Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When some events are unjustly forgotten, others are impossible to remember. Brazil's national championship surely – to begin with, the 1977 championship started in 1977, but ended in March of 1978. It was the national championship alright, but also called the Cup of Brazil – Taca Brasil – the third issue of the concoction already. 62 clubs participated this year, the tournament getting larger and more complicated every next year. The Byzantine maze of a structure – overwhelming and difficult to follow – comes close, if not the direct inspiration for, 21st century's European club tournaments: many stages, with teams difficult to extract even when they lose. It was neither normal championship, nor pure cup format – preliminary groups were played at first, the top 5 clubs advancing from each, but the losers went ahead to the next stage as well – in new 'losers' groups. Next phase was also mini-league format and so on until the 'final stage', where four mini-leagues, 6 teams each, produced winners going to the semi-finals. And the ½ finals were at last pure cup format of two legs and direct elimination. As for what was going on before, it is hard even to make sense of it – various uneven in numbers groups produced winners, some of which logically eliminated months before, but still not only playing, but advancing. The design seemingly followed the interests, the influences, and the whims of the big clubs, but with so many contradicting and constantly changing interests, the result was a mess. The funny thing about it was that the influential big clubs still failed. And the other strange thing was that after the actual final was played a total final table was made. It was meaningless monstrousity – 62 teams arranged by... something like total points. 'Something', because in the final table the number one team had 10 points less than the second-placed, and the 6th should have been 3rd, if points really counted for anything. The final table counted points, but since teams different number of games, it was obvious that who survived longer acquired more points – at the bottom ended clubs eliminated early, after 13 matches. At the top – 20 and 21 games were played. But there was no reason to this final table at all, for there was no relegation – the final table did not provides neither gains, nor losses. For the sake of representing the meaningless, here is the last placed at the final table:
Dom Bosco. Little known club, which played only 13 matches and gathered 5 points total. Such a measly reacord would mean relegation elsewhere. In Brazil... well, nobody knows what meant in Brazil.

As if Byzantine structure was not enough, other scandals emerged. This year it was a little bribery. It was in the middle of the maze, in Group Q. Fluminense – not the famous one, but a small club from the state of Bahia – abandoned its home game with Desportiva. No points were given as a result... which benefited bigger Bahia boys: Vitoria, fighting with Desportiva for the 1st and only qualifying spot. Vitoria ended first indeed, 2 points ahead of Desportiva. Who was behind the scheme? The Federation of Bahia. Can you punish a state federation? May be in some other countries, but not in Brazil – the Brazilian Federation ordered a play-off between Vitoria and Desportiva. Vitoria refused to play in protest. Desportiva advanced. What happened to Fluminense, you may ask. Nothing.

Desportiva finished last in its next stage group, probably to the delight of the 'wronged' schemers from Bahia. This stage produced the semi-finalists and there was little delight for the big clubs – except Atletico Mineiro and Sao Paulo, none qualified. The other semi-finalist were small fry – if Operario (Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul state) was known middle of the road club, Londrina Esporte Clube (Londrina, Parana state) were dwarfs. They were also young club, founded in 1956. For both teams advancing that far was fantastic success. Especially for Londrina EC (which has to be mentioned, for there is another club of similar name – Londrina FC) : they eliminated Vasco da Gama, Corinthians, Santos, and Fluminense. Five points clear of 2nd placed Vasco da Gama in their group, without a single loss, and allowing only one goal in their net.

Grand Vasco da Gama in defense. Unknown players attack and Vasco lost 0-2 right in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. No matter what, Londrina EC were the true heroes of Taca Brasil.