By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The opening round of the 2014 Campeonato Carioca saw joy for the smaller clubs of Rio de Janeiro. Of the state’s big four teams, only Flamengo took all three points, and Fluminense were defeated despite the arrival of idol Dario Conca.
While Rio’s powerhouses have the reasonable excuse of a lack of preparation – clubs generally had ten days before this weekend’s matches – the competition could be made more interesting thanks to it. Coupled with the fact Flamengo and Botafogo are likely to field reserve teams for the majority of the state tournament and we may not see an endless run of dead rubbers during the group stages.
Fluminense, Vasco, Botafogo and Flamengo may all decide to use this Campeonato Carioca as a simple pre-season exercise. Their sluggish starts allowed Madureira, Boavista and Resende to pick up points over the weekend,
Volta Redonda and Resende could be two teams to watch this year after excellent campaigns in 2013. During the Taça Rio, the second phase of last year’s championship, the sides finished runners-up in the group to qualify for the semi-final stage. Unfortunately, both clubs were soundly thrashed in the knock-out matches. Botafogo beat Resende 5-0, whilst Volta Redonda succumbed 4-1 to Fluminense.
With the Engenhão still out of action, several stadiums will be used aside from the Maracanã and São Januário in the city of Rio itself. Bangu’s Estadio Moça Bonita is in the west of the city, but was in dreadful condition last weekend. Bangu is famed for being the hottest neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro and the pitch resembled a desert in some areas. Over half the grass was dead the playing surface was nigh-on impossible.
Yet in William, Bangu arguably have the player to watch in this year’s Carioca. The 22-year-old is a former Seleçao international at youth level, and has played alongside the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho.
He will doubtless be looking to put in an excellent shift over the next few months in a bid to earn a contract at a club competing in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A.
There are other options for fans wishing to travel around and see a little of the state of Rio, as well as take in some local football. Volta Redonda’s Raulino de Oliveira is often used for Campeonato Brasileiro and Copa Libertadores games and floodlights in corners of the ground make night games a possibility.
The Moacryzão in Macaé is a picturesque little arena which has been used by Fluminense on numerous occasions. The oil rich city is also popular with tourists and is worth a long weekend visit.
Going into the Carioca second round, which starts tonight, morale-boosting victories could set the smaller sides in good stead for the championship. Three “minnows” lead the race after the first round, with Flamengo in fourth place.
There were victories for Nova Iguaçu, Madureira, Bangu and Cabofriense over the weekend. The second round will be spread over three days. Tuesday, Botafogo faced Bangu at São Januário Stadium (no final score at the time of publishing). Today (Wednesday) Vasco travel to Macaé, while Flamengo are away to Volta Redonda.
Finally, amongst the big teams, Fluminense host Bonsucesso at the Maracanã. Brazil international striker Fred could play his first match for the Laranjeiras outfit since August. The Brazil no. 9 has his own agenda during the opening months of 2014. The forward is fighting to get back to full fitness for the FIFA World Cup.
Campeonato Carioca 2nd Round Fixtures in Full:
Boavista v Madureira
Botafogo v Bangu
Duque de Caxias v Friburguense
Audax v Resende
Macaé v Vasco
Volta Redonda v Flamengo
Nova Iguaçu v Cabofriense
Fluminense v Bonsucesso