By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Domestic football in World Cup host nation Brazil faces a turbulent year with growing hooliganism, a possible players' strike and legal wrangling which could delay the national championship or force it to be reorganised.
International attention has been captured by Brazil's chaotic preparations for the 2014 World Cup where stadiums have repeatedly missed deadlines and promised infrastructure projects have been scaled back or shelved.
Away from the World Cup limelight, the situation is even worse and threatening a return to the early 1990s when teams frequently refused to play matches in seemingly interminable rows over competition rules and fixture lists.
"It's not just the World Cup that's struggling," columnist Marcelo Damato wrote in the sports newspaper Lance. "Brazilian football is awful. The CBF (the Brazilian Football Confederation) is a disorganised disaster."
One of the biggest fears is growing hooliganism. Violence worsened in Brazil last year, with at least 30 people killed in fan-related bloodshed, according to Mauricio Murad, a Rio de Janeiro sociologist who wrote the book 'How To Understand Football Violence.'
Thought to have been largely eradicated in recent years, fan violence returned with a vengeance, even among Brazilian fans well-off enough to travel abroad and in those new stadiums built for the World Cup.
Twelve Corinthians supporters were arrested in Bolivia in February accused of firing the flare that killed a rival fan during their Libertadores Cup match against San Jose.
Although organisers claimed the expensive, modern new arenas would attract a higher class of customer, hooligans clashed during the Vasco-Corinthians game in Brasilia in August.
More seriously, three people were taken to hospital when fans fought running battles on the terraces in the last game of the season between Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama last month.
Television pictures showed some fans savagely kicking a stricken rival even though he already appeared to be unconscious at the time.
Vasco lost the match 5-1 and were relegated. However, that result - and Vasco's second division status - is in doubt due to a legal challenge.
Vasco have claimed the result should be annulled because the referee halted the game for 70 minutes while police tried to contain the trouble. The CBF's own rules state that games should be abandoned if the stoppage exceeds an hour.
Further trouble is looming over the case of Fluminense and Portuguesa.
Fluminense finished fourth bottom of the table, two points behind Portuguesa, and were relegated to the Serie B.
However, Portuguesa were later docked four points for fielding an ineligible player during 13 minutes of their final game of the season, a 0-0 draw with Gremio.
Even though the appearance of midfielder Heverton did not affect the result, Portuguesa were condemned to the Serie B by Brazil's highest sporting tribunal, the Superior Court of Sporting Justice.
Fluminense won a reprieve, the second time an off-the-field ruling has saved them from the second division.
Both Vasco and Portuguesa lost appeals and now they, or their fans, are threatening to go through civil courts to save their elite status.
That could delay the season, prompt the CBF into reorganising the whole football league, or even provoke FIFA, which expressly prohibits the use of civil courts for football issues, into imposing sanctions on the CBF.
Even if those issues are resolved, there is another threat in the form of player power.
More than 1,000 players have come together and threatened to strike this month if the CBF do not address demands for fewer games and a longer pre-season.
The players, including dozens of current and former Brazilian internationals, want a revised season, at least 30 days of close season break, an extended pre-season, stricter financial rules and more representation on decision making bodies.
They also want teams who do not pay their players on time, a regular occurrence in Brazil, to be docked points.
Although the players, who have named their movement Bom Senso FC (Common Sense FC), acknowledge the World Cup makes it hard to implement changes in 2014, they want a new model for 2015 and are angry at the CBF's refusal to take their proposals seriously.
"The CBF needs to start watering the roots of our football and not just look after the national side," the group said in a statement.
"We hope that the (CBF) truly assumes its role in managing our sport and starts discussing what happens, instead of just watching from the sidelines."
With so few dates available because of the month-long World Cup break, any strike would throw domestic football into further chaos, just before FIFA and the rest of the football world walks into town. (Editing by Brian Homewood)