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Taca de Ouro or the national championship. Although efforts were made to curtail the enormous inflation of the championship, it was still huge and complicated. It started with 40 teams and finished with 41. The traditional final table made every year shows the nightmarish nature of the tournament – first of all, the final table makes no sense and serves no purpose: it has nothing to do with next year participation in the championship: who plays depends on states lots and their fulfillment – on final positions in the states championships. Usually the winner of the Second Level is promoted to the next national championship, yet, it looks like an empty gesture – comes next year and there is no trace of the 'promoted' club. Meantime this very winner already played a bit in the national championship, joining the tournament at its 3rd phase. Elimination from the competition was equally tough: only 8 teams were directly out after the initial phase. Big clubs ruled – no matter what, they were always in the game: just in case nobody was out, there were 2 spots reserved for clubs qualified 'according to CBF's historical ranking'. So, Vasco da Gama and Gremio played this year thanks to that. One may argue what is fair or unfair to death... not every state of the Brazilian federation had a spot. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro dominated the picture – Sao Paulo with 6 spots, Rio with 5. There was always a good chance some big clubs to be out, but their clout there was no way to exclude them... and there was an easy argument: what kind of championship really is one with the likes of Operario (Varzea Grande), but without Vasco da Gama? After all, even if Vasco da Gama is really weak, at least its fans pay cash at the gates. Operario? Take it out of home and nobody goes to watch. Anyway, the byzantine championship started, went through the whole stages and finished, and one look at the 'final table' only tells that for all its complications and stages not that many games were actually played – in a championship with 41 teams, the finalists, who played the most, played just 24 games. Some ended with 8.
Well, let begin with the early losers, finishing the season after the first phase, which divided the 40 teams into 8 groups.
Brasilia was technically the worst team this year – they lost all 8 games, the only team to finish without even a point.
Catuense (Alagoinhas) was only slightly better than Brasilia – they tied 2 of their 8 games. However, most likely they were not disappointed – playing with the best, even for a little way, was more or less dream fulfilled.
Nacional (Manaus) was may be similar to Catuense, although city like Manaus should have been more ambitious and may be even able to recruit better team. However, Manaus is hardly a cradle of football.
The rest of the early losers are no surprise either: Confianca, Ferroviario, Moto Clube, Anapolina, Rio Branco, Auto Esporte, Tuna Luso. But there were two other names, surprising names:
Bangu was the one – may be not top-tier Brazilian club, but hardly one of the worst. By reputation...
Bangu down – one can allow that, but Cruzeiro? Not able to reach even the second phase... 2 wins, 2 ties, 4 losses, positive goal-difference – 16-13 – and out. Last in Group F, which was hardly the toughest... one clear argument against privileged treatment of big clubs: what is the point to guarantee them participation in the national championship, when they finish last in a group consisting of second-raters at best (America Rio de Janeiro, Atletico Paranaense, Brasil Pelotas, and Rio Branco)? Shame.
After the second stage a mixed bag of clubs was out:
Treze (Campina Grande),
Joinville (Joinville). Standing from left: Léo, Jecenir, Claudemir, Ricardo, Valter, Adilson.
Crouching: João Carlos, Nardela, Paulinho, João Renato, Silvinho.
Crouching: João Carlos, Nardela, Paulinho, João Renato, Silvinho.
Santa Cruz (Recife) – this club deserves a note: it is among the top 15 most popular clubs in Brazil and highly successful in the state of Pernambuco, yet, never impressive on the national stage and hardly one of the famous Brazilian clubs abroad. Curiously or not, early exit of Santa Cruz is rather expected.
Brasil (Pelotas) – a club, which needs a bit of attention, because of the confusing name – they represent the city of Pelotas and there is also a sport with that name. Thus, Brasil Pelotas could be easily confused with the Brazilian national team of that similar to football sport. The full name of the club is Gremio Esportivo Brasil, normally insignificant club from Rio Grande do Sul, but particularly irritating this year, for they took one of the 2 spots for the state, normally 'reserved' for Gremio (Porto Alegre). Not only that, but they also performed equally to Inter (Porto Alegre), another irritating point for all advocates of big and famous clubs.
