Saturday, September 7, 2013

Practically impossible to rank first and second South American championships – Brazil is placed second not on merit, but because it was chaotic compared to Argentina. Additionally, the Gauchos won the World Cup, so let's them be first. Besides, observers grumbled about deterioration of Brazilian football, blaming the 'structure' of the national championship among other things. It was no longer a league, but the 'IV Copa Brasil'. Brazilian championship added in brackets, to make sure it was the championship after all. Not the only one, though – Brazil never abandoned state championships, much more orderly in contrast to the national circus. If anything, state championships provided some comfort to clubs not fairing well at national stage. Of course, such championships confused outsiders, who were never really sure who won what.

Flamengo won the championship of Rio de Janeiro. Led by Zico, but having also Paulo Cesar Carpegiani, Tita, Cleber and others in the squad. Impressive looking squad... at home.

Inter (Porto Alegre) were also champions – of Campeao Gausco. Falcao and Valdomiro ledaing somewhat weaker team than the one of two or three years ago.

Operario won their impressive third straight title in Mato Grosso. Tadeu Macini was their great star, practically unknown outside Brazil, as was the case of many playing for obscure clubs. Many names in this squad sound familiar – thanks to duplication of nicknames.

Many champions, only to confuse more – it was easy to think that Flamengo won the Brazilian title, but Operario? None was all that great on national scale, though. Only Inter reached the last stages of Copa Brazil.

Which consisted of 74 clubs this year, all having pretensions difficult to satisfy. The complicated scheme was extremely difficult to follow, apparently motivated by the idea somehow everybody to go the final. Elimination was very difficult – not on the field, but in the backrooms. Stage after stage, after stage, different groups, followed by new ones, and the groups of the previously eliminated still playing and having a chance to advance, until the very last stages of direct cup-like elimination. To present the championship in full is almost meaningless – it is not a championship, but a maze. There were clubs playing surprisingly well to some stage:

Dom Bosco reached quite high level for a modest club.

There were clubs appearing 'solid'- that is, in other countries they would have been in the respectable part of the table, comfortably far away from trouble of any kind.

Coritiba was perhaps one of those 'solid' clubs – at least to an outsider eye. Now Manga was playing for them – seemingly, eternal goalkeeper. How many years he played so far? Hard to tell... 12 years after he played at World Cup finals; 7 years after he was winning Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cups with Nacional (Montevideo); but the memories of his Brazilian title with Inter (Porto Alegre) was still fresh.

Flamengo, Sao Paulo, Fluminense, Santos – they performed like Coritiba, but... in their case, it looked like decline.

If other big-name clubs underperformed, Santos was most obviously in decline – hardly any really great stars. Nelsinho, Pita, Juary... not so great. Juary eventually went to play in Italy – and he is perhaps known only because of his European exposure.

To a point, Corinthians disappointed too.

Standing from left: Jairo, Zé Maria, Taborda, Amaral, Zé Eduardo, Romeu.

Crouching: Piter, Palhinha, Sócrates, Biro-Biro, Wladimir.

The world was yet to hear about Socrates, but he was already making his mark in Brazil. The team looks strong – Ze Maria, Palhinha, Biro-Biro, Amaral, to some degree – Wladimir. Yet, it did not go far.

Complicated formula, but also so many famous clubs – may be it is unfair to consider the above clubs weaklings. After all, the ¼ finals reached mighty enough names: Palmeiras, Vasco da Gama, Gremio, and Internacional, plus well respected Sport (Recife), Bahia, and, by now, Guarani. The only surprise name is Santa Cruz:

The over-achievers of the season, judging by their squad. Not entirely anonymous players, but hardly on the level of even Santos. Good for the underdogs, but they were eliminated by Internacional. Not without a fight – Inter won their home match 1-0; Santa Cruz also won at home – 2-1. The away goal benefited Inter.

Palmeiras preserved fragile lead in their clash with Bahia – 2-1 and 1-1, and Vasco da Gama and Gremio produced no winner – two 1-1 draws. Which was enough – was it fair better not be asked – Vasco to go ahead, thanks to better season record. The only unquestionably strong performance came from Guarani – they won both matches against Sport: 2-0 away in Recife, and 4-0 at home.