Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior 2013 - Preview
The 44th edition of the Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior begins on January 4, 2013. One of the largest junior tournaments in the world, The competition will feature 100 clubs separated into 25 groups. Globally recognized clubs, such as Corinthians and Flamengo, are placed in with clubs few outside of their home state would know. Given the size and diversity of Brazil, both geographically and population-wise, it should not surprise anyone to know that upsets happen regularly. This year’s tournament should be no different.
Eligible players for the 2013 tournament are those with birth years, 1993-97. This will make this year's tournament an Under-19 (The Sao Paulo federation uses 2012 as the reference year for this tournament) competition rather than an Under-18 tournament like the previous few years. This change is likely to make this tournament even more unpredictable because many of the elite players born in 1993 will already be playing at the senior level and individual clubs will need to decide if those players will be involved or not. It is certain that decisions will vary.
Identifying the favourites in this tournament is especially difficult, but most lists would start with the teams representing the 15 or so biggest clubs in Brazil. Still, tournament history teaches us that winners are not always from this group of big clubs. In fact, eight of the last 20 winners do not sit among the CBF's current top 20 clubs.
The fact that some of Brazil's best recognized developers of talent have not been that successful shows how difficult this tournament is to win. Santos (1984) Cruzeiro (2007), and Vasco da Gama (1992) have only won this tournament once and Gremio-RS and Botafogo-RJ have yet to win.
In any year, the winner needs a combination of talent, depth, and luck. To win the tournament, the team must play eight games in three weeks where the last five games must be won. Any team making it out of the group phase to participate in the 32-team knock out phase has to be considered dangerous in a one game knock-out. Of these teams, half are likely capable of winning the tournament if things go their way.
While every group has a seeded favourite, there are some groups that could prove to be extremely dangerous for the seeded teams of big clubs. Among the more interesting are:
Group H – Audax, Bahia, Criciuma, Botafogo of Paraiba: Audax are one of best academies in the state of Sao Paulo and Bahia are regularly strong at the youth level. Add Criciuma into the mix and there could be some surprises. Botafogo are the unknown in this group. .
Group K – Vasco da Gama, Comercial, Botafogo of Ribeirao Preto, Paysandu: Vasco da Gama should have the strongest team in this group but could very easily get upset. With group based in Ribeirao Preto, both Botafogo and Comercial are in their home city and both have had strong teams in the past. Paysandu also cannot be taken lightly.
Group R - Desportivo Brasil, Avai, Atletico Goianiense, America Natal: This group is very evenly balanced but the slight favourite has to be Desportivo Brasil. Their striker, Bruno Gomes, should be one of the top players in the tournament. But any slip up could create upsets.
Group W – Internacional, Gremio Esportivo Osasco, Paulista, Nacional-AM: While Nacional are not likely to cause much trouble for Internacional, Gremio Osasco are a battle-tested academy club and Paulista are a former winner and a noted giant killer.
Other Storylines to Watch as They Develop:
Be Wary of the Academy Clubs
These are clubs that have over-sized academies relative to the performance of their senior team, there are a number of them in this tournament with the potential to surprise. The most recognized outside of Brazil would be Desportivo Brasil because of its partnership with Manchester United. There are also several others who could be dangerous. Some names to watch in this tournament would be Audax, Red Bull Brasil, Gremio Esportivo Osasco, and Comercial of Ribeirao Preto. While Comercial is a long established club in Ribeirao Preto, it is included here because of its merger with another academy club called Ole Brasil.
All of these clubs are capable of disrupting the hopes of the big clubs. Desportivo Brasil may not be a favourite to win; but, few who know the youth systems in the State of Sao Paulo would be surprised if they did.
Surprises out of the Interior
Most of the time, clubs from the western and interior States of Brazil tend to fall in the group stage. But every so often, there is one that shocks. Rondonopolis from Mato Groso surprised a few teams in 2012, for example.
Reinforced Sao Paulo clubs
It is very common for Sao Paulo clubs to sign a number of reinforcements just prior to September's deadline. Small and mid-sized Sao Paulo clubs normally have strong teams already. Adding five or six reinforcements specifically for the this tournament can result in some surprises. Those in the greater Sao Paulo area are most dangerous. Teams from clubs like Taubate, Santo Andre, Gremio Barueri, Flamengo-SP, Juventus, and Nacional are likely reinforced from their last appearances and can shock even the best clubs.
The emergence of unknown players
There is always an expectation of great things from players of the big Serie A clubs; but occasionally surprises appear. For example in 2000, Juventus of Sao Paulo defeated Santos and Internacional on their way to the final, only to lose to Sao Paulo FC. That team had two starting centre backs named Alex and Luisão.
Filipe (now with Atletico Madrid) and Andre Santos played together with Figueirense in the 2003 edition of the tournament. In 2007, Wellington Silva (now at Flamengo) played the right back position with Everton Pascoa (currently Santos) in the middle and Juninho (now with Palmeiras) as left back wearing the shirt of Juventus (the team was actually supplied by Pao de Acucar EC).
More recently, others who made their first appearances with lesser known clubs in this tournament include former Brazil Under 20 stars Danilo (with America-MG) and Willian Jose (with Gremio Barueri) in 2009.
Who will appear with lesser known teams in 2013?
The Canadian Coach
Possibly one of the most unusual stories of this year's Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior has to be the story of Desportivo Brasil coach, Marc dos Santos.
Marc dos Santos is a Canadian, born in Montreal. His soccer development as a player, like many Canadian players, led him to Europe and elsewhere. Early on, he understood that his future as a player would be difficult and moved into coaching. At 26, he began his studies to become a coach. His early coaching education included working in internships at Porto under coaches including Jose Mourinho and he completed his UEFA “A” License through the Irish Football Association prior to going to Brazil. His first success as a head coach came in 2007 with a lower level cup title with the Trois Rivieres Attak and he then won the USL league title (North American second division after MLS but no promotion system) in 2009 with the Montreal Impact.
Dos Santos resigned from the Montreal Impact in 2011 and came to Brazil after an introduction to Roque Junior by Cesar Sampaio and an invitation from Roque Junior to coach Primeira Camisa’s entry into the 2012 edition of the Copa Sao Paulo de Futebol Junior. Primeira Camisa surprised many by making it to the final sixteen where they lost to the eventual champion, Corinthians.
With that success, Cesar Sampaio brought him to Palmeiras to coach their under-15 team in February. While at Palmeiras, its under-15 team succeeded in winning the Copa do Brasil Sub-15 championship in July. It was this success that prompted Desportivo Brasil to hire dos Santos to be their Technical Director and their coach for the 2013 edition of the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Junior.
At the young age of 35 and with trophies in two countries, he has already caught the attention of some in the press in Brazil. Some because of the novelty but, others, watching his success and emphasizing his Portuguese experiences, have suggested that he might be the next Andre Villas-Boas.
Should Desportivo Brasil exceed expectations in this tournament, this story will likely become more widely reported. If they should win, who knows?