Why the Brazilian league’s just got interesting

The Rio Report

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Five Brazilian clubs launch yellow third kits

The 2014 Campeonato Brasileiro got underway at the weekend, to relatively little fanfare. For European fans weaned on the pizzazz of the Premier League, La Liga et al, the start of the Brazilian season can seem like a strangely anodyne affair. Sure, people are excited, but there’s little of the urgency that defines the big kick-off in the Old Continent.

This is a perennial problem. The structure of the season in Brazil ensures that Série A begins just when the two most important cup competitions – the Copa Libertadores and the Copa do Brasil – are clicking into gear. With the former offering prestige and the promise of a money-spinning Club World Cup campaign, you can understand why contenders tend to take things easy in the Brasileirão. The Copa do Brasil, meanwhile, is a de facto qualifying competition for the Libertadores. It also matters.

Série A also suffers from a lack of breathing space, commencing immediately after the ungainly state championships finish. The wait – the sweet, soul-destroying wait – for the European season during the summer is not replicated. No sense of absence. No hearts growing fonder.

This year, of course, things are further skewed. In case you’re out of the loop, there’s a bit of a football thing happening in Brazil in June and July. As a result, the Brasileiro has been split into two chunks, the first of which feels a bit like an inconsequential entrada ahead of the global main course.

The proximity of the World Cup could have its advantages, however. In this early stage of the season, a number of players will be looking to impress enough to secure their place at the competition. São Paulo’s 3-0 win over Botafogo, for instance, was lit up by the displays of Alexandre Pato and Paulo Henrique Ganso, two men chasing the (admittedly wan) dream of making Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil squad.

It’s not just the Seleção that stands to benefit from the pre-tournament trial atmosphere. Slowly but surely, Série A is welcoming more and more footballers from all around South America, who are lured by growing wages and the knowledge that the shop window is just that little bit more snazzy than those in their home countries. Even more have flocked this year, with players desperate to show they can perform in Brazil.

Among the new faces are Nicolás Otamendi, who returned to the Argentina squad in November after a two-year absence. He has joined Atlético Mineiro on a short-term loan deal, ostensibly to help them defend their Libertadores crown – but one imagines the chance to impress Alejandro Sabella from close quarters also appealed. After all, playing in Brazil has done wonders for the international career of Grêmio striker Hernán Barcos, who has been a regular in the Argentina squad over the last two years.

Chile are also well represented in Brazil, with the mercurial Jorge Valdivia having been joined by Eugenio Mena (Santos) and Charles Aránguiz (Internacional) in recent months. All three will feel confident of making Jorge Sampaoli’s 23.

Elsewhere, Flamengo and São Paulo both hope to profit from foreign arrivals. Fla defender Frickson Erazo will be aiming to secure a place in Ecuador’s squad, while the Tricolor have pulled off a major coup with the double signing of Álvaro Pereira and Dorlan Pabón. The latter, on loan from Valencia, will be a real handful if he hits his stride.

Pereira, meanwhile, is just one of a cluster of Uruguayans who have made Brazil their home: Nicolás Lodeiro has rebuilt his career at Botafogo after a disappointing spell in Europe and will be keen to make an impression this summer; Mauricio Victorino and Sebastián Eguren will both be aiming to sneak into the Celeste squad.

With so many national team coaches training their eyes on Série A, then, we could well see an extra burst of intensity to coincide with the World Cup fever sweeping Brazil. Whether that will be repeated in the second half of the season is another matter, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Jack Lang (@snap_kaka_pop)

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