By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro may have come to an end earlier this month but the drama has continued in the courtroom as teams begin to prepare for the 2014 season. After being relegated alongside fellow Cariocas Vasco da Gama, Fluminense were reinstated to Serie ‘A’ following an irregularity.
In the tournament’s final round Portuguesa fielded Heverton, a player who was supposed to have been serving a suspension. The Paulista club were subsequently docked four points, meaning they slipped into the final relegation berth and will be playing second division football in 2014.
Which means that Rio de Janeiro will have three teams playing top flight football next term. And for two of the city’s “Big Four”, the last twelve months have been a success, with Botafogo and Flamengo reaching the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.
Flamengo ended 2013 on a high, winning the Copa do Brasil against Atlético-PR at the end of November. It was the Rubro-Negro’s first national title since 2009 and they are now gearing up to launch an assault on the Libertadores when they go straight into the group stage, and have been drawn alongside Bolivar, Ecuador’s Emelec and Leon of Mexico.
Coach Jayme de Almeida has been awarded with a new contract and the club have already started the search for a playmaker in the No. 10 mold. Jadson, Diego and Andres D’Alessandro have all been linked with Flamengo, who will be going in search of their first continental crown in over thirty years, which came in 1981.
For Botafogo it will be a first Libertadores appearance in almost two decades. The last and only time the Glorioso competed in the continent’s premier football tournament was 1996, after the club were crowned Brasileirão champions in 1995. The Alvinegro have drawn Eucadorian outfit Deportivo Quito in the preliminary round, and altitude will be a massive factor in the away tie. In addition, there has already been one major change on the personnel front.
Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira has left for Santos as the club strive to reduce a huge wage bill. Eduardo Humbargo has been installed in the hotseat with the immediate target of guiding Botafogo through to the group stages of the South American tournament.
Fluminense’s controversial return to the first division has left some angry that football matters are being resolved in court rather than on the pitch. Nevertheless, the Tricolor have been extremely lucky to have been given a second bite of the cherry but must improve on what can only be described as a disastrous 2013.
They have moved quickly to secure a very important new piece in the puzzle. Argentine playmaker Dario Conca has signed a three year contract with the Laranjeiras outfit. Conca is a fan favorite at Flu. In his first spell at the club he was instrumental in the club’s 2010 Brasileirão triumph. Now, teaming up with Seleção striker Fred, Flu have one of the most dangerous attacks on the division.
This year, however, must be all about consolidation. A stable league position and a decent cup run would be welcome after 2013’s heart stopping plunge down the table.
For Vasco, meanwhile, the task is very simple. A return to Serie ‘A’ at the first time of asking, despite the loss of influential attacking midfielder Marlone to Cruzeiro.
Yet first, the Rio state championship, or Campeonato Carioca as it is locally known, will start up in January as the 2013 Brazilian football (soccer) season officially begins. The state championships, played between January and May, gives Brazil’s smaller outfits the chance to take on the country’s biggest teams, and last year it was won by Botafogo.