There was a mixture of delight and despair among Brazil's elite when the 2007 season reached its conclusion little over six weeks ago. But in a country where, uniquely, 27 state championships exist - and carry a weight of importance - all of those emotions will be forgotten as the races for regional supremacy commence.
The action in Parana, Pernambuco and Sao Paulo will begin on Wednesday, followed by the championships in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul on Saturday, and then in Minas Gerais the following weekend. Between them, these six states account for 17 of the 20 sides that will contest the 2008 Brazilian Championship. And despite the close-season recess, there was no shortage of activity on the transfer front.
Refreshingly, these clubs managed to retain some of their brightest stars. Diego Cavalieri and Jorge Valdivia, for example, are set to begin the campaign as Palmeiras players, Rogerio Ceni and Richarlyson will do the same for Sao Paulo, while Felipe, Kleber, Arouca and Ibson will kick off 2008 in the colours of Corinthians, Santos, Fluminense and Flamengo respectively. Moreover, Leandro Amaral and Dodo opted to move within their homeland rather than head abroad and although 18-year-old Breno penned a big-money deal with Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich, fellow teenage prospects Renato Augusto, Alex Teixeira and Lulinha did not follow him across the Atlantic.
There have also been some notable arrivals. Sao Paulo snared Adriano, scorer of 25 goals in 37 games for the Seleção, on a six-month loan deal from Inter Milan, while Flamengo lured back former player Kleberson, the player once described by Luiz Felipe Scolari as the "driving force" behind Brazil's 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ triumph.
Firepower v fan power
It is another of the Rio de Janeiro heavyweights who have done the most impressive business over the close season, however, and Fluminense will expect nothing less than a return to the top of the podium on 4 May following the acquisitions of strikers Leandro Amaral, Dodo and Washington, who netted a record 34 goals in the 2004 Brazilian Championship and, more recently, finished as the leading marksman at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 for Urawa Reds.
Add to that another two recruits, former Brazil left-wingback Gustavo Nery and Argentinian playmaker Dario Conca, along with their 2007 standouts Arouca and Thiago Neves, and Renato Gaucho has a richly talented cast at his disposal.
They are likely to require every ounce of this quality to deny Flamengo a second successive crown. Galvanised by their fans, the Rubro-Negro enjoyed a fairly tale finish to the 2007 campaign and with Kleberson set to supplant an already-impressive midfield in February, their masses of followers have forecast success.
The hopes of Botafogo and Vasco suffered with the respective losses of Dodo and Leandro Amaral. Nevertheless, the latter seem poised to unleash Alex Teixeira, a star of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 who shone on the club's recent tour of Dubai. "Alex is a wonderful talent. He's very skillful and quick and could be a great asset (in the Campeonato Carioca)," enthused coach Romario.
Trio plot upset as Adriano lands
With Adriano spearheading an outfit that dominated the 2007 Brasileiro, Sao Paulo will start out as the team to beat in the Paulistao. Not that they will be short of competition. Palmeiras have made some intriguing signings, although the key to a potential conquest could be the arrival of Vanderlei Luxemburgo at their helm.
His replacement at Santos, Emerson Leao, is another of Brazil's most reputable coaches and he will be determined to guide the Vila Belmiro side to their third straight title. Meanwhile, Mano Menezes, who worked wonders at Gremio, will be out to get Corinthians back on track following their relegation into the Brasileiro Serie B last month.
Belo Horizonte giants Atletico-MG and Cruzeiro - along with the
emerging Ipatinga - have each taken one of the last three
Campeonato Mineiro prizes, and it is difficult to envisage the
honours going outside of the trio this year. Over in Rio Grande do
Sul, Internacional and Gremio will be the overwhelming favourites
to reign in the Campeonato Gaucho having won the last seven
editions of the competition collectively.
Fresh from their relegation into the national scene's Serie B, Parana will be determined to respond by seizing the bragging rights in the Campeonato Paranaense, although they will face stern competition from Coritiba - who have just moved in the opposite direction - and Atletico-PR. Elsewhere, Nautico, Santa Cruz and Sport appear set for a three-way battle in Pernambuco.
While the destination of all 27 state titles remain unknown, one thing that can be taken for granted is that Brazil's leading clubs will go all out for glory. In a country where football is deeply ingrained in life and culture, watching an arch-rival celebrate is simply intolerable.