Football: Brazil's nutty fixture list

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Premiership managers always seem to be complaining about fixture congestion in the Premiership, but they can count themselves fortunate they are not playing in the Brazilian league. One Brazilian club, Atletico Mineiro, could be forced to play two matches on the same day next week.

The Atletico president, Paulo Cury, said yesterday that his attempts to get at least one of the matches changed to a different date had so far failed.

Atletico are due to play Palmeiras at home next Wednesday in the Brazilian championship and Lanus, of Argentina, in the second leg of the Conmebol Cup final on the same night. The first leg finished in a mass brawl during which the Atletico coach, Emerson Leao, a former Brazil goalkeeper, suffered a broken jaw.

"If we have to play twice, we will have to use a number of junior players," a bemused Cury told the Gazeta Esportiva newspaper. I tried to convince Palmeiras to change but without success. They said a change in date would upset their training schedule."

Cury said Lanus had also refused to switch dates because they are involved in a midweek Argentinian championship match this week.

Fixture congestion is a frequent problem in South American football. Earlier this year, the Argentinian clubs, Racing Club and Velez Sarsfield, met each other in an Argentinian championship match and both played fixtures in Ecuador in the South American Libertadores Cup all on the same day.

Racing sent their reserves to Ecuador and fielded a full-strength team against Velez, but Velez sent their best players to Ecuador and fielded their reserves against Racing, who won the derby but lost in Ecuador.

In 1994, Brazil's Sao Paulo played a double bill of games, facing Sporting Cristal of Peru in the Conmebol Cup and then taking on Cruzeiro in the Brazilian championship 15 minutes later. They used reserves in the first match but midfielder Juninho, now with Spain's Atletico Madrid, came on as a substitute in both matches.

The most impressive record, however, was set by Gremio in the same year when they played three matches in the Rio Grande do Sul championship all on the same afternoon. At one stage around 50 players were crammed into the dressing-room.

One of the clubs set to meet Atletico next week, Lanus, have had six players banned for periods from five to 10 matches for their part in a massive brawl at the end of a Conmebol Cup match earlier this month.

Lanus were also banned from playing South American competition matches at their own stadiums for 18 months in what is apparently a new hardline approach by the South American Confederation.