By Matthew Burgess, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Botafogo got the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro underway on Saturday with a captivating 3-3 draw against Santos at their home ground Estádio Engenhão, whilst Flamengo overcame Corinthians last week to progress in the Copa Libertadores.
Santos, who are among the favourites for this year’s Brasileirão title, went a goal behind in just the sixth minute as Botafogo carried on from where they left off in their victorious Carioca championship campaign. Santos, unable to clear the ball from their area, allowed defender Antônio Carlos to deflect Fábio Ferreira’s wayward shot and put the Carioca champions in front.
It took Santos until midway through the opening period to produce their trademark slick football, and a sequence of neat passing allowed young star Neymar a simple finish to level on 28 minutes. With the game’s momentum now in favour of Santos, the Peixe forced Botafogo back deep into their own half until they collapsed just after the half hour mark as Somália’s interception fell kindly to André, who found himself in space before striking low into the bottom corner.
Despite continued pressure, however, Botafogo responded moments before half time. Another set piece led to Antônio Carlos making himself an unlikely hero as he broke free to equalise, before mimicking Santos’ dancing goal celebration.
Joel Santana, who recently committed himself to Botafogo after rejecting the advances of Flamengo, made his intentions clear during the interval, introducing the more offensive duo of Edno and Caio. Having matched the visitors for much of the second half, Botafogo fell a goal behind once again, as Zé Eduardo’s diving header appeared to send the points to Santos on 79 minutes.
With just a minute remaining however, Botafogo once again demonstrated the efficiency instilled by Santana, converting yet another set piece when Argentine striker Herrera headed in Marcelo Cordeiro’s freekick from close range to dramatically earn Botafogo a credible draw.
Flamengo meanwhile have their attentions firmly fixed on Wednesday’s Copa Libertadores quarter-final against Universidad de Chile, having progressed through to the last eight of the competition by seeing off Corinthians last week. Taking a one goal lead from the first leg at the Maracanã, Flamengo traveled to São Paulo for the return leg, conceding twice in the first half, as Corinthians took a 2-1 aggregate lead. Early in the second half however, Vágner Love coolly converted a crucial away goal to ensure Flamengo’s advance.
On Sunday afternoon, his side faced fellow Libertadores quarter-finalists São Paulo, and both teams fielded weakened sides in their first Brasileirão outing. The lack of quality was evident as the two heavyweights played out an evenly balanced 1-1 draw, with Denis Marques on target for Mengão.
A disappointing week for Vasco was compounded at the weekend with an away league defeat to Atlético-MG. Vasco, eliminated from the Copa do Brasil midweek on the away-goal ruling, travelled to Belo Horizonte to face highly fancied Atlético in the first round of the Brasileirão. Vasco found themselves two goals down after an uninspired first half performance before Élton scrambled in Vasco’s only goal of the game on 55 minutes.
Fluminense endured a similar week of misfortune, comprehensively beaten by Grêmio 5-2 over two legs in the Copa do Brasil, and handed their third consecutive defeat under new coach Muricy Ramalho in Sunday night’s 1-0 defeat to Brasileirão newcomers Ceará. Geraldo’s questionable first half penalty separating the two sides.
Muricy Ramalho and the Fluminense board will be keen not to repeat last year’s relegation scrap and have made no secret of their plans to strengthen the squad. Hopeful of making at least one major signing, they now look to conclude negotiations with Chelsea’s Deco, having already confirmed the arrival of well-traveled striker Rodriguinho, who impressed during the Campeonato Paulista for Santo André.