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 Brazil flagATLETICO MINEIRO

Winners in 1971, and still waiting for a second title, they were runners-up last year, playing attacking football under coach Cuca, who has a reputation for producing attractive sides. And his side began 2013 in that same vein, winning more points than any other team in the Libertadores Cup group phase. The team is a marriage of the talent and passing range of a rejuvenated Ronaldinho with surrounding options of pace. His partnership with Bernard, cutting in from the left, is especially impressive. Their compact, newly rebuilt Estadio Independencia home is a fortress; the big drawback is a lack of strength in depth.

 ATLETICO PARANAENSE

Champions in 2001, they return to the top flight after one season in Serie B. An ambitious club, their full-strength side remains something of an unknown quantity as they fielded an under-23 team in the Parana state championship. The signing of midfielder Fran Merida from Spanish second-tier side Hercules is a typically bold acquisition and coach Ricardo Drubscky is full of bright ideas. Initially, they will have to do without their Arena da Baixada stadium, which is closed for World Cup work. Likely to invest in the transfer market in the next window.

 BAHIA

Suffered a traumatic 5-1 defeat in early April to local Salvador rivals Vitoria, in the reopening of the Fonte Nova stadium, which forced a coaching change. Veteran defensive strategist Joel Santana was a controversial choice to step in, and his squad, which includes striker Freddy Adu on loan from Philadelphia Union, looks ill-equipped for anything other than the now-traditional fight against relegation. Winners in 1988, but otherwise never in the top three.

 BOTAFOGO

The temporary closure of their Engenhao stadium has come as a blow to the 1995 champions, who otherwise would seem to be the Rio club best placed to launch a real challenge. The arrival of Clarence Seedorf last year has proved a success, with the Dutchman controlling the game wherever he roams and also having a beneficial effect on the development of a promising generation of youngsters. Coach Oswaldo De Oliveira is at last winning over the club’s relatively small but passionate fan base.

 CORINTHIANS

The reigning world club champions are still on a roll, with charismatic coach Tite marshalling a side that retains the same compactness and defensive meanness, but has more attacking options. Defending their Libertadores title could be a distraction, but otherwise they are the team to beat. It might appear that the life cycle of this side is coming to an end, but it could be prolonged by the move next year into the World Cup stadium. Have won the title five times.

 CORITIBA

Highly unlikely to repeat their shock 1985 title win, but could be an interesting team to watch, with local hero Alex returning after eight years in Turkey to provide clarity and quality to the team’s attacking play. A lack of defensive pace could be a big headache for Marquinhos Santos, who at 34 is by some distance the youngest coach in the championship.

 CRICIUMA

Representing a relatively small town of the same name, they are back in the top flight after a nine-year absence – which included a couple of spells in the third division. Realistic ambitions are limited to survival, which will take all the experience of coach Vadao, and hopes are pinned on target-man striker Giancarlo.

 CRUZEIRO

The first winners of the title in the era of the league format, in 2003, they have endured two disappointing campaigns after finishing in the top five every season between 2007 and 2010. Under pressure from their own fans as a result of local rivals Atletico Mineiro’s good form, they signed centre-back Dede from Vasco ahead of this campaign. Coach Marcelo Oliveira’s squad looks short of a title challenge,
but a Libertadores Cup place is a possibility now that they have moved into the giant, newly rebuilt Mineirao stadium.

 FLAMENGO

They have won the title six times – the last in 2009 – but a seventh would be a surprise. In a new twist, Brazil’s most popular club has traded the usual braggadocio for a down-to-earth administration who have come clean about the club’s massive debts and are trying to steer a cautious path. Coach Dorival Junior left after refusing a pay cut and his replacement Jorginho clearly needs re-enforcements, Bolivian centre-forward Marcelo Moreno has arrived on loan from Gremio to add firepower, but the big question is can the club’s long-term needs be reconciled with the short-term demand for results.

 FLUMINENSE

Reigning champions, and also winners in 1984 and 2010, the club traditionally associated with the Rio elite is very heavily dependent on its sponsor, a healthcare company, and the youth policy is well run. But has the model run its course? Deco is now seemingly past his best, while centre-forward Fred remains injury prone. The Libertadores Cup is the clear priority for Abel Braga’s men, while the supporters – who hated the Engenhao stadium – are anxiously waiting for the return to the Maracana.

