Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Brazil – the crème of the crème of football. Well… it depends. South America was already messy and grim, but Brazil added sheer lunacy: 40 clubs participated in the 1974 championship. The swelling of the top division had nothing to do with the game itself – it was mostly a result of never ending barrage of complaints, protests, threats, backroom deals. Which was not to end in 1974 either, so this is not the biggest league Brazil ever run. The whole scheme was complicated: two groups of 20 clubs each played at first and perhaps this was the most normal stage of the championship. After that the top ten of each group went ahead, but there were additions: the best ‘non-top 10’ also qualified, plus two teams with best ‘average revenue’ from the bowels of the league. Thus, Fluminense, ending 16th in their group still qualified for the next stage. The new crop was divided in 4 groups of 6 teams each. The winners went to the next phase, playing round robin tournament and the top two were to contest the title in a final. All this fun produced Cruzeiro and Vasco da Gama as finalists. According to regulations, the final had to be played in Belo Horizonte (Cruzeiro finished first in the best 4 stage), but – no. Vasco hastily complained of security problems at Cruzeiro’s stadium and the match was transferred to Rio de Janeiro. Once at home, Vasco clinched 2-1 win and their first title.
Finally, Rio de Janeiro, the ‘holly centre’ of Brazilian football won a championship, but given the divisions – very likely nobody apart from Vasco da Gama fans enjoyed the title.
The champions of 1974.
The only question is did they deserve the title? The squad is somewhat ‘unknown’ – Alcir, Ademir, and Roberto Dinamite are the ‘heavy’ names here, but they pale when compared to the losers Cruzeiro, featuring Nelinho, Perfumo (Argentina), Vanderlei, Piazza, Dirceu Lopes, Roberto Batata, and Palhinha. Even the name of Vasco’s coach, Mario Travaglini, doesn’t ring any bell. The champions provided practically no one to the national team, and unlike Cruzeiro, had no players in the Brazilian World Cup 1974 team. But Vasco da Gama were consistent during the season, constantly ending at the top (not just barely qualifying). Well, if the final was played in Belo Horizonte, as the rules stipulated, most likely Cruzeiro would have been triumphant… but it was played in Rio, and Vasco scored one more goal, and ‘the rest is history’. Apparently, unconvincing history, if the absence of Vasco players in the national team is considered, but… it may have been a case of weakness of other clubs, who provided players to the national team and thus were unable to play at their best. Whatever the arguments pro and contra, one thing is certain – this Vasco da Gama vintage is remarkably… unimpressive. It raised no comments, no analyses, no lengthy articles outside Brazil. At least it was some kind of rehabilitation of Rio de Janeiro, seemingly plummeting into oblivion at the domestic scene so far.