World Football - Chinese striker Zizao makes most of Corinthians chance

A low-key start to the Brazil season gave Chinese forward Chen Zhi Zhao his first chance for a start after nearly a year with world club champions Corinthians.

Corinthians fielded reserves for their opening Paulista (Sao Paulo) state championship match on Sunday, while the first choice squad prepare to begin their defence of the South American Libertadores Cup next month.

A mere 8,000 fans followed Corinthians against rivals Paulista in a 1-1 draw in their first match since they won the Club World Cup final against Chelsea in Japan watched by some 15,000 travelling supporters.

Zhi Zhao, known in Brazil as Zizao, was the outstanding player and laid on Giovanni's equaliser having only played 15 minutes previously since his arrival in March 2012 in what was regarded as a marketing move rather than for his technical qualities.

"I'm happy," Zizao, who last year rarely started matches on the bench, said in poor Portuguese in his first post-match television interview in Brazil.

The season-opening state championships across Brazil have been losing prestige over recent years when bigger prizes are at stake for the top clubs including the six that will play in South America's equivalent of the Champions League.

All 20 first division sides are also more concerned with preparing well for the Brazilian championship that starts in May and the Copa Brasil knockout competition from which the winners qualify for the next Libertadores Cup.

Corinthians, who already had top strikers in Peru's Paolo Guerrero and the experienced Emerson, have strengthened their attack with a Brazilian record 15 million euro signing to bring Alexandre Pato back home from AC Milan.

Palmeiras, who will play the Libertadores Cup despite being relegated, opted to field their first team against Bragantino but could only draw 0-0 after their Argentina striker Hernan Barcos missed a penalty and were jeered by fans.

Santos, Libertadores winners in 2011 who failed to qualify for this year's competition, began their quest for a fourth successive Paulista crown with a 3-1 win over Sao Bernardo with two goals from Brazil striker Neymar on Saturday.

In the Gaucho championship in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Gremio's reserves beat Esportivo 2-0 while coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo's first team were already in Ecuador acclimatising to the high altitude for the first leg of their Libertadores preliminary round tie against LDU Quito on Wednesday.

Substitute Wagner scored twice to give Brazilian champions Fluminense's reserves a 2-0 win over Nova Iguacu in the Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) state championship.