 GOAIS

Last season’s second division champions, who are back in the top tier after a two-year absence, are traditionally an attractive provincial club. Coach Enderson Moreira’s side are unlikely to match their best-ever third place of 2005, but there is enough talent in the squad – which includes former international midfielder Dudu Cearense, striker Walter and veteran midfielder Hugo – to banish any thoughts of a relegation struggle.

 GREMIO

Having gone on a shopping spree once qualification for the group phase of the Libertadores Cup
had been clinched, high-profile and often controversial coach Vanderley Luxemburgo has, on paper, a squad that looks as strong and deep as any in the country. Performances, though, have not always lived up to expectations. Twice national champions, they recently moved to their new Arena stadium.

 INTERNACIONAL

The closure of the Beira Rio stadium for World Cup work has set alarm bells ringing. Last year Palmeiras went down when they were without their own ground and a similar fate nearly befell these Belo Horizonte giants in 2011. The first priority, then, is for the three-times champions to ensure against disaster. However, former national coach Dunga should be able to call on enough attacking talent – Leandro Damiao and Diego Forlan, backed up by playmaker Andres D’Alessandro – to aspire to a slot in next year’s Libertadores Cup.

 NAUTICO

The club of the elite of the city of Recife have only once finished in the top 10 – taking sixth place in 1984. They finished a praiseworthy 12th last time out, but have since lost coach Alexandre Gallo to the national youth set-up. Replacement Silas has a hard act to follow, but a move into the Arena Pernambuco should boost finances – even though it will be hard to match their home record in the Aflitos stadium.

 PONTE PRETA

The Campinas club, who are based some 70 miles outside Sao Paulo, enjoyed a solid season on last year’s return to the first division and they managed to carry that same form into the Sao Paulo state championship earlier this year. Coach Guto Ferreira is likely to stick with his 4-2-3-1 system, with target man William backed up by a collection of nippy support strikers. Third in 1981 was their best-ever finish, but survival is the aim this time.

 PORTUGUESA

The traditional club of Sao Paulo’s Portuguese community, their dwindling fan base goes into the campaign with little optimism. Although the team did well to survive on last season’s return to the top flight, they had to scale down to compete in the Sao Paulo second division, losing their coach and best players. Less than a month before the start of the new Serie A season they had a caretaker coach and a paper-thin squad.

 SANTOS

Last year’s uneven campaign was almost entirely the consequence of Neymar’s regular absence on international duty. With him Santos showed championship form; without it was relegation stuff. If he is not sold in the coming months he should not be missing as much this term and the squad around him, spearheaded by the signing of Argentinian playmaker Walter Montillo from Cruzeiro, looks much deeper. Coach Muricy Ramalho has been coming under pressure from impatient fans. Title winners in 2002 and 2004, the club represent the port city which is an hour’s drive from Sao Paulo.

 SAO PAULO

The calm of coach Ney Franco has been tested to the full this year, with qualification for the knockout phase of the Libertadores Cup only just achieved after a poor group stage. Much more is expected from one of the strongest squads around and one which is, theoretically, overflowing with attacking talent. In what will almost certainly be the last campaign of goalscoring goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, a repetition of last year’s fourth place will be seen as a disappointment for a club that have been champions six times.

 VASCO DA GAMA

These are worrying times for the four-time champions and their second place in 2011 seems a long time ago now. With the club in financial free fall, star centre-back Dede was sold to Cruzeiro to ensure that staff were paid. The only bright spot is the return from Qatar of much-respected coach Paulo Autori, who has agreed to take a salary cut. He will earn his wages several times over if the team manage a top-half finish.

 VITORIA

Back in the top flight after two years and hoping to end a sequence of yo-yoing up and down the divisions. They have an interesting young coach in Caio Junior and a team in which Maxi Biancucchi, Lionel Messi’s cousin, is playing some of the best football of his career. Their best-ever performance was second place in 1993, and a solid, mid-table finish would be acceptable this time.

By Tim Vickery

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