By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the Campeonato Carioca and Copa Libertadores days away, Rio’s clubs are gearing up for a busy first half to 2012. Three of the city’s teams – Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo – will compete in the continental competition and squad rotation will be key to ensuring players maintain peak condition.
The club facing most problems is Flamengo. Coach Vandelrei Luzemburgo has repeatedly asked for reinforcements, but the saga involving CSKA Moscow striker Vagner Love rumbles on with no end in sight, although it appears the deal for Thiago Neves could be wrapped up by the end of this week.
Having been at the helm of the Flamengo ship for fifteen months, Luxemburgo knows his squad’s strengths and weaknesses. He achieved last year’s objective of qualifying for the Libertadores but this year his task is one step further; to win a major title, either the Brasileirão or the Libertadores.
The base of Luxemburgo’s side will be the same as last year: goalkeeper Felipe, full-backs Léo Moura and Júnior Cesar, centre-half Alex Silva, holding midfielders Aírton and Renato, playmakers Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Thiago Neves and striker Deivid. But Luxemburgo still needs a bullish defender and potent striker to complete his puzzle.
On the contrary to this time last year, Fluminense’s pre-season preparations have gone swimmingly. After bringing in five new signings for 2012, Abel Braga made it clear his primary objective is to finish in first place in Flu’s Libertadroes group, thus playing the second leg of the subsequent knock-out round at home.
He avoided promising Tricolores the Brasileirão title, but assured them that Fluminense would enter the field in each game “to make history in 2012.” Premature elimination from the 2011 Libertadores led to a series of crises inside Laranjeiras which only ceded once Braga arrived in June.
This year, the side will prioritize the Libertaodres while using a reserve team for the majority of the Carioca campaign. In the opening match, against Friburguense on January 21st, Abel will use the first team which should read: Diego Cavalieri; Mariano, Leandro Euzebio, Gum, Carlinhos; Edinho, Jean, Wagner, Deco; Fred, Rafael Sóbis.
Vasco hope to take the same impetus into 2012 that made the previous twelve months so successful. The São Januário side won the Copa do Brasil in June, came second to Corinthians in the Brasileirão and reached the semi-finals of the Copa Sul-Americana.
What Vasco must not do is repeat the terrible start they had to 2011. Cristovão Borges, alongside Ricardo Gomes, arrived towards the end of January and strengthened the group and tightened the tactics.
The greatest challenge overcome last year was the loss of Gomes in August to a stroke. It now looks like he won’t be taking the Vasco hot-seat again as once expected, with Borges becoming full-time manager for the 2012 season – his immediate task: a strong start to the Libertadores campaign.
Oswaldo de Oliveira has arrived at Botafogo with one simple mission; to win something – anything. The Alvinegro will fight on four fronts this year; the Carioca, Copa do Brasil, Copa Sul-Americano and Brasileirão, with no priority given to any tournament.
Oliveira is no stranger to success in Brazil. He won the Campeonato Paulista and World Club title with Corinthians in 2000 as well as guiding Vasco towards the Copa João Havelange and Copa Mercosul.
Striker Jóbson, who is currently serving a doping suspension, was given words of encouragement by his new coach. Oliveira left his squad in no doubt of what he expects; a united team, brimming with talent who are prepared to work themselves to the limit.