*This Friday sees the kick-off of a tournament that can rightfully claim to be among the best youth competitions in the world – the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Junior.
Brazil doesn’t have a designated national championship at youth level. There is a CBF-organised Copa do Brasil at Under-20 level, an unofficial Brazilian Under-20 championship organised in Porto Alegre each year and numerous competitions held by different state federations at various age levels. However, in reality, the Copa São Paulo (or Copinha) stands above the rest to act as a de-facto national tournament.
One hundred sides from across Brazil will flock to São Paulo for the event, pitching Brazil’s giant clubs against many smaller sides from the host state, as well as representatives from every corner of the nation. The event offers great exposure for those playing at these smaller clubs, with matches televised across Brazil and scouts in attendance throughout in the hunt for emerging stars. For the next three weeks, youth football will be given widespread coverage in the Brazilian sports media.
The competition has evolved to be a fine proving ground for Brazilian talent. A good showing over the next three weeks and players could easily propel themselves into first-team reckoning.
From last year’s event, Roma defender Marquinhos, Juventus-linked Doria and Flamengo’s Thomas are already impressing at senior level. While, in the past three editions alone, internationals Lucas Moura, Casemiro, Neymar, Danilo and Oscar are all among those who have impressed at the Copinha.
For Palmeiras, the 44th edition of the tournament marks an opportunity to break a long-lasting taboo: among the big São Paulo clubs, Palmeiras are the only one never to have won the tournament. In order to come out on top, eight games must be played in three weeks, where the last five games must be won (the tournament starts with a group phase – 25 groups with four teams in each – then moves into a 32-team knock out phase). The man to lead the way is coach Narciso, recently contracted from current Copinha champions Corinthians. Narciso’s had 20 days to prepare the young squad, which includes five players that already made their debut with Palmeiras’ first team in 2012 and are now sacrificing their holidays to participate in the youth tournament. These are:
Diego Souza: the playmaker (pictured) participates in the Copinha for the third time and is considered one of Palmeiras’ most promising young players.
Bruno Oliveira: the right-back is having his shot at stardom with the arrival of Gilson Kleina.
Luiz Gustavo: versatile, this centre-back can also play in the right-back position.
Bruno Dybal: made a good impression as playmaker in Palmeiras’ last games of the Brazilian Championship 2012, but is thought to primarily act as defensive midfielder in the Copinha.
Vinícius: the striker has had several opportunities in the first team but seems to be struggling a bit. His experience might however become valuable in the São Paulo Youth Cup.
— ooo —
Palmeiras are in group Q and play their first game tomorrow Saturday against Confiança/SE. Barueri and Sertãozinho complete the group.
*general info on the Copinha shamelessly ripped from Chris Atkins’ piece published on ESPN. You can also follow Chris’ updates on the tournament action on facebook.