The Brazilian Cup is a genuinely national competition that highlights the strength-in-depth of the country’s football.
Held annually since 1989, the Brazilian Cup is commonly referred to as “the shortcut to the Libertadores”. Rather than the 38 games of the league campaign, the cup-winners qualify for South America’s premier club competition after just 12 – which can even be 10, as in the first two rounds there is no second leg if the away side wins the first by more than two goals.
But for a shortcut, there is a lot of travelling involved. The cup is a genuinely national competition in a land the size of a continent. Just nine of Brazil’s states are represented in this year’s first division. The cup has participants from all 27.
There are two teams per state, plus ten from the top of the CBF’s ranking, making 64 in all. They eliminate each other on a home-and-away knock out basis culminating in a two legged Final in late June and early July.
Cruzeiro and Gremio have both won the cup a record four times. Last year’s winner, Sport of Recife, was something of a surprise – but not as big as 2004 and 2005, when the trophy went to Paulista and Santo Andre respectively, clubs that were in the second division at the time.
The possibility of shock winners in increased by the fact that clubs who are participating in the Libertadores – the best in the country – do not take part in the cup, since the two competitions take place midweek from February to early July.
This has led to calls in the Brazilian media for a reorganisation of the South American calendar. At present the Libertadores is held in the first half of the year and the other international competition, the Sul-Americana in the second. What some in Brazil would like to see is both played simultaneously in one semester, thus freeing the other for a Brazilian Cup in which those clubs disputing the Libertadores can also participate.
It is a proposal of extraordinary naivety, which highlights the blind spot that many Brazilians have about the rest of their continent.
Both the Libertadores and the Sul-Americana run on TV money. To play them at the same time would mean one would be competing against the other, both for TV space and advertising revenue – an obvious nonsense.
The proposal also ignores the fact that clubs from the smaller countries, with the restrictions of their internal markets, count on all year round international club competition. Why should they give this up just so that the Brazilian Cup can include those teams taking part in the Libertadores? At a moment where the political and economic momentum in South America is towards greater integration, a proposal to effectively halve the time given to international club competitions is diplomatic madness.
This is especially true since the central problem – the fact that the teams in the Libertadores do not take part in the domestic cup – is not really a problem at all. There are still plenty of famous names in the Brazilian Cup – Internacional with a very strong squad, Corinthians with Ronaldo, Rio de Janeiro’s traditional big four, Santos, Atletico Mineiro, Atletico Paranaense among them.
It also ensures a certain rotation in terms of participation in the Libertadores, nowadays the clubs’ number one priority. There is always at least one club taking part who had not qualified the previous year.
The 2009 Libertadores features Sao Paulo, Cruzeiro, Gremio and Palmeiras, all ex-winners and frequent qualifiers for the competition. The other Brazilian representative, domestic cup winners Sport, had only previously taken part in 1988. And on their second appearance Sport are off to a wonderful start, winning away to Chile’s Colo Colo and then beating reigning champions LDU of Ecuador – giving an excellent illustration of the strength in depth of the Brazilian game.