With the Paulista kicking off at the weekend the other of the state leagues that we pay close attention to starts this midweek. With Botafogo the reigning champions the other of the big three, national champions Fluminense, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama will be looking to knock the Alvinegro off their perch at the top of the table.
Flamengo of course have the highest profile singing as yet when it was announced that Ronaldinho Gáucho had put pen to paper on a 4 year contract at Gavéa last week. Also Thiago Neves never has joined the Rubro-Negro and the former Fluminense player will be looking to make an impression. Also arriving from Portuguese side Sporting Braga is the former Corinthians stopper Felipe on a 12 month loan deal and Argentinian midfielder Darío Bottinelli has arrived from Universidad Católica in Chile. There have been plenty of players going through the exit door as well, Toró, Juan have moved onto pastures new while forwards Val Baiano, Diogo and Christian Borja have been told they are surplus to requirements. Former international Kléberson has also been shown the door as has veteran Serb Dejan Petkovic.
Botafogo were boosted when coach Joel Santana agreed a years extension to his contract just before Christmas. Striker Somália has had a recent drama when he was the victim of a kidnapping but he managed to escape unscathed. Botafogo though have seen some departures, Lucio Flavio has headed to Mexico while Marcelo Cordeiro has returned to Internacional after his loan period expired. Full backs Márcio Azevedo, Lucas and central defender João Filipe have all arrived at the Engenhão in the close season.
Fluminense of course will have the distraction of the Copa Libertadores as they try to claim their first state title since 2005. Muricy Ramalho remains at the helm of the Tricolor as the Fluzão had the boost of talisman Dario Conca signing a new contract to keep him at the club for another five years. It's pretty much as you were for the Tricolor but expect them to be more concentrated on Libertadores success than a Carioca title.
Vasco da Gama meanwhile have spent most of the short off season fending off bids for star man Zé Roberto despite him only arriving at the São Januário last July. There have been four arrivals for far, defender Anderson Martins arrives from relegated Vitória, forwards Misael and Marcel from Ceará and Santos respectively whilst midfielder Eduardo Costa returns back to Brazil after a spell at AS Monaco. No further signings are expected before the season starts by Vasco.
Of the other sides, Cabofriense and Nova Iguaçu come up to the top flight, whilst América will look to build on their promising season last year. Olaria and Boavista can be dangerous on their day and Resende will be looking to avoid a relegation battle this year.
The format of the competition is unchanged. The teams are drawn into two groups with the big four seeded two to a group. The first stage is the Taça Guanabara where all the teams play a single round robin against the teams in their group, giving seven games. The top two in each group meet in a single game semi final with a group winner playing the opposite group runner up, which if level goes straight to penalties, before a single game final which again goes to penalties after 90 minutes.
The second stage is the Taça Rio, for this the clubs play every team in the opposite group giving a total of 8 games. As with the Guanabara the top two in each group meet in a single game semi final with a group winner playing the opposite group runner up, which if level goes straight to penalties, before a single game final which again goes to penalties after 90 minutes.
If a team wins both stages, as happened last year with Botafogo, they are automatically crowned state champions and the need for the play off is not required. Otherwise the winners of the Taça Guanabara and Taça Rio meet over two games at the Engenhão with the winners over the two games being crowned State champions.
We get underway on Wednesday night and they line up like this;
Boavista x América
Vasco da Gama x Resende
Flamengo x Volta Redonda
Americano x Nova Iguaçu
Olaria x Madureira
Botafogo x Duque de Caxias
Bangu x Fluminense
Macaé x Cabofriense