a poor title race unfolds
“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