By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2014 Campeonato Brasileiro, the Brazilian national league championship, kicks off this coming weekend following the conclusion of the various state championships. This year, Rio de Janeiro only has three entrants in the Série A, the competition’s premier division.
Following the relegation of Vasco da Gama to Série B, only Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo will be competing for the top title in the country in 2014. That number could even be reduced to two should Portuguesa’s appeal against their own relegation be successful, sending Fluminense down to the second division in their place.
This year’s edition is starting earlier than usual due to Brazil hosting the FIFA World Cup from June 12th – July 13th. Nine rounds of the Brasileirão, as it is more informally known, will be played before a five week hiatus is taken for the international competition.
After controversially avoiding relegation in the courtroom last December, Fluminense will start their 2014 Brasileirão campaign at home against Figueirense as the Tricolor kick-off this Saturday, at 6:30 PM, at the Maracanã Stadium.
Following a turbulent 2013, this year has so far been no different for the Laranjeiras outfit. They are already on their second coach of the year after the dismissal of Renato Gaúcho. Former Vasco head Cristovão Borges is now in the Flu hot-seat and got off to the perfect start last week when his new charges thrashed Ceára side Horizonte 5-0 to progress in the Copa do Brasil.
Fresh from their Campeonato Carioca triumph last Sunday, Flamengo begin their Brasileirão season at home to Goiás this Sunday. Kick-off is at 6:30 PM at the Maracanã.
The club have faced a backlash following their controversial success over Vasco, and will be looking to put it behind them by starting their national assault on the right foot. Like their city rivals Botafogo, they suffered the embarrassment of early elimination from the Libertadores and need to appease an increasingly frustrated set of supporters.
Last year they won the Copa do Brasil, beating the likes of Cruzeiro and Atlético-PR along the way, but their form dipped alarmingly in the league. They have finally found some on-field stability in the form of coach Jayme de Almeida, and could well use their momentum from the state triumph on the national stage.
Botafogo face a daunting opening day trip to face São Paulo at the Morumbí stadium on Sunday. The Glorioso are still smarting after two successive defeats cost them a place in the knock-out stages of the Copa Libertadores last week.
The club may struggle to repeat their excellent 2013 campaign, when they finished fourth under the leadership of Dutch veteran Clarence Seedorf. The club are still racing to sign players before this season’s league commences in earnest.
Former Fluminense and Corinthians frontman Emerson Sheik should complete his prolonged transfer this week, but the most pressing emergency for the club is appointing a new head coach. Eduardo Hungaro was dismissed following the side’s premature continental exit at the hands of San Lorenzo. Botafogo’s immediate needs are to steady the ship before thinking of targets for the upcoming campaign.
Campeonato Brasileiro First Round Fixtures in Full:
Atlético-MG v Corinthians
Atlético-PR v Grêmio
Bahia v Cruzeiro
Chapecoense v Coritiba
Criciúma v Palmeiras
Flamengo v Goiás
Fluminense v Figueirense
Internacional v Vitoria
Santos v Sport Recife
São Paulo v Botafogo