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Rapidly Rising Gremio Barueri Wins Again

Canuck Oranje

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Over the past few months, we have seen some our Canadian players join teams like FC Copenhagen and SC Heerenveen. Both these teams are on the rise and likely to cause some surprises in Europe this season.

So far, this is a story about a rising club in Brazil that has to rank above all. And the final chapters are yet to be written. I share it with you only because it is too good to leave quiet.

Gremio Recreativo Barueri

Today Gremio Recreativo Barueri won 2-1 today over Ituiutaba (Minas Gerais)in the game that pushed it through to the third round of the Series C (3rd national level) of the Brasileiro. The irony in this accomplishment is that Gremio Recreativo Barueri was only admitted into the Brasileiro after Rio Claro withdrew. Having all but assured their place in next year’s Series C, the only question remaining is, can they be promoted to Series B? If so, it would mark a continued march through the levels of Brazilian soccer that has seen promotion at every professional level on its first try.

This is a story I would only have been watching because of my travels to Brazil over the past few years.

Barueri is a small city of about 250,000 in a mountainous area about 30km north and west of the city of Sao Paulo. The first time I travelled to Barueri was in 2003 for business. At that time, I was told by a business associate as we drove to a meeting in Alphaville (part of Barueri) that Alphaville was a new satellite city created for business people so that they could live and work safely in the same community. It was late in the day but the parts of the city that I saw resembled smaller but wealthier Canadian cities like Barrie, North Vancouver, or Waterloo. My eyes were opened a little wider in 2004 when I had the opportunity to interview the incredible Brazilian blues guitarist, Nuno Mindelis, as part of my other passion, blues music (Montrealers might remember him from his two appearances at the Montreal Jazz Festival),. The trip involved passing through two security check points on the way up a mountain to a community called, Aldeia da Serra (also Barueri) and that was my first real exposure to how pronounced the two class structure was in Brazil. Aldeia da Serra would easily double for a tropical Switzerland (many of its residents probably have accounts in Switzerland, come to think of it). Alphaville and Aldeia da Serra are clearly communities that represent the privileged class.

Still, there was no indication that this community intended to force its way to the forefront of Brazilian futebol. I was alerted to the growing soccer power when I noticed by accident that Gremio Recreativo Baureri had made it to the Semi-finals of the Copa de Sao Paulo Juniores this past January. After that, my Brazilian girlfriend mentioned to me in passing that her best friend’s 18 year old son left Villareal in Spain to play in Barueri this past June. My understanding was that he left by his own choice. Still, like most Canadians would have, I remained skeptical.

After further research this morning, this is what I found.

Gremio Recreativo Barueri is a relatively new club on the scene. It was founded in 1989 but only began to play professional football in 2001 in the State of Sao Paulo’s Series B-3 (the 6th Division within the State of Sao Paulo). In the state championship earlier this year, the club was crowned Champion of Series A-2 (2nd level) and will play against the big clubs like Sao Paulo FC, Palmeiras, Corinthians, and Santos in next year’s State Championship. If you think about it, it means the club was promoted in every year it was playing professionally.

In addition, the club won the U-20 Copa de Sao Paulo in 2001 (all top clubs in Brazil participate in this tournament) under its old name Roma Esporte Internationale and then reached the semi-finals again in 2006. On top of that, the same Brazil U-20 team that played in Canada earlier this year is currently training in Barueri in preparation for the South American U-20 tournament (to qualify for 2007 World Championship in Canada).

Just how ambitious is this new club?

Well, Barueri is identified as one location that will have a new stadium built in time for the World Cup 2014, if Brazil is selected as the location. In fact, the city has already begun the construction process. The plan is to have the first stage of the new stadium complete in time for the 2007 Sao Paulo State Championship and needs to because the minimum size of stadium required for participation in the top level is 15,000. After completion of the first stage, the stadium will have a capacity of 19,000. When complete, it will hold 40,000. From my experience with this city, they will build it and on time.

Oh, for a little more Canadian content, there is a private bilingual school in Alphaville called, Maple Bear Canadian School.

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After four rounds, Gremio Recreativo Barueri has three wins and should at least be tied for first place in their group by the end of today. They won today 4-1 against J. Malucelli. With two rounds remaining in this phase, it means they are comfortably in position to advance to the next and final phase. Half of the teams that make it to the final phase of Series C promote to Series B.

