The Brasileirao is characterised by its unpredictability. The competition's 37 previous editions have produced 17 champions, while a series of teams begin each campaign with genuine title credentials.
True as this may be, the fight for gold has, since the Brazilian top flight adopted a straight league format for the 2003 season, always slimmed into a one or two-horse race heading into the final straight.
This is not, however, the case this year. With 11 rounds remaining, Palmeiras head Gremio on 'matches won', with Cruzeiro, Flamengo and Sao Paulo a mere four points behind the top two. Advantageously for the Brasileirao's widespread appeal, these are all giants and represent the four most successful footballing cities in Brazil, namely Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro.
Gremio were, ironically, threatening to run away with the title a short while back, but just one win in seven outings, culminating in a 4-1 defeat by arch-rivals Internacional on Sunday, has allowed Palmeiras to end their 13-round stay at the summit. However, with three of their next four contests taking place at home, O Tricolor Gaúcho remain confident.
"We have a favourable run of games ahead," explained captain Tcheco. "Not in terms of opponents, because they'll be tough, but because we'll be at home. Palmeiras have difficult games coming, derbies. We need to take advantage of this."
O Verdão's run-in does appear more complicated, but their recent form has been decidedly more convincing. They have seized 13 points from a possible 18, and goalkeeper Marcos, holding midfielder Sandro Silva, playmaker Diego Souza, lively forward Kleber and prolific striker Alex Mineiro have all excelled this term. "It's always more difficult to retain the leadership because everyone's out to beat you," explained Marcos. "But this won't hinder Palmeiras, because we've already proven we know how to stay top in this type of situation."
Vanderlei Luxemburgo certainly does, and chasing an unprecedented sixth Brasileirao crown and a third at the Palmeiras reins, the 56-year-old believes the 2008 instalment is one of the most interesting in years. "," he said.
Luxa will be looking over his shoulder at Cruzeiro, whom he led to glory in 2003. A Raposa's teenage forward Guilherme has proven one of the revelations of the tournament, while keeper Fabio, box-to-box midfielder Ramires and attacking midfielder Wagner have all starred.
Adilson Batista's side have lacked consistency of late, but will expect to address this given that the Mineirao will stage their next three fixtures. "We have three very important games and the road begins against Sport. Our goal is to win the title," affirmed defender Thiago Heleno.
Early pacesetters Flamengo have awoken from their mid-season slumber, as just one loss in nine games attests. This recovery has coincided with the arrival of Marcelinho Paraiba, and the eccentric, inventive forward is optimistic he can inspire O Mengão to their first Brasileirao crown since 1992. "," he declared.
The trophy he covets is in the possession of Sao Paulo, who have gone seven matches unbeaten to revive their dream of a record third consecutive prize. "Our confidence has returned," insisted coach Muricy Ramalho. "Sao Paulo will be a very strong and consistent team for the remainder of the season."
Only time will tell who emerges triumphant. But one thing for sure with only four points separating the front five, and a number of head-to-head fixtures between these teams to come, is that the most intriguing sprint under the Brasileirao's existing format ensues.