This weekend saw the big kick-off of the 2013 Brazilian championship, the crucial season before the FIFA World Cup takes place in the country next summer. Brazil’s top domestic-based players have one final opportunity to push their name into the thoughts of Selecao Head Coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, either alongside or ahead of their more illustrious overseas compatriots.

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The championship’s big news came before a ball had even been kicked. Santos superstar Neymar announced he had signed an agreement to join Barcelona after the Confederations Cup which takes place in Brazil between June 15th and June 30th. The 21-year-old has been linked with a move to a number of Europe’s top clubs ever since his Santos debut in 2009. The club revealed they had accepted two offers for the man seen as key to his country’s chances of success at the World Cup and the terms of his move to Spain are being kept confidential, possibly due to his highly complex ownership arrangements. He said a tearful goodbye to the Santos fans in their goalless home fixture with Rio giants, Flamengo.

Last season’s champion sand favourites to retain their title, Fluminense, began the defence of their crown at home to Atletico Paranaense. The Rio de Janeiro club, who won their fourth Brazilian championship in 2012 by five points, triumphed 2-1.

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Ronaldinho, still going strong at 33-years-old, will hope to inspire his Atletico Mineiro side to go one better than their runners-up spot from last year. The Black-and-Whites from Belo Horizonte opened up with a 2-1 defeat at Coritiba, a last minute winner by Arthur earning the victory for the home side. The former Barcelona and AC Milan maestro had seemingly gone back to Brazil for some sort of semi-retirement but has forced his way back into the national squad and appears to be a shoe-in for selection next summer, barring any of the usual on-and-off field misfortunes that can often befall the top Brazilian players.

Atletico Mineiro’s crosstown rivals, Cruzeiro, started last season in great form and could be dark horses for a good shot at the Brasileirao crown this year. They bolted out of the traps with a 5-0 demolition of Goias. Time will tell if they have the staying power to maintain their challenge.

Other potential championship hopefuls include Sao Paulo who began with a solid 2-0 win at Ponte Preta, Gremio who won by the same score at home to Nautico, and World Club Champions, Corinthians. The team that beat Chelsea back in December in Tokyo were too inconsistent in 2012 to raise a meaningful push for top spot, so their 1-1 draw with Botafogo represents a tidy if unspectacular start to the season. Another club who can be considered as top six material are Vasco de Gama. They were 1-0 victors over Portuguesa.

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The eyes of the footballing world are increasingly turning towards Brazil in preparation for the World Cup next year and its players will hope to put on a show in the domestic championship to impress supporters and of course, ‘Big Phil’, who has the unenviable task of trying to win his second World Cup and his country’s sixth. The pressure on the national side will be immense in the build-up to the tournament. Performances and results since Scolari’s return have yet to convince the fervent Brazilian public that they can be victorious next summer. Much will depend on their foreign based players such as Oscar, Tiago Silva and the Barcelona-bound Neymar.

The Football Pink will follow the Brasileirao closely during 2013 as the season unfolds and bring you some of the names to look out for at Brazil 2014.

MARK GODFREY

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