By Lisa Flueckiger, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After about a month-long hiatus from club football (soccer), the ball is rolling again this weekend, in the 110th edition of the Rio state championship, the Campeonato Carioca. In this pre-Brasileirão tournament Rio’s top four teams compete with the smaller ones in Rio state for the title of state champion.
The Campeonato Carioca is a chance for the smaller sides in the region to shine and to play against their big idols, however it is less popular among the top clubs as it means less preparation and more games in the already full Brazilian football calendar.
As in Brazilian football usual, the top four sides from Rio have changed their ranks considerably and will be still hiring new talent throughout the first rounds of the tournament.
Flamengo, who will play their opening game on Saturday, January 31st at 7:30 PM against Macaé in the Moacyrzão stadium just enlisted 26 players of the possible 31 for the championship so far, announcing that they will at least buy two more players.
So far, the team of Vanderlei Luxemburgo has contracted Bressan, Jonas, Arthur Maia, Marcelo Cirino, Pará and Thallyson. While they let go of Chicão, Arthur, João Paulo, Léo and Muralha.
Fluminense will play their opening home game not in Maracanã, but at the Raulino de Oliveira stadium in Volta Redonda on Sunday, February 1st at 7:30 PM against Friburgense.
The team led by Cristóvão Borges has hired (among others) Henrique, Marlone, João Filipe, Victor, and Guilherme Matis, while letting go of the likes of Rafael Sobis, Dario Conca, Carlinhos, Edwin Valencia and Bruno Vieira.
Back to the Serie A for the new year, Vasco da Gama will also play their first game of the season on Sunday February 1st. Their match will be against Cabofriense at the Moacyrzão in Macaé at 5PM.
The new team led by Doriva will feature Aislan, Douglas Silva, Madson, Serguinho, Lucas Siqueira, Victor Bolt, Julio dos Santos and Marcinho, while Edmilson, Romario, Renato Silva, Max and Eduardo Aranda are no longer among the ranks of the cruz-maltinos.
Newly relegated and financially challenged Zona Sul (South Zone) club Botafogo probably made the most changes to their team. They hired more than twelve new players, among them Roger Carvalho, Diego Giaretta, Renan Fonseca, Elvis, Diego Jardel, Rodrigo Pimpão and Bill, while letting go of an equal amount of players, such as Dória, Edilson, Gabriel, Carlos Alberto, “El Tanque” Juan Carlos Ferreyra, Mario Bolatti and Yuri Mamute.
However, national team goalkeeper Jefferson has so far remained with the alvinegros.
The team of coach René Simões will play their first game on Saturday, February 31st against Boavista in the São Januário stadium at 5PM.
The championship starts among a ticketing controversy between the state federation, which fixed the ticket prices and Maracanã clubs Flamengo and Fluminense. As last year only 2,800 spectators on average watched the Carioca matches in the stadiums, the federation decided to lower the prices.
Flu and Fla complained that with prices as low as R$20 in the stadium (and even less for other games) they wouldn’t be able to honor their contract with the Maracanã consortium and threatened to not hold any games at the top venue in Rio and drag their fans to far away grounds.
The dispute got as far, as the Rio state government has announced its interference. Secretary of Chief of Staff Leonardo Espíndola explained, “We want Maracanã to house state games. I defend cheaper tickets and we can have an important role in solving this issue.”
Some teams like Bangu and Madureira are generally less fortunate, as they don’t have their own stadiums and will always dispute their matches far away from their home bases.