Brazilian league begins with top teams still focused on the Copa Libertadores



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    SAO PAULO — The Brazilian league begins this weekend with some of the country's top teams still focused on the final stages of the Copa Libertadores.

    Five of the main Brazilian league contenders are still playing in the Latin American club competition, including two-time defending champion Cruzeiro.

    Sao Paulo, Internacional, Corinthians and Atletico Mineiro — the top finishers behind Cruzeiro last year — are also in the knockout round of the tournament and most are expected to use weakened sides in the league's first round.

    Cruzeiro, which is trying to become the first team to win three-straight national titles since Sao Paulo from 2006-08, is coming off a 1-0 loss to Sao Paulo in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Copa Libertadores, and coach Marcelo Oliveira will rest his regular starters in the league opener against Corinthians on Sunday.

    Sao Paulo will open the Brazilian league against Flamengo at the Morumbi Stadium, also with its second-stringers.

    Atletico Mineiro drew 2-2 with Brazilian rival Internacional in the Copa Libertadores on Wednesday, while Corinthians lost 2-0 at Guarani in Paraguay. Atletico opens the Brazilian league at Palmeiras on Saturday and Inter plays at Atletico Paranaense on Sunday.

    Here are some things to know about this year's Brazilian league:


    REVAMPED CHAMPION

    Cruzeiro enters the tournament with a squad that is a lot different from the previous two seasons.

    Some of the team's top players left to play abroad — defensive midfielder Lucas Silva joined Real Madrid, playmaker Ricardo Goulart moved to China and forward Everton Ribeiro went to the United Arab Emirates.

    Among the team's new signings are former Brazil striker Leandro Damiao.


    TRADITIONAL CONTENDERS

    Palmeiras and Santos, the teams with the most national titles, are in a good position to contend again this year after making it to the final of the Sao Paulo state championship this month.

    Palmeiras signed 21 new players after nearly escaping relegation last year and it will be led by veteran World Cup playmaker Ze Roberto and Chilean midfielder Jorge Valdivia.

    Santos, which won the state title, has Brazil striker Robinho as its main star.


    RIO FORCES

    Rio will have only three teams in the first division for the second straight year.

    Botafogo was relegated in 2014, but Vasco da Gama returned to the top flight and got off to a good start this year by winning the state title over Botafogo.

    Flamengo, Brazil's most popular club, is keeping former Brazil and Real Madrid coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, while Fluminense will count on former Brazil striker Fred but lost Argentine playmaker Dario Conca, as well as other players, because of financial difficulties.


    FINANCIAL STRUGGLES

    Many Brazilian teams have been struggling financially after years of overspending on high salaries and expensive transfers.

    Several teams are cutting costs this year, including Luiz Felipe Scolari's Gremio. The team lost the state title to rival Internacional and upset fans this week threatened players with banners promoting violence.


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