05 December 2011

Another Soccer Championship

Am I getting older, or are sports championships more complicated than they used to be? I mean, I grew up following baseball's World Series championship with no problem: at the end of the season, the best American League team played the best National League team, and the winner of those games won the championship. Very straightforward. But the front page of the Sports section of Sunday's O Globo (Rio's answer to The New York Times) stopped me short. Today is the final day of soccer's 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro de Clubes da Série A (Brazil's A-Teams Soccer Championship), known as the Brasileirão.  For the first time in history the outcomes are not already known. The remaining ten games in the championship will be played simultaneously at 5:00 this afternoon, and everything's still up in the air. A lot of diehard fans are going to experience a lot of emotion and stress.

Never thought I'd rue the day that I took my degree in linguistics. Today it's a degree in applied mathematics that would be useful. For starters, in order to win the Brasileirão, Rio's Vasco has to win its game against Rio's Flamengo, but it also has to hope that São Paulo's Palmeiras beats São Paulo's Corinthians in their game. If Flamengo ties the game with Vasco it might get a spot in the Libertadores, a multi-national South American Soccer competition. But if  Flamengo wins over Vasco, and Fluminense loses its game against Botafogo, Flamengo gets a guaranteed spot in the Libertadores. And if Flamengo loses, it might still secure a Libertadores spot but only if two of the following teams lose their games: Coritiba, Internacional and Figueirense.

Are you with me?

The other team that has a chance to win the Brasileirão is Corinthians, the current leader going into this final championship round. They can win the championship even if they only end up in a tie with Palmeiras no matter the outcome of any other game. They can even lose their game and still win the championship, but only if Vasco ties or loses. Their rival Palmeiras has already been guaranteed a spot in the Sul-Americana, another multi-national South American soccer competition. Palmeiras is playing today because they have to play out the round, and because there's a chance they can frustrate their rival's celebration.

In order to secure its spot in the Libertadores, Botafogo doesn't just have to win over Fluminense but Coritiba, Figueirense, Internacional and São Paulo all have to lose their games. Fluminense needs a tie to reach the Libertadores, but will also get there if Flamengo loses to Vasco.

There are seven more games today with similar if-only-this-then-that outcomes, but I'm done in. I spoke to a number of Brazilians before the games who, although admitting to the exceptional complexity of the final round, were mildly surprised at my inability to "get it." Maybe you have to have been born here, maybe it has to be in your blood. But whatever my confusion, I'll be watching at 5:00 along with the whole country. By 7:00 it will be history.

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I know you're all on the edge of your seats, so here's the skinny: Corinthians won the Brasileirão for the fifth time, and also won a spot in the 2012 Libertadores. Well, I'm pretty sure they did. Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo all tied their respective games, and I think they have all been classified for the 2012 Libertadores. But whether Botafogo and Palmeiras got into the Sul-Americana, I'm not sure. Maybe. As for Santos, Figueirense, São Paulo ... and, um, Internacional ... wait, wait ... I think Coritiba ... hold on, I have the classification chart right in front of me ...  

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