The developing story here for me is how a well-funded (and politically powerful) team can slice its way through various levels on its way to the elite level in Brazil. Still early but it doesn't seem that Series C of the Brazilian League is going to hold them up. Only time will tell.

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The dream for Gremio Recreative Barueri continues. Today they defeated Criciuma 1-0 at home. This after making things a little nervous losing in midweek 4-1 away to challenger America Minas Gerais. The win today means they win their group to go into the final phase of the Series C (third level) of the Brazilian National Championships.

The final phase is a league of 8 where the top four promotes to Series B. Promotion from Series C in Brazil probably has more significance than in many other countries because there is no guarantee that your team will be in Series C for the following year. Teams in Series C are based on performance in State competitions and includes relegated teams from Series B. In other words, not qualifying for promotion in the final phase doesn't have much of an advantage over failing to quality for the next phase in first phase of the competition.

Once in Series B, the the levels (A & B) have a league structure and also have promotion and relegation.

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Three rounds of 14 of the final phase are finished so far. In the first round, Gremio Barueri got off to a rocky start losing away 2-0 in Fortaleza. After that misstep, the club came back to win its next two games and now sits tied with three other teams in first position. The top four teams of the remaining eight promote to Serie "B".

As an indication of the developing interest in this team in Sao Paulo for this phase, Gremio Recreativo Barueri is now playing most of its home games at the Palestra Italia (Palmeiras home field).

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With two games remaining in the final phase of Series C, Barueri sits in the final promotion spot only one point up from the team behind them. Barueri's final two games are against teams below them and the last of those two is a home game against the right behind them on Nov 29.

To give a little more perspective on this amazing move up Brazilian soccer, the CBF does rankings for teams in Brazil (more than 250) and Barueri does not even appear on that list. I suspect that will change.

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On Wednesday November 29th, Gremio Recreativo Barueri played their final round game in the fourth and final phase of Series C. The game was GR Barueri's home game against Ferroviário who sat just one point behind them. At the time, GR Barueri was in the fourth and final promotion position. In other words, GR Barueri would promote to Series B (second highest professional level in Brazil) with a win or a tie. A loss would mean that Ferroviário would be promoted.

The game was held at the Parque Antarctica (also known as Palestra Italia)which is the home field of Palmeiras in Sao Paulo. With their homefield undergoing construction that will result in a new 18-20,000 seat stadium, the Palmeiras facility is the nearest large stadium (approx. 35,000) to Barueri.

In the game, GR Barueri came well prepared and defeated Ferroviário 3-0. That means the Cinderella story continues into next year's Brasileiro.

But first, the next chapter of this story will be written in January - March 2007 when this club takes on the likes of Corinthians, Palmeiras, Sao Paulo, and Santos in the Sao Paulo State Championships. While I don't know if Goltv will carry that but it could the first time that we will be able to see this team play on international tv.

In summary, it would be easy to dismiss this team as one that will flame out when it begins to face the heavy hitters. However, this may not be the case with GR Barueri. Why?

One reason is money and political influence. Barueri is home to the many wealthy individuals with political influence. While political influence does not impact team performance today as it once did (by capturing quality talent and allowing big clubs to maintain their place at the top level), Barueri is home to one of Brazil's national training centre. Barueri also has been able to secure all the necessary approvals and financing to build a 45,000 seat stadium (when all phases are complete)and this is a municipal stadium.

The second reason is access to talent. Two other quality U-20 teams affiliated with mid-range professional teams based in the Sao Paulo region train at the national training centre there. GR Barueri itself already has one of the best U-20 teams in Brazil. Barueri is also on the commuter rail line to Sao Paulo which means that aspiring youth players from Sao Paulo can travel their to train (also no doubt the reason why some U-20 teams from other cities further from Sao Paulo train there).

Finally, Brazil still is one place where you can buy quality players. Most quality youth players (with the exception of the very best) are not on long-term contracts and outside of the those players starting on the top 5-10 teams in Brazil, most players playing in Brazil are available for the right price. In Sao Paulo, I suspect only Sao Paulo FC would be based in a wealthier neighbourhood.

Anyway, this has been an interesting team to follow and I know I will attempt to attend some GR Barueri's games of the Paulista Championship in January while in Sao Paulo.

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