Rio Strains after Past Glories ; These Days, Rio De Janeiro Doesn't Score among Brazil's Top Soccer Clubs ... or Cities

Article excerpt

For decades, Rio de Janeiro has been synonymous with samba and soccer. But while the music lives on in the Marvelous City's bars and clubs, there is not much singing and dancing in the stands these days.

When the final whistle blew on the Brazilian League Championship on Sunday, one Rio club was looking at life in the lowly second division and most of the others were coming to terms with mediocrity. Only one of the city's top four teams, Fluminense, qualified for the eight-team playoffs.

For a metropolis that has long prided itself on being the cradle of those two quintessen-tially Brazilian symbols, the demise of its soccer clubs is the latest blow to a city reeling from the loss of past glories.

Once the spectacular capital of the republic, Rio lost that honor in 1960 when the government built a new capital 700 miles away in Brasilia. It has never really recovered: The loss of political influence was followed by a loss of economic and cultural dominance.

Most of that influence has gone to Rio's bitter rival, Sao Paulo. When the capital moved, so did the embassies. As Rio became less cosmopolitan, Sao Paulo became more so, as an influx of European and Asian immigrants helped to transform the city into Brazil's industrial powerhouse.

Sao Paulo is unquestionably the ugly sister compared with Rio's spectacular beaches and subtropical forests. But the city has overcome that complex to establish itself as home to the country's banks, designers, and Internet commerce. It is the fashion capital of South America, headquarters to most of Brazil's TV channels and best newspapers, and the city the new president and the country's big political parties chose as their base.

And most painfully for Cariocas, as natives of Rio are known, it is now home to the country's best soccer teams.

Of the 23 players picked to go to the World Cup last summer, only one played for a Rio club. In the annual tournament played earlier this year between the top teams from both states, none of the Rio sides made the final four, while in the Brazilian Cup the best a Rio team could do was reach the quarterfinals. …


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