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Brazilian Soccer’s equivalent to College Basketball’s March Madness (January 2012)


Canuck Oranje

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I have posted on this in previous years but I will say it again. The Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior has got to be one of the most intriguing youth tournaments anywhere. Its size, the quality of youth players and the level of the stakes for young players in this tournament make it compelling to watch.

The tournament starts with 24 groups of 4 teams on January 3rd and finishes on January 25th with the final at Pacaembu stadium. Ninety-six teams representing all 26 states and Federal District participate. While a disproportionate number of teams come from the home state of Sao Paulo, each state association selects its top junior clubs to attend. Consequently it should be no surprise that most Serie A (only Atletico Clube Goianiense failed to make the grade) and Serie B clubs have junior teams in the tournament. The competition is intense from the very beginning as only the group winners are assured of advance with the best 8 runners-up filling out the thirty-two teams in the second stage and the beginning of the single knockout part of the tournament. Many of its games are televised nationally.

What makes this tournament so intriguing? There are three main things.

First, this is a U-18 or U-19 tournament depending on which year (2011 or 2012) you use as reference. This makes the outcome more uncertain because most state leagues have U-17 and U-20 categories but not a defined U-18 category. It also means that every team in this tournament is constructed for this tournament using their best young players in the U-20 category and their best in the U-17 categories. Consequently, it is not straight forward to determine with teams should be better and which might be weaker.

Second, Brazil does not have many tournaments that select teams as broadly as this tournament. Copa Sao Paulo is probably the broadest and with the oldest players participating in the tournament already being 18, it is the focal point for scouts and agents. There are a number of teams that come out of states like Amazona, Roraima, Amapa, Tocantins, etc. that few scouts and agents have seen and not likely any have seen them play against top competition. A good tournament by a player from the deep interior can change their life completely.

Third, there are always surprises for the casual fan of Brazilian soccer because most are not aware of the strength of some of the privately-owned youth development clubs. For example, last year, Corinthians was beaten the second stage by Desportivo Brasil’s entry in the tournament. Similarly, in 2010, Flamengo was beaten by Zico’s development club CFZ in the second stage with Flamengo being so embarrassed that I’m sure it was one of the reasons Flamengo entered into a partnership with CFZ and gain access to its young players after the tournament. Their will be some shock defeats in this tournament too.

In the 2012 edition, who will win? Who knows? Typically, the big clubs have a good chance of winning but it is never certain which of them will survive. There are always a handful of big clubs who go down to defeat. And there have been smaller clubs who have been champions including wins since 2001 by Gremio Barueri, Portuguesa, Santo Andre, America-SP, and Figueirense. Aside from the big clubs and particularly the big clubs who have been champion of this tournament more than once like Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Flamengo, Internacional, Flumenense, and Atletico Mineiro, here are a few teams with some success in the past that could surprise this year:

1. America-MG – winner of the Brazil U-20 tournament despite having its senior team relegated.

2. Mogi Mirim-SP – played and lost to Sao Paulo FC in the Sao Paulo State U-20 final and also played eventual winners, Flamengo, to a tough draw in last years tournament in the first stage.

3. Gremio Barueri-SP – lost in quarterfinals to eventual finalist Mogi Mirim in the State U-20 league championship on tie breakers and with the owners owning two clubs, this entry has some evidence of being a merged team for this tournament.

4. Desportivo Brasil (Porto Feliz)-SP – Always a tough tournament team that plays big tournaments in Europe (against youth teams like Barcelona and Manchester U) a lot and has partnership links to ManU

5. Red Bull Brasil-SP – a long shot but money talks.

6. Ole Brasil – SP – a former U-17 champion in the State of Sao Paulo.

Of the first stage groups, there are also some potential groups of death:

Group C – With Ole Brasil being the home team, it plays host to five-time champion, Fluminense, and Mogi Mirim with only one team assured to go through. The fourth club Ji Parana from the deep interior state of Rondonia may be exposed to this level of competition for the first time and will likely end up being cannon fodder.

Group K – Audax (formerly Pau de Acucar EC and a wealthy youth club with experience in European tournaments) plays host to two Serie A youth clubs, Avai & national U-20 champion, America-MG. Again the fourth club, Sete de Setembro from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, will likely just try to maintain respectability.

Group R – Desportivo Brasil plays host to two-time champion Atletico-MG and Serie B club, Criciuma. The fourth club CRB could be a spoiler here because I doubt they will be that over-matched.

The most interesting match in the first stage could be the final group match in Group U between City youth rivals, Sao Paulo and Gremio Barueri. Both are former champions (Sao Paulo three times) and while Sao Paulo is the current state U-20 champions, Gremio Barueri is not likely to be that intimidated for the reason given earlier and there are no secrets. The game is already one of the featured television matches in this tournament.

For anyone interested in following this tournament, there are many Brazilian newspapers who report on it and many games will make it to live streaming. Here are some links:

http://www.gazetaesportiva.net/noticia/2011/11/copa-sao-paulo-de-juniores-2012/tabela-2012.html

http://globoesporte.globo.com/futebol/Copa-SP-de-futebol-junior/#/classificacao-e-jogos

http://www.futebolpaulista.com.br/competicoes/Copa%20S%C3%A3o%20Paulo%20J%C3%BAnior/?ano=2012

And internet streaming will likely eventually come available here.

http://www.futebolaovivo.net/tv-online.php

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