The last of the clubs expected to reach this phase and no further – at best – was Operario (Varzea Grande, Mato Grosso). The rest, however, were big names down on their luck for whatever reasons – starting with Atletico Mineiro. And going...
Bahia (Salvador) was the worst among them.
Internacional (Porto Alegre), barely better than their pariah-neighbours Brasil (Pelotas),
Botafogo, never mind Alemao,
Palmeiras, with quaite impressive squad,
In the 3rd phase the fresh winners of Taca CBF joined the top championship.
Uberlandia, in fact, played well – won 2 games, tied 2, lost 2, 4-3 goal-difference. Unfortunately, 6 points were not enough – Coritiba earned 7 and Uberlandia finished 3rd. Five points ahead of Fortaleza, but out.
The rest of the eliminated at this phase teams: Operario (Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul), Goias, America (Rio de Janeiro), Santo Andre (Santo Andre, Sao Paulo), Atletico Paranaense,
Santos. Standing from left: Rodolfo Rodrigues, Gilberto Sorriso, Márcio, Toninho Carlos, Chiquinho, Toninho Oliveira, Dema.
First row: Gersinho, Lino, Paulo Isidoro, Serginho Chulapa, Humberto, Zé Sérgio. Perhaps Santos was unlucky, for the team was quit good and they were second scorers in this championship with 39 goals – Gremio also scored 39, but they played more games.
After the 3rd phase it was simple – quarterfinals, cup format. The last of the 'rabble' was eliminated here:
Nautico (Recife) lost both legs to Gremio – 2-3 and 1-3. It was good campaign, though. Standing from left: Lourival,Solito, Douglas, Luciano, Isidoro, Carlinhos.
Front row: Dario, Paulinho, Brás, Evaristo, Jair.
Portuguesa was practically destroyed by Vasco da Gama – 2-5 and 3-4.
That was nothing compared to the fate of Coritiba, which lost to Fluminense 2-2 and 0-5.
And here was the end of Flamengo too – not long ago at the top of the world and having the Argentine star keeper Ubaldo Fillol between the posts, but facing Corinthians was no joke. It started well, Elder and Bebeto scoring to make 2-0 victory in Rio, but the next leg was in ultra-hostile Sao Paulo and the result was 1-4. Out.
The semi-finals opposed only big clubs – Gremio vs Vasco da Gama, the 2 teams allowed to play in the championship on 'historical record', and Corinthians vs Fluminense. Gremio was the current world champion, Corinthians were arguably the most exciting Brazilian team at the time...
Gremio won 1-0 at home, but lost the second leg 0-3.
Corinthians somehow was unable to fulfill its potential – a disastrous home opening canceled their ambitions – they lost 0-2 and the second leg was more or less a formality, ending 0-0.
A Rio de Janeiro final for the first time – and it was only the second occasion with finalists from the same city - opposing mighty old enemies: Vasco da Gama vs Fluminense. A lot as stake: Vasco da Gama won the Brazilian championship only once, 10 years ago, and a second title was much desired. Fluminense did not won at all so far. High ambitions, but reality on the pitch was another matter – for all the hype, Brazilian football was of poor quality for a long time – defensive, without flair, few goals were scored. This may have been disappointing, but victory obliterated all negative aspects, at least for the winners. Vasco hosted the opening leg on May 24, but eventually Romerito scored the only goal of the game and Fluminense had precarious 1-0 lead before the second leg. On May 28 the rivals met again, scored no goals, and Fluminense won the title.
It all depends on the standpoint – for somebody neutral, reaching the final was a great achievement for a team permitted to participate in the championship only on historical grounds; for the fans – it was great misery: no title. Second-best just does not do it. Vasco da Gama somehow did not have great team, Roberto Dinamite was the only big star and although he scored constantly, when it mattered most he did not.
Looking at the new champions, they did not have starry squad either, so it was perhaps a case of motivation and determination, spurred by the great chance and the fact of playing against old local rival than actual skill, but Fluminense had strong campaign, no doubt about it. At the end, this squad put the name of the great club on the list of Brazilian champions at last. Given the fantastic history of Brazilian football, this squad was not becoming a legend, but first national title was well appreciated, espacially when combined with 3rd consecutive Rio de Janeiro title. Strong year by any measure.
And just because it was a first title, one more look at the new champions – this time dressed in their reserve kit.