Wednesday 18 December 2013

Série A's impromptu 39th game leaves a bitter taste

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.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Punch-drunk thugs: Violence explodes in Joinville as Brasileirão season ends in ignominy

The players just stood there, mouths open, utterly aghast. For a few slow-motion seconds, then a few more, until minutes were passing. Nobody could quite believe what they were seeing. Tears streamed down the cheeks of defender Luiz Alberto.

Emotions were always likely to be high at the Arena Joinville, where Vasco da Gama – one of Brazil’s traditional heavyweights – were making one last stop on their way to the second flight. They needed a miracle to survive. They didn’t get it.

Yet Luiz Alberto is not a Vasco player and the relegation, when it came, was destined only to be a footnote to the events of the afternoon. The real story took place in the stands, where scenes of mindless, surreal violence cast the blackest of clouds over the final weekend of the Campeonato Brasileiro season.

Read the rest of this article at Yahoo! Eurosport.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Brasileirão season review

As any player or fan will tell you, the Campeonato Brasileiro is both a marathon and a sprint. After 38 rounds of action, crammed into five-and-a-half months, we reached the end of the road at the weekend.

Things didn’t exactly go smoothly. The match between Atlético Paranaense and relegation-threatened Vasco was delayed due to horrific fighting in Joinville, attracting the world’s media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Vasco were eventually condemned to Série B but could appeal, claiming the game never should have been resumed.

Fellow giants Fluminense were also relegated, leaving Brazil striker Fred in tears in the stands. But they too could earn a reprieve, with Portuguesa having fielded an ineligible player in the final round of games. Confusion, as ever, reigned supreme.

When the dust settles, however, this will go down as a fairly momentous year, one in which the Rio-São Paulo axis was thwarted for the first time in a decade. Have a read of my season review on the WhoScored website.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

A tale of two cities: Rio and São Paulo sides endure annus horribilis despite growing wealth gap

At first glance, Brazilian football appears to sidestep one of the pitfalls of the game in many European countries. While only a small cluster of sides can hold realistic aspirations of winning La Liga, the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the Campeonato Brasileiro is far less predictable.

Before the gun sounds every May, this chaotic sports-day sprint of a league rarely has an obvious favourite, with eight, 10 or even 12 teams eyeing up a title challenge. Fortunes can change fast: Flamengo went from glory in 2009 to the brink of relegation the following year. Fluminense have repeated the trick this term.

The healthy glow is somewhat misleading, however. Slowly but surely, power is coalescing in the country’s biggest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Before this year, it had been a record nine seasons since the Série A crown had left the determined grip of Brazil’s south-east corridor, with clubs there exercising ever-growing financial clout.

My latest piece for Yahoo! Eurosport is on the power balance in Brazilian football. You can read it here.