Sao Paulo eye historic treble
© AFP

No team has won three successive Brasileiro titles. Not the Palmeiras machine spearheaded by Ademir da Guia, nor the great Internacional side with Falcao as its fulcrum, nor even the star-stacked Flamengo outfit headlined by the magnificent Zico. It is a statistic that illustrates the unpredictable charm of the competition, but it is one that Sao Paulo will set out to change when the 2008 edition begins this weekend.

O Tricolor Paulista cruised to glory in both 2006 and 2007, and coach Muricy Ramalho certainly has the quality at his disposal to repeat the feat. Alex Silva, Richarlyson and Hernanes have all turned out for Brazil in recent games, while Rogerio Ceni and the in-form Adriano will be hoping to use the domestic championship to propel themselves back into Dunga's plans.

Sao Paulo face competition from local rivals Palmeiras, who finished seventh last term before adding the likes of Denilson, Kleber and Alex Mineiro to a squad already comprising outstanding playmaker Jorge Valdivia. O Verdão's key figure, however, is Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who is seeking to improve his record of five Brasileiro crowns as coach.

Winning the Brasileiro is our objective. We will begin the season as one of the favourites and we will fight to bring the title home
Coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo believes Palmeiras have what it takes to seize their fifth Brasileiro title

" ," Luxa declared after masterminding a Campeonato Paulista triumph on Sunday.

The state's most popular club, 2005 national champions Corinthians, will be top-flight absentees for the first time since the tournament's 1971 inception, but the final member of the region's 'big four' are hoping to mount a challenge. Santos disappointed in this year's state championship, but their record over the previous six Brasileiro campaigns is encouraging: two titles, two runners-up spots and one fourth-placed finish.

Carioca challenge
Paulista clubs have emerged triumphant in five of the past six seasons, but for the first time in years there is genuine belief the trophy could end up in Rio de Janeiro, specifically in the cabinet of either Flamengo or Fluminense. The pair finished the group phase of the Copa Libertadores 2008 with the most points, although the former crashed out of the competition at America's hands on Wednesday.

Brazil's most popular club will look to atone for this by seizing their first league title since 1992, and new coach Caio Junior will be able to count on the likes of Brazil wingback Leonardo Moura, midfield linchpin Ibson and exciting No10 Renato Augusto, 20, to help him realise this ambition.

Fluminense also have substantial reason for optimism. One of three Brazilian sides through to the last eight of the Copa Libertadores, alongside Santos and Sao Paulo, the Laranjeiras side boast infallible defender Thiago Silva, the irresistible Thiago Neves and a pair of prolific attackers in Dodo and Washington.

Botafogo have enriched their squad with the enigmatic Carlos Alberto, whose mission will be to share playmaking duties with Lucio Flavio, but they, along with Rio de Janeiro's fourth power, Vasco, face a tall order in attempting to top the podium.

One side who are considered a genuine threat to Sao Paulo's rule are Cruzeiro. With the emerging Adilson Batista at the controls, Ramires and Wagner in midfield, and Marcelo Moreno leading the line, A Raposa will be confident of a second Brasileiro conquest.

Cruzeiro's previous title came in 2003 when cross-state rivals Ipatinga were only five years old. However, following a meteoric ascent, including the Mineiro State Championship title in 2005 and back-to-back promotions, O Tigrão will line up among Brazil's elite. The minnows will begin their survival quest at home to Atletico Paranaense, who possess ambitions of a different kind.

"I believe we'll have a great campaign and that we have all the conditions to become Brasileiro champions," says Furacão wingback Nei, before admitting: "It's a wide open championship. A number of teams could win it."

Which one does could be affected by departures. Adriano and Ibson are just two of the players whose loan deals are due to expire before the campaign reaches its halfway stage, while the likes of Thiago Neves, Valdivia and Marcelo Moreno are sure to be courted by the European giants once the continent's transfer window reopens.

The Brasileiro is the most difficult national championship to win because it is so wide open
Rogerio Ceni explains why winning a third successive title will not be easy for Sao Paulo.

" ," admits Rogerio Ceni. "In other leagues there are only a few teams in with a chance but here there are several teams capable of lifting the trophy."

This competitiveness would make going better than Palmeiras (1972 & 1973, 1993 & 1994), Internacional (1975 & 1976), Flamengo (1982 & 1983) and Corinthians (1998 & 1999) a considerable accomplishment for Sao Paulo.