadium and so he was able to get me a couple of tickets to the event. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, though I’d imagine it’ll be slightly different to when I went to see the FA Cup in the bar at Kingston Park back in 2009… Hopefully I’ll get a few pics with it ready to show off in my next blog.
Once the State Championships finally came to a conclusion last Sunday (13th April) the players had a MASSIVE rest before the start of the national league – a whole 6 days! I know I’ve banged on about this a hundred times here but surely this gruelling schedule that the players and fans are dragged through cannot go on. I honestly believe that Brazilian football is seriously suffering from overkill – with so much football constantly being shoved down people’s throats, is it any wonder that the average attendances in the Brasileirao are around 14,000?
There was a fantastic piece in the Guardian by ex-Arsenal player, Gilberto Silva, giving a player’s perspective. Have a read here: http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/feb/10/brazil-football-gilberto-silva-common-sense-fc
Adriano’s latest attempted comeback looks like it has come to a predictably depressing end. O Imperiador linked up with Atlético Paranaense in the hope that regular football and competing in the Libertadores would reignite his international career. He started off well enough and even tweeted photos showing his slimmer figure. Unfortunately the club let him go after one of his trade mark disappearing acts.
Adriano is a classic example of a wasted talent – he was touted as the new Fenomino but after moving to Rome personal problems took their toll on his state of mind. We mustn’t forget that he was a boy from one of Rio’s favelas – his options were probably either make it in football, or get caught up with the drug dealers. From absolute nothing he was thrown into the spotlight, earned money far beyond his wildest dreams and had to cope with the pressures of carrying the hopes and dreams of 90 billion football mad Brazilians. It may have been shocking for Europeans to learn that after winning the league with Flamengo he did a runner to a favela and was photographed sharing a drink with the locals. Brazilians, who knew exactly where he had come from, found it perfectly natural.
A week before the start of the season the president of Atlético Mineiro broke the news that Anelka would be joining the club. Eyebrows were raised – a front 3 of ‘not-so-shrinking-violets’ Jô, Ronaldinho and Anelka must have some headline value in it. Unfortunately, at the time of the league starting Anelka was in Dubai having a well earned break. We’re waiting to see if the deal goes through – and just for entertainment value alone, I’m hoping it does!
You know how Brazilian football is mental? Well, it just doesn’t stop. Regular readers may remember the controversy at the end of last season when Fluminense were saved from relegation thanks to an admin error by the small Paulista club, Portuguesa. They had fielded an ineligible player for 15 minutes in their final match which wouldn’t have had any bearing on the final positions of either team in the game. They were duly docked 3pts plus the point they earned for the draw – this 4 point deduction pushing them down into the relegation zone and saving Fluminense’s blushes.
However, I wrote at the time that although the sporting tribunal had upheld the punishment that counter-suits would continue to take place. And they have.
Amazingly, and yet in very Brazilian style, the dispute wasn’t put to bed prior to the new season kicking off. Although Portuguesa were waiting for a judge’s ruling on the case, they advised the league they would continue with their fixtures in the meantime so as not to disrupt the league calendar. Lo and behold, 17 minutes into their opening 2nd division match against Joinville a court official stopped the match with a court order declaring the judge’s intention to review the case. Portuguesa claimed they couldn’t go against the judge’s ruling and so left the pitch. Confused much? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWVvzdkOoZg
How can this now be resolved? Both leagues have started, both have the required number of teams, WHY WAS THIS NOT SORTED OUT BEFORE THE SEASON STARTED? In case you’d forgotten – this country is less than 50 days away from hosting the World Cup. Just think about that for a moment…
And finally, I have to give a shout out to Hugh Thompson who is currently in Peru, struggling through the mountains on his way to Rio on his trusty bike, Shola. If you haven’t read his blogs on tf yet, WHY THE HELL NOT? If you want to know more, visit his site at www.ride2rio.co.uk We’ve already arranged to meet up over a beer or two once he arrives and we may have one or two things sorted out for him to get involved with – hopefully raising awareness of his cause and adding a few extra Reais to his pot. Stay tuned for more info!