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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 March, 2003, 16:30 GMT
New dawn for Brazil
By Tim Vickery

Fans of Vasco Da Gama make their voices heard
Brazilian football fans have something new to shout about

Domestic Brazilian football enters a new era next weekend when, for the first time, the country will have a national championship on European lines.

Over a period of nearly 10 months, the teams will all play each other home and away, and the one with the most points will be the champion.

It is a significant step forward.

But it is essentially a compromise solution - and like all compromises it runs the risk of leaving nobody completely satisfied.

It is only since 1971 that Brazil has had the infrastructure to hold a genuinely national championship.

Indeed, the military government of the day made a conscious effort to use football to unite the giant country.

The tradition of the Brazilian club game is one of local rivalries.

The country is divided into 27 States and, from the birth of the game until the last few years, each State Championship was viewed as the most important title.

Since 1971 the year has been split - half for the State Championships and half for the national.

The compromise sends Brazilian football lurching into the future - when it could be striding
Tim Vickery

After 1971 the format changed every year, but the essence remained the same. The tournament was crammed into five months, with some sort of brief league stage leading to some form of play-offs.

The majority of clubs were eliminated long before the end, with no revenue coming in and plenty of bills to pay.

The clubs were interested in a European-style league, but this created a clear administrative problem.

What would the 27 State Federations do? Their main task - and source of revenue - was the organisation of the State Championship. Take that away and they are nothing but a useless tier of bureaucracy.

But they have political power. The State Federations vote for the President of Brazil's Football Association, the CBF, and they brought their influence to bear as the new architecture of the Brazilian game was drawn up.

The State Championships survive, albeit in reduced form. They take place from January to March, with the new extended National Championship running from this Saturday until mid-December.

The flaw is obvious. The National Championship will have its early momentum interrupted first by international competitions - this year the Confederations Cup, in the future the Copa America and the World Cup - and then by the opening of the European transfer window.

Brazil's clubs could find their teams torn apart in mid-campaign.

It would make far more sense to fall in line with Europe and start the National Championship in August, but this would squeeze out the wretched State Championships.

Thus was born the compromise that sends Brazilian football lurching into the future - when it could be striding.

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