Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, we have our first national champions of the year as Athletico won the 2019 Copa do Brasil. There’s the results from a recent football fanbase survey, showing one team well ahead of the rest, plus Brazil’s new left-back and the country’s Formula 1 dry spell. All that and much more. Happy reading!

Athletico win the cup

After an impressive 2-1 win away from home to Internacional on Wednesday night, Athletico Paranaense won the 2019 Copa do Brasil, seeing them pocket BRL 52 million in prize money and a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores.

The match. With a 1-0 lead from the first leg, Athletico understandably sat deep, remaining resolute as Internacional roared forward, pushed by the 50,000 fans in attendance. Against the run of play, the away side extended their advantage through Léo Cittadini, leading Internacional needing two.

Inter did get one back, but were toothless in the second half, sacrificing creativity for direct, long-ball football that was easy for Athletico to swallow up. In the dying seconds of the game, man of the match Rony slammed home the winning goal after an unbelievable assist from Marcelo Cirino. (More on that in our Goal of the Week, below.)

The boss. After last year’s Copa Sudamericana win (South America’s Europa League equivalent), this was Athletico’s second major title under 39-year-old coach Tiago Nunes. With the age of a veteran midfielder, Nunes—who never actually played professional football himself—has arguably become the club’s greatest manager of all time.

Nunes is part of a recent trend of Brazilian clubs promoting from within. In 2018, he was given the job after promising results with Athletico’s under-23 side, which disputed (and won) the Paraná state championship at a professional level.

In the days leading up to the final, he put his future in doubt, suggesting he was “tired” of football, a line he has now called a “screw up.” 

The club. Athletico have never been classed as a “big club” in Brazil, largely due to not being from one of the big footballing cities São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte or Porto Alegre. This week’s cup win seems to have put that to bed however, earning Athletico a seat on Brazil’s top table.

In 2020, Athletico will have participated in the Copa Libertadores nine times, more than “big” Rio de Janeiro sides Fluminense (six) and Botafogo (five).

The Super Cup. As an added detail of this week’s cup win, Athletico are now the first club to qualify for the Supercopa do Brasil, a new competition pitting the Brazilian champions against the winners of the Copa do Brasil. It will take place on January 22, 2020.


One in five Brazilians supports Flamengo

A recent survey from renowned pollster Datafolha has shone a light on the popularity of Brazil’s football teams. Flamengo, as always, are way out in front, with 20 percent of the country supporting the red-and-blacks. That means the club can count on a fanbase of around 42 million people, which surely must put it among the best-supported clubs in the world. 

Country-wide appeal. As shown by the graphs above, Flamengo’s appeal is truly nationwide. The Rio de Janeiro club is less popular than São Paulo side Corinthians in its home Southeast region, but is by some distance the biggest side in almost all other parts of the country.

I remember a trip I took last year to the Amazon rainforest. Spending the night in a tiny town deep in the countryside of the state of Pará, only accessible by boat. Sipping on a beer outside a dilapidated general store, overlooking the Tapajós River, some 2,500 kilometers from the Maracanã stadium, I got into a discussion with some locals about the Flamengo game the previous night.

Brazil’s club. The overwhelming popularity of Flamengo in the farthest-flung parts of Brazil has a simple explanation. Back in the 1930s, during the dawn of radio in Brazil and the construction of the “Brazilian identity” by then-president Getúlio Vargas, the government made an effort to sell the image of Flamengo as the most Brazilian of clubs.

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s capital at the time, Flamengo had a strong black working-class support, yet also held the favor of a significant part of Rio’s elite. It was the perfect mix of “racial democracy” the government was trying to sell, and thus Flamengo’s matches were broadcast on radio all over Brazil, creating millions of new fans.

Oddly enough, however, despite being the most popular club in Brazil, Flamengo has rarely been the most successful, making the team without equal around the world. Except for five years at the end of the 1970s (the so-called “Zico Era”), Flamengo have often been starved for trophies. At the time they became Brazil’s most popular team, they hadn’t won anything in 12 years.

Further reading. For Portuguese speakers, this history is told superbly in Renato Soares Coutinho’s excellent Ph.D. thesis, “Um Flamengo grande, um Brasil maior” (A great Flamengo, a greater Brazil), which you can read here.

None F.C. Also notable from the recent Datafolha fan survey is the huge amount of Brazilians who don’t support any club, outweighing Flamengo fans on a national scale. This comes as little surprise for Brazilians, but may be a bit of a shock for foreigners who still see the country as the “land of football”—the sport is undoubtedly huge in Brazil, but perhaps not as big as some outsiders would expect. 


Renan Lodi: Brazil’s new left-back?

There were a couple of new faces among coach Tite’s squad for Brazil’s upcoming friendlies (more on that below), but the greatest expectations are reserved for Atletico Madrid’s 21-year-old left-back Renan Lodi.

With Marcelo and Filipe Luis dribbling off into the sunset, Brazil’s left-back position is up for grabs. Juventus’ Alex Sandro has been played in the role recently, having been selected dozens of times in recent years as an understudy, but Atletico’s upstart—seven years Alex Sandro’s junior—could have appeared out of nowhere to make the left-back spot his own.

