By Jayme Monsanto, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – For the fourth consecutive year Flamengo and Botafogo will contest the Campeonato Carioca final after both ran out victorious against Vasco da Gama and Fluminense last weekend.
If Botafogo takes the trophy they will automatically claim the state championship as well, having won the Taça Guanabara back in February. For Flamengo to claim the overall state championship they must first defeat Botafogo in the Taça Rio final, and then play two more matches against them to see who claims the ultimate crown.
The semi-final matches took place last weekend at the Maracanã Stadium and were marred somewhat by costly refereeing mistakes. In the 35th minute Botafogo’s Herrera deliberately handled the ball in a move that resulted in a disallowed goal but could have seen him receive a second yellow card, while their wining goal against Fluminense was from an offside position.
In the Flamengo versus Vasco match the impact was less noticeable since the referee’s mistakes damaged both sides. While he helped Flamengo by not awarding an obvious penalty kick to Vasco in the 87th minute (for a handball inside the box by Ronaldo Angelim), he also harshly expelled Flamengo’s Juan for a soft foul in the 79th minute.
Botafogo 3 x 2 Fluminense
Botafogo played on Saturday, and they took an early lead when striker “El Loco” Abreu found the net with a header in the fourth minute. Slow to get going, Fluminense eventually reacted with a great first half performance by Fred who scored twice, in the 27th and 30th minutes.
In the second half Botafogo found the equalizer with a goal by Fahel in the 60th minute, and it looked well balanced until Caio shot hopefully from outside the area. Though teammate Herrera was in an offside position in line with the ball, the striker spread his legs so as not to touch it, confusing goalkeeper Rafael and the ball rolled softly into the net. The referee allowed the goal to stand, costing Fluminense their chance of victory and making the final score 3-2.
Flamengo 2 x 1 Vasco
On Sunday, Flamengo defeated Vasco with two goals by Vagner Love, once again stepping up when needed in the absence of the injured Adriano. The opening exchanges were full of excitement and as early as the tenth minute, produced a goal when Vagner Love fooled goalkeeper Fernando Prass to pass him by and score a beautiful solo goal. Vasco, however, found an equalizer in the 31st minute with a headed goal by defender Thiago Martinelli, and the half finished even.
Persistence paid off for Flamengo in the 71st minute when Léo Moura was fouled inside the box and the referee awarded Flamengo a penalty. Vagner Love took the kick and scored his fourteenth goal in the competition, making him leading scorer in the Campeonato Carioca.
Three minutes before the end, the referee missed a clear handball inside the area by Flamengo defender Ronaldo Angelim, which should have seen Vasco given a penalty that might have turned the tide of the match, but despite their protests he waved play on and the game finished 2-1.
It will be the fourth year in a row the state championship title will be disputed between Flamengo and Botafogo. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 Flamengo did better and took the cup home. Now Botafogo has the advantage, it remains to be seen if they will convert it this weekend at the Maracanã Stadium.