Carnival time comes early for Carioca fans
© AFP

Though Rio de Janeiro’s leading samba schools such as Mangueira, Salgueiro and Beija-Flor are remaining tight-lipped as regards their plans for February’s fiercely competitive Carnaval parades, fans of the city’s heavyweight clubs Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco da Gama have been ushering in the party season a couple of months early.

Two of the foursome had championship wins to celebrate come the end of the year, Fla taking the Serie A title and Vasco winning Serie B, while the other pair showed impressive spirit to battle successfully against relegation and stay in the top flight.

“It’s great to see the city’s football teams doing well,” said Fla striker and top scorer Adriano, whose team put in an impressive late charge to clinch the 2009 Brasileirao. “I was pleased to see Fluminense and Botafogo escape relegation and it’s also good to see Vasco back in the top division. There’ll be good times from now on.”

Adding further cheer to the Carioca spirit of celebration was the choice of the city to host the 2016 Olympic Games, just two years after Brazil hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. Good times indeed, and attendances at Rio’s mythical Estadio Maracana this season also bode well for these future major events.

There were no fewer than 24 games at the Maracana attended by over 50,000 paying spectators, most of them Flamengo home matches, with Fla enjoying the support of over 80,000 fans on three occasions. This support from the Rubro-negro faithful proved to be invaluable in helping coach Andrade’s side to their first national league title since 1992.

Meanwhile, A Gigante da Colina (the Giant on the Hill), as Vasco are known, clinched their first silverware since 2000 when claiming the Serie B title. After a severe overhaul of the playing staff, Vasco quickly found their feet at the lower level and went on to comfortably seal promotion with four matches to spare.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Vasco President Roberto Dinamite, an iconic former striker for both Vasco and Brazil. “Flamengo suddenly mounted a title charge and ended up winning. Vasco won their title too, and Fluminense and Botafogo both did what they had to do.”

“We have to highlight the importance that good planning has towards success, because that would be positive for football in Rio de Janeiro,” continued Dinamite. “What matters most is the renaissance of Carioca football. Let’s hope that now Flamengo are champions Vasco will win it next year, then Fluminense and then Botafogo.”

Flu, for their part, showed encouraging signs for 2010 by adding a runners-up spot in the 2009 Copa Sudamericana to their second place in the 2008 Copa Libertadores, though they needed a miraculous late run to avoid relegation and finished 21 points behind rivals Fla. And despite spending 27 consecutive matchdays mired in the relegation zone, the Flu fans stayed loyal to their team, with a combined 169,083 paying supporters attending the club’s final three league games.

Botafogo’s achievements were less lauded, perhaps because the team spent less time than Flu in the drop zone, but their escape also included a sizeable pinch of drama. Needing to win their last two games to stay up, Bota’s victims were title-chasing duo Sao Paulo and Palmeiras, ruining both’s championship bids in the process.

“It’s an honour for any city to have its big clubs in the Brazilian top flight in 2010,” said the Mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes. “The joy experienced by flamenguistas (Fla fans), alvinegros (Bota fans) and tricolores (Flu fans) was shared by vascaínos like myself, who are still celebrating the Serie B title and the return to the first division. Congratulations to Flamengo, for being top of this list, and to Carioca football as a whole.”

All that remains is to see who will still be celebrating come 16 and 17 January, when the Rio state championship begins for another year. And shortly after that, starting 14 and 15 February, it is Carnaval time!