Dále Vasco. This week the absurdly translated Bullet-Train from the Hill (A Trem Bala da Colina) beat Palmeiras 2-0 in the Copa Sudamericana and 1-0 in the Brasileirão. I make no secret about being a Vascaino and those who aren’t can’t figure out why, those that are nod their head in knowing appreciation of a shared sentiment (que não pode parar). A few people have asked me what these different tournaments are and how they all fit together. I’ll use Vasco as an example.
In 2011, Vasco da Gama will play in 4 different competitions, some simultaneously: Campeonato Carioca (divided into the Taça Rio and the Taça Guanabara), Copa do Brasil (which they won), Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, and Copa Sudamericana.
The Campeonato Carioca is a three division competition that is restricted to professional teams in Rio de Janeiro State. All of the other Brazilian states have similar competitions. Teams move between divisions through the globally recognized and recognizable system of relegation and promotion (top teams in lower divisions move up, lowest teams in all divisions move down or out). When Vasco won the second division in 1922, América, Fluminense, Flamengo, Botafogo, and Bangu, formed a separate league so that they would not be forced to share the field with players from lower social classes who were challenging the false notions of amateurism and social exclusion. Rio had a apartheid system in football from 1923 until full professionalism was instituted in1933.
The Copa do Brasil is a playoff system between 64 teams that qualify by either winning their state leagues, being in the CBF’s (Brazilian Football Federation) top ten ranked teams, or by riding a pack of botos between Manaus and Belém. Vasco won this year’s tournament which automatically qualifies them for the Copa Libertadores next year, more on that later.
The Campeonato Brasileiro, or Brasileirão, is a four division affair that extends across the length and breadth of this great land. Vasco are playing in the Serie A for the second consecutive year (2010, 2011) after competing in the Serie B in 2009 (for having finished in 18th place in 2008). Ironically, the trauma of going to SErie B might have been one of the best possible things for Vasco as they were able to get some of the dead wood from the previous administration out of the front office and the Rio fans, whatever their faults might be, certainly come to the aid of their team when they’re struggling. Vasco had the highest attendances of any team in Brazil in 2009.
Vasco is also in the Copa Sudamericana, and were randomly pitted against Palmeiras twice in the same week. Once for the Copa, once for the Brasileirão. The Copa Sudamerica is open to almost every team in the top flight of Brasilian footy. A top 14 finish qualifies. The bottom four drop out of the league so there are only two teams in the first division that don’t qualify for extra pay days with TRAFFIC Sports (who own the transmission rights to all South American continental matches). Why have less footy when you can just make up a reason for teams to fly all over the place to play 10pm Wed night games? Similar to the newfangled Europa League and the oldfangled UEFA Cup, no one really takes this Cup seriously until the semi-finals.
The 2012 Copa Libertadores beckons, and this is a much more serious matter. Like the UEFA Champions League this features the top teams from all the domestic leagues in CONMEBOL who play two round robin rounds before moving to a home and away knock out round where away goals count more than goals scored at home. That is to say that if Vasco were to play LDU to a 2-2 draw in Quito and also drew 1-1 at the São Januário, they would progress to the next round by virtue of more away goals scored. If they lost 3-1 away and won 2-0 at home, they would also go through. Got it?
The winner of the Copa Libertadores in 2010, Santos F.C., will dispute the World Club Championship with the other winners of the confederation tournaments. Usually this is a showdown between the European champion (Barcelona) and the South American. However, much to the delight of Gremistas, in 2010 Inter Milan won after beating Congo’s TP Mazembe who had shocked Internacional of Porto Alegre in the semi-final.
That more or less takes care of the club competitions. This scenario repeats itself around the world with variations here and there. In the USA, for instance, there is no system of promotion and relegation. This, in part, owes itself to an antiquated exception in the anit-trust laws that gives monopoly power to the “Major Leagues”, who are able to set significant barriers to entry in to their relatively closed circuits of capital circulation. In Argentina, when a major team gets relegated, they change the entire league structure. As the bosteros of San Lorenzo put it to River: cambiaran a las reglas cuando ibas a la B, la platea te regaló un teniente-coronel, vos sos asi, vos sos gallina, junto com Boca sos la mierda de Argentina!