The day Conmebol ruined Carnival

Gabigol puts a brave face on the situation

As if overseeing dodgy refereeing decisions wasn’t bad enough….

Everybody knows the thing that the Brazilian footballer loves the most. The thing that spurs him on to train for hours on end, to perfect his skills, to make countless sacrifices in his life, the very thing that dreams are made of: to be seen in a celebrity cabin during Carnival. That’s right. Brazilian footaball players love Carnival. They can’t get enough of it. If you want proof of this type Neymar Bahia into Google and see what he is up to right now.

But Conmebol, South American football’s governing body, spoilsports of Brazilian happiness, have only gone and shattered those Carnival dreams for the professional footballers of the top seven Brazilian clubs by organising the first round of Copa Libertadores group matches in the same week as Carnival. To make matters even worse, six out of the seven games are away from home, meaning that most of the players cannot even prepare for these games at home (and slip out for ‘a’ drink).

There are a host of Brazilian complaints against Conmebol, mainly related to quality of refereeing in intercontinental competitions. For example, Cruzeiro, Palmeiras and Grêmio all felt that they were hard done by in Liberadores matches last season. The complaints mainly fall on deaf ears. Sometimes Conmebol say they are sorry. But their new decision now is basically just the same as telling Brazilian teams to go and F*^% themselves and take their refereeing complaints and stick them up their a%$*.

To make matters worse for Flamengo, their match is on Tuesday, in Bolivia, at 3,700 meters above sea level. Needing to acclimatise to the high altitude, the players had to fly out to the Bolivian city on Sunday night, thereby miss ingout on the Carnival in Brazil altogether. Gabigol, their new striker, tried to put brave face on it, and mustered a half decent smile as he arrived in the Bolivian city of Oruro.

The newly-named Athletico Paranaense (previously Atlético Paranaense – yep, they changed their name as instructed by their marketing consultants) will also play away from home on Tuesday night, against Deportes Tolima of Colombia. Internacional, Palmeiras, Grêmio and Cruzeiro are all away from home too. The only Brazilian side playing at home this week is Atlético-PR. Don’t expect them to break any records running in that match.

At least the authorities in Brazil are a little more sympathetic to the needs of the Brazilian footballer. For example, in Rio they arranged the schedule so that teams there would not play any matches yesterday or today – unlike São Paulo, the two main days of Rio’s Carnival, are Sunday and Monday. Flamengo warmed up for their Libertadores game with a 3-1 win at Portuguesa on Thursday night last night. In some states there were no games at all this last weekend.

As it happens, there were a few interesting matches in the last round of state championship games. In Rio, Botafogo, with one eye on the big party this weekend, were beaten by Volta Redonda (who ever said that there were no upsets in this competition?); if they don’t get their act together will run the risk of missing out on the semi finals.

Santos were almost upset by Oeste, in a rain soaked São Paulo; they had to come from behind twice to win that game and in doing so booked their spot in the knockout phases of the competition. São Paulo managed an away win at Bragantino. They had to work for it, but their young team has some potential. I’m really excited by their new kid on the block Antony, who has broken into the team this year – he looks like the real deal to me; a good left foot, composure, skill, attitude.

Last but not least, Corinthians overcame a very tricky tie in the Copa Sul-Americana last week, and beat Racing on penalties after the teams couldn’t be separated over two legs. Racing fielded a weakened side, but for Corinthians a win is a win, and they, along with Botafogo, progress in the competition.

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