Brazilian football is back (sort of)

Fluminense x Volta Redonda  Fred
Not the dream return that Fred was hoping for (André Durão)

After one false dawn, Rio de Janeiro’s state championship is back under way again, but the other states are yet to follow.

Botafogo, Vasco and Fluminense were back in competitive action last Sunday after a coronavirus-enforced break of over three months. Rio’s state competition had got under way ten days earlier, with Flamengo playing (and beating) Bangu, but after that game a court ruled for another temporary pause in football’s return in the state.

Competitive matches haven’t got under way in the other big footballing states, like Sao Paulo or Minas Gerais, even though the start of the national championship has been pencilled in for the weekend of the 9th of August. That’s just over a month away, and with 7 or 8 rounds to go in many of the state championships, it is going to be a race against time to get all of those games completed in time.

Brazil football calendar is crazy at the best of times – with the Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana and Brazilian Cup demanding, time, energy and long flights, in addition to the energy-sapping and lengthy national and state championships.

The bigger picture is that the games in Rio are going ahead despite Brazil still being in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. New cases are still on the rise and many people are questioning why football is going ahead. At one point 16 players from Vasco tested positive (the day before they were set to resume training). 3 players from Volta Redonda tested positive on the day they played Fluminense – the match went ahead. Brazil, and South American countries more broadly, are being hit particularly hard during this pandemic and unlike Europe, where cases are now low.

Getting football back does have its benefits for society (and bloggers) of course. For a start, it gives those in lockdown something new to watch on the box. Of course, there are more important things in life, but as we know, football is the most important of the unimportant things. It is also important for the already-precarious club finances, especially that of the smaller teams in Brazil. There are arguments to get the show on the road. Public health needs to come first though and with the virus still raging out of control, it does feel that the games are coming back a bit too soon.

What’s more, we may even see crowds at the games in Brazil before we do in Europe after Rio’s council ruled that crowds could be let back in from 10 July onwards, albeit only at 1/3rd of capacity. Football back is one thing, but crowds being back is another altogether. I could maybe see that working in Europe right now, but it seems too soon in Brazil given where the pandemic is at.

There are also plans afoot to get the intercontinental tournaments underway again too, in September. One problem is that different countries are at different stages of their virus outbreaks and the teams are some football teams in some South American countries haven’t even resumed training yet. Teams are likely to play each other with different levels of fitness and readyness. Think Flamengo, who have played two competitive matches since returning, while their group rivals, Junior Barranquilla, of Colombia, haven’t even resumed training yet.

There is still so much uncertainty, but at least we have some tangible Brazilian football action to get our heads round, even if its just the games in Rio, for now.

In terms of the on-pitch action, Flamengo picked up where they left off by recording a comprehensive 3-0 win in their first game back and 2-0 in their second game back. Vasco beat Macae 3-1, with Argentina striker Germán Cano bagging three goals. And they followed that up with a 1-0 victory against Madureira on Thursday night. Yet despite the two wins, they were eliminated from the Rio Cup due to their poor form in the matches before lockdown.

Fluminense, meanwhile, have taken completely the opposite approach: they still top their group, despite having had an awful return to action. They lost 3-0 against Volta Redonda in their first game, and could only manage a 0-0 draw against Macae in their second game. But they progress in the competition though thanks to their good form before the break. It hasn’t been the dream return to the club that club legend, once good striker and public enemy number one during the 2014 World Cup, Fred, was hoping for when he moved back to Rio during lockdown. He will be hoping to make his mark in the latter stages of the Rio Cup, starting this weekend against Botafogo in the semi final.

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