Thankfully there will always be Ronnie to provide some extravagance.

by Robbie Blakeley

Brazilian footballers are forever dogged by arguably the most famous side to grace the planet, the nation’s 1970 World Cup winning XI. That side, led by Pelé and Jairzinho, who famously scored in every game of the tournament, set the benchmark for which all future Brazilian teams, both club and national, would be judged.

But the tide, certainly domestically, is slowly changing, as shown by looking at this year’s Campeonato Brasileiro table. Rio de Janeiro club Fluminense, who also won the 2010 title, are six points clear at the top with ten rounds remaining, all the while fighting off criticism from the Brazilian press for their rather dreary style of play.

A Ronaldinho inspired Atlético-MG sit in wait, but their more inventive, easily recognizable Brazilian beat, has dipped at moments of high pressure. The former Barcelona attacker, coupled with the eye-catching youngster Bernard, have led football purists to claim they are the best side in the league, but at the final hurdle austerity is leading, just as it did last year when a less than imaginative Corinthians outlook took the national crown.

Fluminense coach Abel Braga has built a solid team which, despite not always looking easy on the eye, have won 18 of 28 league games this season and have lost only twice. Running on efficiency, the spine of the team is its strength rather than over reliance on one superstar.

Between the posts is former Liverpool stopper Diego Cavalieri, whose performances this year have sparked talk of a national call-up. The midfield is ably bossed by veteran Deco, whose Champions League experience with Porto and Barcelona has been pivotal in keeping the side grounded and ice-cool when it has mattered in big games.

The side’s attack is perfectly balanced between the young and pacy Wellington Nem, reputedly on Arsenal’s shortlist, and former Lyon striker Fred. Whilst not the most eye-catching of number 9s – he is repeatedly overlooked for the Seleção – his finishing in front of goal is second to none, as demonstrated in Flu’s last two classicos, where 1-0 wins over local rivals Flamengo and Botafogo were won thanks to strikes from the centre forward.

Nothing is certain as the Brasileirão draws to a close; the final round is on the first weekend in December but if Flu are crowned champions for the second time in three years, it will be one more victory for substance over style. Even in Brazil, under the shadow of so many artistic greats, effectiveness has become the order of the day.

Robbie is the senior sports reporter for the Rio Times