Champions League debut. Alex Sandro and Renan Lodi faced off against each other on Wednesday as Atletico hosted Juventus in a 2-2 group stage draw. While it was Alex Sandro’s 59th Champions League game, it was Lodi’s debut in the competition—yet there was not much to tell between the two. Lodi was sturdy in defense—keeping Cristiano Ronaldo off the scoresheet—and crucial to Atletico’s game going forward.

Who gets the #6 shirt? Alex Sandro has been one of the most consistent left-backs in European football in recent years and has thoroughly deserved his call-ups to the national team. However, he has never been able to make the position his own. It was on his flank that Brazil looked their most vulnerable in their recent friendly matches, and Tite could be looking to make a change.

Lodi’s confidence is running sky-high at the moment. Not giving him starts in Brazil’s friendlies against Nigeria and Senegal would be a missed opportunity.

Callback. Renan Lodi came up through the youth ranks at Athletico, being given his first-team debut under Tiago Nunes. His move to Spain this year was the biggest transfer fee the club has ever received, totaling around EUR 20 million.


Brazil’s F1 dry spell

The land of Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Emerson Fittipaldi has been starved of success for some time now. It has now been over ten years since a Brazilian driver won a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Ten years of hurt. The year is 2009, the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” is number one in the charts, and Rubens Barrichello wins the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. His Brawn teammate Jenson Button would later go on to win the World Championship. Since then, no Brazilian driver has finished first in an F1 Grand Prix.

Brazil has now gone for two years without any representatives in the Formula 1, since Felipe Massa retired at the end of 2017, dropping into Formula E. The 2018 championship was the first time the Formula 1 had featured no Brazilians since 1969.

Hope for the future? As things stand, it is highly unlikely Brazil will have another driver on a Grand Prix grid until at least 2021. 23-year-old Pietro Fillipaldi, grandson of Formula 1 great Emerson, is currently a test driver for Haas and could make his way into the big time in the coming years.


Goal of the Week

While we covered Athletico’s cup win in our headline story this week, it is worth dedicating a bit of time to the superb winning goal, created by a ludicrous assist from forward Marcelo Cirino. With Athletico playing for time at the end of the final, Cirino brought the ball to the left touchline and attracted two Internacional markers. Instead of running down the clock, however, Cirino squeezed past the defenders with a wonderful dribble, before taking on a third and playing a perfectly weighted pass for his team-mate Rony to score. A gorgeous piece of skill to round off Athletico’s cup victory. 


What else you should know

Serie A. There were no changes to the league’s top six this weekend, with the big results coming lower down the table. Newly promoted CSA won at home to Ceará, taking them out of the relegation zone for the first time this season—at the expense of Fluminense, who suffered an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Goias. 

Copa Sudamericana. The two Brazilian sides in the Copa Sudamericana semi-finals did not get off to the best of starts. On Wednesday, Corinthians lost 2-0 at home to Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle. Amazingly, the scoreline doesn’t do the game justice, the visitors could have gotten more. On Thursday, Atlético-MG took the lead away to Argentinian side Colón, but collapsed in the second half in the beautifully named Elephant Cemetery stadium. The second legs of these ties will take place this midweek.

Stadiums 1. São Paulo’s stunning municipal Pacaembu stadium has now officially been signed over to the private sector. In an event last Monday, the city’s mayor signed the administration of the ground over to consortium Patrimônio SP, which plans to spend over BRL 200 million renovating the iconic 1940s stadium. The ground will close at the end of the year for work to begin, and I would recommend anyone who has the chance to visit the Pacaembu in its current state while they still can.

Stadiums 2. Built for the 2014 World Cup, the company managing the Arena Corinthians has been included on the list of delinquent debtors of credit reporting agency Serasa. State-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal has informed Corinthians that it will be calling in a debt of BRL 500 million after failure to negotiate the repayment of the loan the bank issued to build the stadium. In practical terms, the inclusion of Arena Corinthians S/A on the Serasa list will make it nigh on impossible for the club to manage a naming rights deal for the stadium, a move that has been promised for the last five years as a way to pay off the club’s debts with its new ground.

Brazilian national team. Coach Tite has picked his squad for Brazil’s upcoming friendly matches against Nigeria and Senegal, games which—inexplicably—will be held in Singapore. After being given their first call-ups last time around but not tested on the pitch, Bruno Henrique, Samir, and Ivan are out of the squad. Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi is in (see above), as is league top-scorer Gabigol and Grêmio’s midfield starlet Matheus Henrique.

UFC. Brazilian fighters had a difficult night on the undercard at UFC Fight Night 159 at the weekend. There were losses for Vinícius Mamute, Ariane Sorriso and Marcos Dhalsim, with the only victory coming for 36-year-old bantamweight Bethe Correia, who won her first fight in four defeating American opponent Sijara Eubanks by unanimous decision.


SportsSep 23, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.