By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Rio state championship, or Campeonato Carioca as it is locally known, started this past weekend as the 2013 Brazilian football (soccer) season officially began. The state championships, played between January and May, give Brazil’s smaller outfits the chance to take on the country’s biggest teams, as well as putting some of their more exciting talents in the shop window.
In truth, for Rio’s “big four” – Fluminense, Vasco, Botafogo and Flamengo – the tournament will be the least important they enter, but does give them a chance to hone their squads before more important competitions later in the year. Sixteen teams compete in the state contest with the sides being drawn into two groups of eight.
The championship’s first half, the Taça Guanabara, sees the teams in Group A play the teams in Group B. The top two sides in each table then progress to the semi-finals and final to determine the overall winner.
The Taça Rio will subsequently pit Group A and Group B against each side in their respective mini-league. The same knock-out formula is used with the top two progressing from each.
Should the winner of the Taça Guanabara and Taça Rio be different, the two champions will play a two-legged final to decide the Carioca champion. This happened last year, with Fluminense winning the Guanabara and Botafogo the Rio. Fluminense went on to lift the Campeonato Carioca after a 5-1 aggregate win. Should the same team be declared victorious in both formats, they will be crowned state champions without the need for a final.
Rather unsurprisingly all of Rio’s major clubs came away victorious from their opening matches. Flamengo comfortably dispatched Quissama 2-0 with a brace from Hernane.
Flamengo fans could have been forgiven for thinking 2012 had not yet come to an end earlier this month. Following a disastrous period for Brazil’s biggest club, their problems were confounded when star striker Vagner Love returned to Russian side CSKA Moscow, leaving the team threadbare in attack.
In desperate need of silverware coach Dorival Junior fielded a full-strength side against the Carioca minnows. The Rubro-Negro are back in action tonight (Wednesday) against Madureira.
Another team looking to appease restless fans, Vasco, also put out a relatively strong side as they comprehensively beat Boavista 3-0. Goals from Carlos Alberto, Eder Luis and Bernardo were sufficient as the Cruz-Maltino put their financial woes to one side.
The club may be forced to sell major asset Dede before the Campeonato Brasileiro begins but will be hoping to pick up the state title to rejuvenate their disillusioned support. Vasco return to the pitch on Wednesday to face Macae.
Defending state champions Fluminense beat Nova Iguacu 2-0 with a double from Wagner. The Tricolor begin their Libertadores campaign next month and coach Abel Braga explained he will mainly use a young side in the Carioca to preserve energy for the continental competition, South America’s premier club prize.
And finally, Botafogo trashed Duque de Caxias 3-0 at the Engenhao. Andrezinho, Bolivar and Antonio Carlos ensured the Glorioso started 2013 in the right fashion. In the midweek round of matches, Fluminense host Olaria whilst Botafogo travel to Bangu.