Brazilian football returns at the end of January 2013 for what promises to be another thrilling season, with two major tournaments set to kick off – the SP state ‘Paulistão’ and the Latin American Copa Libertadores – with several games here in São Paulo.
Truth be told, it’s been a while since the year’s first championship, the Paulistão, was considered interesting or even relevant. For the ‘Big Four’ teams – São Paulo, Palmeiras, Corinthians and Santos – it’s more of a pre-season than a championship. The sides challenging for Libertadores tend to play their B teams, while marginal clubs like Campinas’s Guarani, whose 2012 Cinderella run went all the way to the final, try to seize the moment. Fairytales aside, the Paulistão provides ample opportunity to watch the state’s most bitter rivalries play out.
These rivalries were fueled by an offseason filled with drama usually reserved for the soap operas that precede the televised matches. Palmeiras, who find themselves in an unfamiliar position, having been relegated to the national second division, ‘Serie B’, parted ways with captain Marcos Assunção, whose only consolation may be avoiding 'Serie B' – he’s signed on with rivals Santos.
In other high-profile transfers, São Paulo will be leaning heavily on former Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso in his first full year with the club, while Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato, who left Milan and the team owner Berlusconi’s daughter – his Italian girlfriend, Barbara – to become Corinthians’ newest striker, will try and prove he’s fully recovered from his injuries when he debuts for Coach Tite’s team during the Paulistão.
In contrast to the low rated Paulistão, Copa Libertadores is to South Americans what UEFA’s Champions League is to Europeans – namely, huge – and is poised to feature three of SP’s ‘Big Four’ in 2013. Santos, who won Libertadores in 2011 behind the dazzling play of young phenom Neymar, failed to qualify and will be watching its state rivals from the sidelines this year.
The three-time champion São Paulo will have to make it through the pre-Libertadores stage to find their way into the main 32-team draw, while Palmeiras are already on to the group stage on the strength of their ‘Copa do Brasil’ win, with hopes of giving their fans something to celebrate this year. Corinthians will be defending their first-ever Libertadores crown, having beaten the storied Argentinian juggernaut Boca Juniors in a gripping final.
In our pick for match of the month, the world champions Corinthians – they defeated the Champions League winner Chelsea in the Club World Cup final in December 2012 – are reunited with their now world-renowned Fiel (faithful) supporters as they begin their quest for a repeat against Bogotá’s Millonarios, one of Colombia’s most popular teams.
It promises to be a memorable event on and off the pitch, with Alexandre Pato hoping to showcase his impressive speed and ability to score in his Libertadores debut for Corinthians, and the Fiel playing a big part in their home stands, passionately singing and cheering for their beloved team.
Matches in São Paulo this month
The pick of the month's matches in São Paulo follows, in chronological order. Times, prices and other details can change at short notice, so it's best to check before heading out. Tickets can be purchased online at ingressofacil.com.br and futebolcard.com.br.
Corinthians vs. Mogi Mirim (Paulistão)
Alexandro Pato is set to wear Corinthians's jersey in the team's home stadium, Pacaembu, for the first time in the fourth round of the Paulistão. Estádio do Pacaembu. 30 January, 10pm.
Santos vs. São Paulo (Paulistão)
Paulo Henrique Ganso faces his former team for the first time in this paulistano classico. Vila Belmiro. TV channel Band and Globo. 3 February, 5pm.
Palmeiras vs. Sporting (Libertadores)
Verdão, or Big Green, as the paulistano team is known, welcomes the Peruvian Sporting in hopes of celebrating a home Libertadores victory with its fans. Estádio do Pacaembu. TV channel Band and Globo. 14 February, 10pm
Corinthians vs. Palmeiras (Paulistão)
The local derby finds the two sides at polar opposites of each other: one has just fulfilled its fans's lifelong dream of conquering Libertadores and the Club World Cup, while the other has made their fans's worst nightmare a reality – they were relegated to the Brasileirão’s 2nd division. Estádio do Pacaembu. 17 February, 5pm.
MATCH OF THE MONTH: Corinthians vs. Millionarios (Libertadores)
Guerreiro, Cássio and the other world champion players begin the defence of their Libertadores trophy in a match against Millonarios, one of Colombia’s most popular teams. Estádio do Pacaembu, 27 February, 10pm.
São Paulo vs. The Strongest (Libertadores)
São Paulo might have to play this match against the Bolivian side at Pacaembu rather than its home Morumbi stadium if they're punished for the off-field antics that took place during 2012’s Sul-Americano championship final. Estádio do Morumbi or Estádio do Pacaembu (TBC). TV channel Globo and Band. 28 February, 9.30pm.
Matches outside São Paulo
England vs. Brazil (international friendly)
The Brazilian national team will fly to London to face the English national team at Wembley Stadium in the first leg of a home and away series of friendlies. To get the full experience, join the Brits and Brazilians watching it live in an event at the Queen's Head pub. You'll have to wait almost four months to see the teams meet again – they'll be re-opening the Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro, on 2 June. 6 February, 5.30pm (Brazilian time)
São Paulo vs. Atlético Mineiro (Libertadores)
If São Paulo manages to get through the Pre-Libertadores, look out for the must-watch, all-Brazilian match, Atlético Mineiro vs. São Paulo, that will be played in Atlético's native state of Minas Gerais. TV channel Globo and Band. 13 February, 10pm.