By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Botafogo will meet Vasco this Sunday, April 29th, in the Taça Rio final after the semi-finals last weekend. Botafogo made hard work of Bangu, eventually running out 4-2 winners, while Vasco beat big rivals Flamengo 3-2.
The winner will meet Fluminense in the Campeonato Carioca final after the Tricolor won the Taça Guanabara last February. The Carioca final will be a two legged affair with both games being played at the Engenhão Stadium.
Uruguayan international Loco Abreu scored a hat-trick and missed his fifth successive spot-kick in Botafogo’s 4-2 win over Bangu. Right from the off, the Alvinegro’s tactics were clear; launch long balls into the area for Abreu to get his head to.
The first goal could have come in the 22nd minute had the referee awarded a penalty when Bangu defender Santiago slyly punched a cross out of the area, but as it was Botafogo had to wait until six minutes before the interval for the initial breakthrough.
Andrezinho swung in a corner, Fábio Ferreira headed the ball across the area and Abreu bundled home. Upon the return for the second half Fogão raced out of the blocks and doubled their advantage less than two minutes after the restart.
Again Andrezinho provided, his vicious free-kick glanced in by Loco before goalkeeper William Alves could lay a glove on the ball. But if Botafogo thought it would be plain sailing from then on they were mistaken. Five minutes later full-back Lucas headed Thiago Galhardo’s cross beyond his own keeper, Jéfferson, to half Bangu’s deficit. The goal stirred Bangu, only for them to be stung once again by Loco Abreu’s forehead.
Maicosuel’s delicious cross-field pass was headed home for the number thirteen’s hat-trick. The Fogo fans breathed a sigh of relief, only for Sérgio Júnior to pull another goal back for Bangu. Yet on a rapid counter, Maicosuel scored the side’s fourth, calmly sliding the ball home to cap a fine individual performance.
Flamengo’s crisis deepened as they were outplayed by Vasco in a game far more one-sided than the 3-2 scoreline suggested. Led by veteran Felipe, who scored two, the Cruz-maltinos cruised into the final in a match which could prove to be Joel Santana’s last in charge of the Rubro-Negro.
Despite Flamengo taking the lead through Vágner Love, the opening twenty minutes belonged to Vasco as they sprayed the ball around as if in a training session. Eder Luis’ equalizer was inevitable when he tapped in the rebound from Felipe’s pile-driver.
Flamengo failed to get a grip on the game and Felipe put Vasco into the lead five minutes before half-time, lashing home from 25 yards. Santana swapped Bottinelli for Muralha at the break but in the first minute of the half Alecsandro won a penalty for Vasco which Felipe duly dispatched; 3-1.
Kleberson pulled one back six minutes later but Mengão rarely forced Fernando Prass into action. Ronaldinho remained anonymous and the entire side looked lost as the fans began to turn on the team.
The scene was the complete opposite on the Vasco terrace. As the final whistle blew, the delight at the hurt they had caused their biggest rivals was evident on every grinning Vascaíno face.