By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week, Rio de Janeiro state’s top football (soccer) clubs return to the pitch for the opening round of the 2018 Campeonato Carioca. The two-leg tournament begins with the Taça Guanabara today for Botafogo, and their duel with Portuguesa-RJ, at Nilton Santos.
After failing to qualify for Libertadores, Botafogo’s finances will be strained this year. The main player acquired was striker Luiz Fernando, who had a solid season for Atlético-GO last year and was the only investment of R$2.5 million.
The new president, Nelson Mufarrej, has made changes after manager Antônio Lopes and vice-president Cacá Azeredo left; bringing back Anderson Barros to replace Lopes, and Gustavo Noronha for Azeredo.
Botafogo lost a lot of players also, fourteen left the club in total. Among them, important names such as midfielder Bruno Silva, striker Roger and left-back Victor Luís. However Coach Felipe Conceição has the vote of confidence in the debut of Alvinegro on Tuesday at 9:30 PM, against Portuguesa-RJ, at Nilton Santos.
Next to play this week is Fluminense, facing Boavista on Wednesday. As runner-up last year after losing in the final to Flamengo, Flu is in financial trouble and to pay bills they had to get ride of Wendel, leading to a lot of changes.
However Jadson and Gilberto arrived to fill the vacancies left by Wendel and Lucas, and lessen the damage in the tricolor cast. They have managed to keep coach Abel Braga and their large fan base is ready to cheer on the debut of Fluminense against Boavista, this Wednesday, at 4.30 PM, in Bacaxá.
Current champion of the Campeonato Carioca, Flamengo will also open the season on Wednesday at 9:45 PM against Volta Redonda. Even without the coach who finished the championship year, since Reinaldo Rueda took over Chile, the club avoided the dismantling of important players.
Still, there are athletes who left the Rubro-Negro, as is the case of Márcio Araújo, Gabriel and others. Yet new coach Paulo César Carpegiani returns to command Flamengo after almost eighteen years and with few other arrivals and departures, the club that saw three finals last season is largely intact. They kick off 2018 against Volta Redonda, on Wednesday at 9:45 PM at the Raulino de Oliveira.
Vasco is next to play on Thursday at home against Bangu. In addition to the political crisis involving the club, Vasco is also dealing with a change of cast. With financial problems, such as late payments to employees, Anderson Martins, Mateus Vital and Madson left the club.
Coach Zé Ricardo remains the head of the team and the knowledge of the players should prove good for the club. However Vasco will also be without Luis Fabiano, as the center-forward has suffered a knee injury and will not start in the debut of the Cruz-Maltino this Thursday at 7:30 PM in São Januário against the Bangu.
Since 1906, the Campeonato Carioca has provided an important showcase for smaller clubs in Rio de Janeiro state to compete against their more well-known rivals. The tournament will have five rounds of the Taça Guanabara and then six rounds of the Taça Rio leg. Each has a semi-final round and final match, and the winners face off in the Campeonato Carioca final in late March.
Last year Fluminense outlasted arch-rival Flamengo to win the 2017 Taça Guanabara, and Vasco shutout Botafogo 2-0 to win the 2017 Taça Rio. However it was Flamengo who beat Fluminense at iconic Maracanã Stadium to win the 2017 Campeonato Carioca, their 34th Campeonato Carioca championship.