This past weekend, the Campeonato Brasileiro, Brazil's national league championship, kicked off. But you would be forgiven if the occasion passed you by, even if you were in this corner of the world.
For the vast majority of football fans, there is nothing else like Opening Season Day. The enforced break from routine, allowing expectations to build to a crescendo before the curtain is lifted on another year of, usually, dented dreams.
But thanks to the hectic organisation of domestic football by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), fans of clubs across the country are routinely robbed of that hopeful scenario: a chance to hope.
The weekend prior to the Brasileiro saw the finals of various state championships. In truth, they are an outdated concept.
Brazil has had a national league since 1970, yet there remains a place in the calendar for these local nonentities, where the country's biggest clubs are forced to trek around for four months playing mismatched contests on terrible pitches.
Part of the Bom Senso movement in Brazil, a player protest against the ludicrously long football calendar, which lasts eleven months as opposed to nine in Europe, has targeted the state championships as a competition that must be shortened, as reported by UOL Esporte (link in Portuguese).
The Brasileiro first round held, on paper at least, some enticing fixtures. Sao Paulo v Botafogo and Atletico Mineiro v Corinthians were the pick of the bunch.
But the latter ended in a drab, goalless draw whilst Botafogo, following the dismissal of coach Eduardo Hungaro for disappointing Campeonato Carioca and Copa Libertadores campaigns, were overcome 3-0 in a one-sided contest.
And therein lies the problem. It is not simply a case of slating state championships.
There are an enormous amount of games played throughout the year, taking the shine and gloss away from what should be the centrepiece for national domestic football.
The Brasileiro is sometimes feted for its number of title contenders. There are a collection of six to 10 clubs that may start the season with genuine aspirations of winning the title.
But can that be looked on as an overriding factor for the league's entertainment value? Clubs selling off top assets midway through a campaign means squad lists are constantly chopping and changing, often for the worse, seriously harming the quality of the football on display.
Rarely has there been a dominant force on the club scene for more than a couple of years. Only Sao Paulo, which, between 2006 and 2008 won three consecutive titles, can have any claim to a form of long-term superiority.
To complicate matters further, this year there is one more tournament for the Brasileiro to contend with. The FIFA World Cup will be held from June 12–July 13.
During that time, the national league will take a five-week hiatus. That means an enormous backlog of games come the second half of the season, leaving players susceptible to long-term injuries as they put their bodies through the mill in a desperate bid to complete the calendar.
In stark contrast to the World Cup, attendances at stadiums are disappointingly low. Last weekend, just two matches attracted crowds of over 35,000; Fluminense v Figueirense at the Maracana and Sao Paulo v Botafogo.
Fluminense were selling tickets for as little as $5, which enticed supporters, but one problem fans may find post-World Cup is massively hiked prices in expensive new arenas.
Some measures are being taken to ensure stadiums do not become white elephants. Flamengo took their home game against Goias from Rio all the way to Brasilia, a relative footballing backwater. It is a move that destroys the notion of home advantage.
Thanks to the World Cup, this year's Brasileiro has become even more of a jumbled card pack, jamming in fixtures where necessary to ensure 38 matches are played by the beginning of December.
But as the season begins in earnest, defending champions Cruzeiro, city rivals Atletico Mineiro, last year's runners-up Gremio, Rio club Fluminense or Paulistas Sao Paulo and Corinthians all go into the latest campaign believing a title win is not beyond them.
Having such a varied cast of potential champions can make for hugely competitive finales. But it remains a great shame such drama must come at the expense of a better-structured tournament that benefits players, clubs and fans alike.
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