a poor ti­tle race un­folds

World Soccer - - Contents - TIM VICKERY

“The level in Brazil is weak... and there are many bad habits in terms of play­ing style, ac­cu­mu­lated over the course of years” For­mer World Cup-win­ner Tostao

The Brazil­ian cham­pi­onship reached its half­way stage with the ta­ble look­ing very dif­fer­ent from this time last year.

In 2017 Corinthi­ans had the ti­tle all but sown up af­ter 19 of the 38 rounds, but this time there is the prospect of a much more ex­cit­ing home straight.

Fla­mengo, lead­ers for much of the cam­paign, dropped to third, a point be­hind In­ter­na­cional, who claimed the lead for a few hours un­til Sao Paulo took it back with a 2-0 vic­tory over Chapecoense to open up a three-point lead over a chas­ing pack that in­cluded Gremio, Atletico Mineiro and Palmeiras, with eight points sep­a­rat­ing the first from sixth.

Ex­tra spice is added by the fact that all six are huge clubs with mass fol­low­ings, and also by the fact that the pre-sea­son con­sen­sus was that nei­ther Sao Paulo or In­ter­na­cional were likely to be among the main con­tenders.

Com­pet­i­tive bal­ance, tra­di­tion and sur­prise should make for a grand­stand sec­ond half of the cam­paign. So why does it feel so un­der­whelm­ing?

One ex­pla­na­tion lies in the way the Brazil­ian game has been stripped of so much of its tal­ent, which has had a clear ef­fect on the qual­ity of the in­di­vid­ual play­ers and of the col­lec­tive ideas.

Once the World Cup was over and do­mes­tic foot­ball re­sumed, 1970 win­ner Tostao ob­served that “watch­ing games in the Brazil­ian cham­pi­onship, the dif­fer­ences [in com­par­i­son with the ac­tion in Rus­sia] are grand. In­di­vid­u­ally, the level in Brazil is weak... and there are many bad habits in terms of play­ing style, ac­cu­mu­lated over the course of years – such as the enor­mous spa­ces be­tween sec­tors of the team, cen­tre-backs ly­ing deep on the edge of their area, an ex­cess of long passes to team-mates who are marked, crosses struck hope­fully into the box, and many other de­tails.”

And then there is the way that the foot­ball cal­en­dar takes a huge toll on the league cham­pi­onship, which should be the coun­try’s flag­ship do­mes­tic cam­paign.

The na­tional league is shoe­horned into the sea­son with lit­tle thought for how it might best be

or­gan­ised. The ex­is­tence of the 27 state cham­pi­onships im­me­di­ately be­fore dis­si­pates the “big kick-off” ef­fect. The ac­tion then starts and has to stop again and pause for the World Cup – and the same will be true next year for the Copa Amer­ica – halt­ing any mo­men­tum which has been built up in the early rounds.

Au­gust is es­pe­cially cruel as this is when the knock­out stage of the Lib­er­ta­dores Cup gets un­der­way – and six of the last 16 teams in the tour­na­ment this year were Brazil­ian.

Add in the do­mes­tic cup – and Brazil is one of the very few places in the world where the do­mes­tic cup takes prece­dence over win­ning the league ti­tle – and the games come thick and fast.

Af­ter 16 rounds of this year’s cham­pi­onship there had been 15 man­age­rial changes and the pres­sure on the coaches is un­re­lent­ing. Some of the sides in con­tention for the league ti­tle have played a num­ber of games with re­serve or un­der­strength line-ups in an at­tempt to keep their pow­der dry for the knock­out com­pe­ti­tions – and that can’t be of any ben­e­fit to the na­tional league.

Ahead of the crowd ...Sao Paulo

In the mix...tem­pers flare as Gremio (in blue) and Fla­mengo chase top spot

High fliers...Atletico Mineiro’s Car­los Gabriel clears Ede­nil­son of In­ter­na­cional

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