RIO DE JANEIRO - Former World Cup winners Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos are at the heart of a Corinthians team who have set themselves the goal of winning the Libertadores Cup in their centenary year.
The Brazilian season opens this weekend with 27 state championships across this vast country and Corinthians team coach Mano Menezes said he will use the Paulista (Sao Paulo) state championship to prepare for the bigger tournaments ahead.
The Libertadores Cup, South America's top club competition which is a prize that has so far eluded Corinthians, starts in late February. The national championship kicks off in May before it is interrupted until mid-July for the World Cup in South Africa where the Brazil team will start as favourites.
Attention will be centred on the tournaments in the southern and southeastern states which provide most of the elite clubs for the Brazilian championship.
Flamengo, who won the Brazilian title last month, will be defending the Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) crown they won in the previous three years having secured the continuing services of Brazil striker Adriano.
Corinthians, who last year won the Paulista title and the Copa Brasil thanks to the goals of Ronaldo, signed former Inter Milan and Real Madrid left back Roberto Carlos in the short off-season.
He was one of seven recruits that also included veteran striker Iarley, who has won the Libertadores Cup with Boca Juniors of Argentina and Internacional.
"The Corinthian fan wants the Libertadores. He also wants the Paulista and the Brazilian (titles). But the Libertadores is part of a project that began two years ago with Mano Menezes and this team," Roberto Carlos told reporters on his return home from Fenerbahce of Turkey last month.
Flamengo, Brazil's most popular club who ended a 16-year wait for the national title, concentrated on retaining their winning team including the championship's top scorer Adriano who almost quit football in April when he was unhappy at Inter Milan following the death of his father.
Such was Adriano's recovery of his best form back in his home country that he also returned to the Brazil team last year with clubs from Italy and England hoping to tempt him to return to Europe.
Flamengo won the last three Carioca tournaments, beating Botafogo in all three finals.
Botafogo have responded by signing veteran Uruguay striker Sebastian "Loco" Abreu, who as a substitute headed the goal against Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifying playoff in November that secured his country's place at the finals.
Abreu was given a rousing welcome from fans as former Botafogo and Brazil great Mario Zagallo handed the tall Uruguayan his new club shirt.
In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the title is expected to be settled between the two big teams in Porto Alegre, Gremio and holders Internacional.
Inter have a new coach in Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, who won the continent's second tier Copa Sudamericana with LDU Quito of Ecuador in 2009 and the South American Supercup - against Inter.
Cruzeiro, Libertadores Cup runners-up last year and in it again in 2010, will vie with Vanderlei Luxemburgo's Atletico Mineiro for the crown in Minas Gerais.comments