By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian football season begins in earnest this weekend with the kick-off of the local state championships, and here in Rio de Janeiro, sixteen teams are ready to do battle in the 2014 Campeonato Carioca. It is the 113th edition of the tournament, and thanks to this year’s World Cup (June 12th – July 13th), the schedule will be slightly abridged.
Instead of two separate group stages, the Taca Guanabara and the Taca Rio, all sixteen sides will be placed in the same group this year. The top four will then proceed to the semi-final knock-out stages.
In a normal season there can be as many as knock-out stages during the Rio de Janeiro state championship; one for the Taca Guanabara, one for the Taca Rio and a third to decide the overall winner. Both the semis and the final will be decided over two legs, and having just one will save valuable time.
Then Brazilian domestic football will take a five week hiatus whilst the World Cup is in the country. The Campeonato Carioca will end on April 13th, allowing the national league, the Campeonato Brasileiro, to begin the following week on April 20th.
For the club’s termed as the city’s “Big Four” – Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco da Gama – the Campeonato Carioca can sometimes seem like training exercise for bigger and better matches. Yet for the remaining twelve entrants it is the annual chance to pit your wits against Rio’s traditional giants.
This year sees Cabofriense and Bonsuccesso return to the competition. Following last year’s tournament, Olaria and Quissama were relegated after finishing in the final two places of the overall table.
With two Carioca clubs competing in the 2014 Copa Libertadores, distractions may give the minnows a bigger chance than usual. As Botafogo and Flamengo will be focusing their efforts on continental competition during the first half of the calendar year, they are likely rest their starters as much as possible.
Fluminense and Vasco meanwhile, despite suffering terrible 2013 seasons, may also be willing to rest players for more important games later on in the season, for one very specific reason. Last year, in the Campeonato Paranaense, Atletico-PR fielded an under-23 side for the duration of the state championship. That left their first-team squad fresh for a genuine title challenge in the Campeonato Brasileiro.
The team’s achievements impressed the entire league, finishing in third place, subsequently qualifying for this year’s Copa Libertadores in the process. If more clubs follow suit in 2014, the state championships may be played on a more even footing.
Carlos Gomes follows local club America-RJ, as well as Flamengo in the national and continental competitions, and thinks the Campeonato Carioca would benefit from more interesting matches. “Even though my club [America] aren’t competing in the Carioca, it would be still be great to see tighter games. No one wants to watch a disinterested great club run all over a tiny club with no resources and virtually no chance of winning.”
The first round of the 2014 Campeonato Carioca:
Nova Iguacu v Duque de Caxias
Madureira v Fluminense
Friburguense v Bangu
Vasco v Boavista
Resende v Botafogo
Flamengo v Audax
Cabofriense v Macae
Bonsucesso v Volta Redonda