Brazil is a huge country, consisting of 27 states (including the federal district of Brasília). Each state has a local state championship that runs from around January to May every year (the exact dates vary from state to state). The quality of the state championships varies considerably. Most of the better teams are located in the richer southern states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul. The Rondí´nia state championship – a wild-west state located in the Amazon jungle, bordering Bolivia and famous for deforestation and cattle farming – is not very strong, for example. I’ve never been there. I don’t plan to go there. And I couldn’t care less about what happens in the state championship there.
Tim Vickery is a vocal and well-articulated critic of the state championships and explains why in this very informative post. But the fans love them, partly because they settle the local bragging rights and party due to tradition. They do give the smaller teams the opportunity to play against bigger teams, and that is good for their players, fans and club coffers. I think that is a good thing too. But, in my opinion they are unnecessary long and clutter an already busy calendar. Rather than scrap them, I would simply make them shorter.
They are mostly run in some kind of league format with qualification for a knock-out phase depending on the final league position. Until a few years ago the São Paulo State Championship (Campeonato Paulista) – the most competitive of the state championships – twenty teams played each other once in a league format with the top eight teams qualifying for a quarter final know out phase. Each team would play at least 19 league matches. And the winner would play a total of 23 games (19 league, one quarter final, one semi and two for the final which takes place over two legs). There are also several divisions within each state (first, second, third divisions) with relegation and promotion for the best and worst teams.
Now it has been split into several mini leagues with the top teams from each mini league qualifying for a knockout phase. Confused? Me too.
The Rio State Championship (Campeonato Carioca in Portuguese. Carioca being the nickname for Rio State) is even more confusing. The top division consists of 16 teams split into two groups of eight. The competition is also split into two sub-competitions or phases (whatever you want to call them): The Guanabara Cup (Taça Guanabara) and the Rio Cup (Taça Rio). In the first competition (Guanabara Cup), each team plays all the other group members once, in a league format, with the top two sides in each groups going through to a semi-final where they play the top two from the other group. The winners of the two semis play a final to decide the Guanabara Cup winner.
The groups stay the same for the Rio Cup but instead of each team playing the teams in its own group once, they play all the teams in the other group once. Once again, after summing up the points league style, the top two from each group go through to the semis. The team that wins the Rio Cup then plays the winner of the Guanabara Cup to see who the State Champion is. If one team wins both the Guanabara and Rio Cups, then that team is the State Champion.
Each state follows its own format which will generally be something similar to the format in São Paulo and Rio.
The top teams from each state (one to eight teams depending on the strength of that states’ championship) will qualify for the following year’s Brazilian Cup (Copa do Brasil in Portuguese. Remember Brazil is spelt with an S in Portuguese!). As an example, my favourite state, Rondí´nia, only send one team. I believe that league position also determines who does and doesn’t qualify for the national fourth division in some cases.