By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Campeonato Brasileiro, Brazil’s national league championship, reached the halfway point this past weekend, as the twenty teams have now all played each other once. Except for Botafogo, it has been a far from comfortable season for Carioca clubs until now, but with a further nineteen games to play circumstances could change.
In a dreary first half of the year for Carioca football, Botafogo are bucking the trend. The club sit second in the table and have been in and around the top since the first round.
Bolstered by the experience of Jefferson, Bolívar, Marcello Mattos and Clarence Seedorf the side is balanced with the exciting potential of Dória, Gabriel and Uruguayan international Nicolas Lodeiro.
The Alvinegro have won two out of three clássicos but have suffered from too many draws; last month they drew three in a row, costing them six points.
Yet after going close to two decades without a national triumph fans are getting excited again. Radio broadcaster and football blogger Eder Ramos de Oliveira believes this is the strongest Botafogo side for years.
“The first half of the Brasileirão has shown the importance of having a strong squad. Botafogo have lost several players but remain near the top of the league. There is ample time for them to overtake Cruzeiro [the current leader] and win the title.”
Flamengo sit in fifteenth, just three points above the relegation zone. The board have hired a competent coach in former Seleção head Mano Menezes but his ideas have often been hindered by a mediocre squad.
It is acknowledged the club is not strong enough to fight for the title, or even a place in top four that would qualify them for next year’s Copa Libertadores. They will hope to fight relegation and come back stronger in the 2014 Campeonato Carioca, the Rio de Janeiro state championship.
On the plus side the team remain unbeaten in local clássicos (games against other Rio clubs); they salvaged a last minute draw against Botafogo and beat Vasco and Fluminense, 1-0 and 3-2 respectively, slightly appeasing their disgruntled fans.
Surprisingly, one club in just as much trouble is current champions Fluminense. Last year lauded as having arguably the strongest squad of any club in the country, the title winning team has since been dismantled, leaving the side threadbare.
Playmakers Wellington Nem and Thiago Neves have been sold, leaving the side short of creativity in the final third. Against fans’ wishes coach Abel Braga was fired and the unpopular Vanderlei Luxemburgo, noted for his Flamengo connections, was installed.
At the beginning of the campaigns the Tricolores were dreaming of a second successive title or even a first Copa Libertadores triumph. The position adopted by Luxemburgo now however is that Flu will spend the second half of the season fighting to avoid relegation.
Fluminense blogger Alvim Bellis hasn’t given up hope for the team, “I hope something similar to 2011 can happen. Flu won twelve of their last nineteen games to finish third. Flu’s recovery depends only on themselves. It is still possible to reach the top four.”
Another club in financial difficulties, Vasco, are punching above their weight and find themselves in the top half of the table. The São Januário outfit have lost a host of players including Dedé, Nílton and Alecsandro and some sections of the press had them down as candidates for relegation at the beginning of the season.
However new coach Doríval Junior has done an excellent job on a shoestring budget. Fan favorites Fágner and Juninho Pernambucano have returned and several of the club’s promising young talents have stepped up when needed, notably twenty year-old defender Jomar.
Whilst Libertadores qualification looks out of the picture, the club is in a far healthier state than rivals Fluminense and Flamengo. Relegation should not be a worry in 2013.