For many fans, the biggest evil in Brazilian football isn’t the heavy workload or the violence or the short-termism or the vested interests. Sure, that stuff is bad. But the real issue, they will tell you – especially at this time of year – is the format of the national championship.
Brazil has a passion for sudden-death (the Portuguese term is mata-mata – literally “kill-kill”) football that a thousand FA Cup marketing departments could only dream of engendering. The nobility of the knockout form is deeply engrained in the national psyche.
So when, in 2003, the CBF jettisoned the end-of-season play-offs that had long been a feature of the Campeonato Brasileiro (and were arguably the only real bloodline of a league whose rules and structure seemed to change every year), there were cries of discontent.
This year, however, some felt aggrieved when Cruzeiro tied up the title four weeks before the final round, supposedly robbing fans of an exciting finale. They would forgo the meritocracy of the round-robin format for a couple of big games before Christmas.
Against all odds, those supporters got what they wanted this week. The stars aligned and the Brazilian season went to a 39th game. Except this wasn’t exactly what anyone had in mind.