By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Campeonato Brasileiro, more informally dubbed the “Brasileirão,” is beginning to take shape after a three week hiatus for the FIFA Confederations Cup. This past weekend saw the seventh round of the 38 match tournament, with Carioca club Botafogo amongst the early pacesetters.
The tournament kicked off at the end of May but only five rounds were played prior to the international break. The subsequent result meant the league’s opening games seemed like a pre-season training rather than a full tilt national competition.
The season lasts until the beginning of December. Twenty clubs take part with every team playing each other twice, home and away.
Rio has four sides competing in the tournament; the traditional “big four”. Fluminense, who won the 2010 and 2012 editions, current state champions Botafogo, 2011 Copa do Brasil winners Vasco da Gama and 2009 Brasileirão champions Flamengo.
So far Botafogo have made the best start of the Carioca clubs and sit second after seven rounds, two points off the top. Confidence boosted by their Campeonato Carioca triumph in May, coach Oswaldo de Oliveira has found a successful blend of experienced talent and flourishing youth.
Defending champions Fluminense meanwhile are in a worrying situation. Having lost playmakers Wellington Nem and Thiago Neves to overseas clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Al-Hilal respectively, the side look short of provision in the final third and have lost four of their opening seven games.
Flamengo have been boosted by the arrival of former Seleção coach Mano Menezes. Their weekend victory over Vasco was his first as coach and his main target for the season is to solidify a crumbling squad. Vasco meanwhile are fighting just to stay in the first division. On the verge of bankruptcy the club have sold several players just to balance the books and 2013 is looking bleak for the São Januário outfit.
Games between teams from the same city are known as clássicos and there have already been two in the last fortnight, although neither were played in the city itself. Last Sunday Flamengo beat Vasco 1-0 at the Estádio Mané Garrincha in Brasília and the previous week Botafogo defeated Fluminense by the same scoreline at Recife’s Arena Pernambuco.
The “away-game” clássicos for Rio are set to change this weekend. On Sunday, July 21st, Fluminense host Vasco in what will be the first domestic match at the renovated Maracanã stadium and a third Carioca clássico in as many weeks.
That is quickly followed by a fourth the next weekend when Flamengo take on Botafogo, also to be played at the Maracanã. Flamengo have agreed a six month contract with Maracanã SA, the private consortium who will control the stadium for the next 35 years.
The fifth clássico of the season won’t be until next month, when Vasco host Botafogo. It is hoped in the next three weeks that a deal can be struck with Maracanã SA allowing the use of the stadium for all classícos.
At the time of writing only Fluminense have signed a long-term agreement with the consortium. As Vasco own their stadium, the São Januário, it is probable they will rent the Maracanã on an individual game basis when they feel supporter demand requires a bigger venue than their 25,000 capacity space.
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