The Brazilian side who won the Champions League

A wise proverb says that the year in Brazil only starts after Carnival. So anything in January or early February isn’t so important that it can’t wait after Ash Wednesday – or better still, the following week.

That explains The Noise from Brazil's slow start this year, and our late return this week. (Hmmmm – Ed.)

Everyone in Brazil is just preparing for the major events that will rock 2010. Not just writers: the national team is also gathering for the first time this week, for the friendly against Ireland on March 2 (in London, where else?). We’ll get to Dunga’s dilemmas – Ronaldinho? Ronaldo? – soon.

Back at home, clubs are warming up for the National Championship and the Libertadores by engaging in the rivalry-filled State tournaments. And there are already some good stories happening around here.

We’ll talk in the next blog about the “Santastic” – as the Santos fans are already calling the high-flying squad of Robinho, Neymar, Ganso and Giovanni, who on Saturday notched their seventh successive win, a milestone not reached since Pelé-era 1968.

But this post-Carnival blog has to be dedicated to a greater accomplishment. One that shatters Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and every European giant’s highest hopes for this season.

With the 2-0 victory against Vasco da Gama this Sunday, at Maracanã stadium, Botafogo won the UEFA Champions League. Or so it seemed: watch captain Lucio Flavio lifting the European Cup above his head – not so fast, John Terry:

And I thought the Maracanã showdown was deciding the Taça Guanabara, the first phase of Rio de Janeiro State Championship...

Astonished, I learnt that the Brazilian big-ears is, indeed, the newest trophy for the Taça Guanabara tournament, created (?) by sculptor Kiko Azevedo. It was unveiled the previous Friday on the Rio de Janeiro Football Federation headquarters – probably just after UEFA offices had closed, so any copyright issues came too late.

Joking apart, Botafogo’s victory in the Rio de Janeiro tournament's first phase was as thrilling as unexpected, for the club from General Severiano had started the season as the competition’s laughing stock. In the third game of the year, on January 24, Botafogo were pounded 6-0 at home by the same Vasco da Gama they beat in the tournament’s final.

So what happened in less then a month that took Botafogo from chump to champ? Well, that one's easy: miracle man Joel Santana.

After the 0-6 Vasco rout, coach Estevam Soares was fired. If the Botafogo board had hired a human gaffer, they'd probably be relegation-bound – despite all the razzmatazz around the signing of Uruguayan International forward Sebastian “El Loco” Abreu.

But Joel Santana, or Daddy Joel, the miracle-maker, was hanging around in Rio de Janeiro after being kicked off the South Africa national team – a deed for which the Bafana Bafana will be penalised in June (well, they're already suffering, with Carlos Alberto Parreira back on the hot seat). Without thinking twice, Santana stepped up and took Botafogo’s challenge.

And the man who had never lost a round final in Rio de Janeiro (it's now 11 wins in 11 games), who in 2007 took Flamengo from the relegation zone and placed them in the top for, performed yet another of his out-of-this-world tricks to unleash payback hell on Vasco da Gama in the final.

But before that, Botafogo had to face current Brazilian champions Flamengo in the semi-finals. The so-called Empire of Love – named after forwards Adriano and Vagner Love – were strong favourites to reach the final, and went in front, but Botafogo came from behind to win 2-1.

The sorcerer-slash-gaffer already announced that Botafogo will win the Rio de Janeiro State Championship: the second phase, called Taça Rio, starts next Sunday. To do so, Santana will have to reverse Botafogo’s bad streak in finals: the club have lost the three last Championships to Flamengo. And if anyone can, Santana can.

“Don’t come with the runner-up thing," he said. "I came here to party, not to cry.” Sorry, Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger, Ancelotti, but no one deserves the Champions League trophy more than him. Happy New Year, Daddy Joel.

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