By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Botafogo comfortably saw off Vasco 3-1, courtesy of a Loco Abreu brace, on Sunday April 29th at the Engenhão to become Taça Rio champions. Their success means they will now face Fluminense, the Taça Guanabara victors from February, in the grand final of the 2012 Campeonato Carioca, the Rio de Janeiro state championship.
For Vasco, the regional misery continues. They last won the Carioca crown in 2003, and since then have only been victorious in one state trophy, the following year. This time around they reached both tournament finals, only to be defeated 3-1 on successive occasions.
The final will be a two legged affair with both games taking place at the Engenhão Stadium. Flu are the only team to defeat the Alvinegro this calendar year and even then they needed penalty kicks to take them to the Guanabara final.
Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira is slowly but surely turning Botafogo into a side that consistently gets results they need, something that was lacking under previous manager Caio Junior.
It is the first time Fluminense and Botafogo have met for the state title since 1975. That year, Flu walked away with the glory after a triangular final round that also included yesterday’s losers Vasco.
But Sunday was Loco Abreu’s day. He was far more alert than the Vasco defense, which was missing the monstrous figure of Dedé, still out injured and in his absence they gifted Fogo a priceless advantage.
The match was barely underway when Abreu opened the scoring in the third minute. Maicosuel and Márcio Azevedo combined down the left, the latter crossing for the unmarked Uruguayan to tap home and cue the celebrations.
The shell-shocked Vascaínos were lost for an answer. And as Vasco appeared to be winding down for the half-time whistle and a team talk, Abreu struck again to give Botafogo breathing space.
Oliveira had put five across the midfield for Fogão and succeeded in stifling the creativity and vision of Vasco’s Felipe. Few balls reached their goal and anything that approached was steadfastly beaten away.
After taking such an early lead, Botafogo always looked more likely to stretch their advantage than Vasco looked like equalizing and the Glorioso put the game out of sight eight minutes into the second half. Center-half Antonio Carlos launched an audacious pass in Maicosuel’s direction.
The midfielder, taking the ball expertly on his chest, easily brushed past an ineffectual Fagner before curling the ball around the advancing Fernando Prass. Game, set, match and trophy.
Vasco coach Cristovão Borges gave one last throw of the dice, bringing on Carlos Alberto in place of Fagner. The player made an impact, pulling a goal back ten minutes from time, but it would only turn out to be scant consolation.
Botafogo played out the remainder of the match resolutely, extending their unbeaten run this year. Oswaldo deserves the plaudits for the way he has transformed the side that finished last year’s Brasileirão in sharp decline, but there was no doubt about Sunday’s hero – the “Loco” from Uruguay.
The 2012 Campeonato Carioca Final matches will be held at the Engenhão Stadium on May 6th at 4PM, and May 13th at 4PM.