By Jayme Monsanto, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – After defeat in the Campeonato Carioca finals in the last three seasons, Botafogo finally got the better of Flamengo and lifted the state championship trophy this weekend, wining 2-1 with both goals coming through penalties by their foreign strikers Herrera and “El Loco” Abreu.
Flamengo’s only goal came from the feet of Vagner Love, who as consolation leaves the Campeonato Carioca as top scorer with fifteen goals. The match took place on Sunday afternoon at the Maracanã Stadium, with over 60,000 fans watching the game’s twists and turns.
It was in fact only the final of the Taça Rio, but with Botafogo having won the Taça Guanabara in March, victory would automatically make them state champions. Had they not won, the decision would have come down to two extra matches on the subsequent Sundays, but for the first time since 1998 a ‘final’ final was not required.
Flamengo, coming from a midweek defeat against Chilean side Universidad Católica in the Libertadores da América competition, entered the field with morale low despite the return of talismanic striker Adriano from a rib injury.
Even though Flamengo had the Império do Amor attack complete again at last, as soon as the referee blew his whistle it looked like being Botafogo’s day. They pressed hard against Flamengo from the very first minute, peppering their area with crosses in the hope that 193cm-tall striker “El Loco” Abreu could get on the end of one.
Eventually, Botafogo took the lead in an aerial play, but it was not from the head of Abreu. In the 23rd minute Flamengo defender Ronaldo Angelim held Botafogo’s Fabio Ferreira by the arm inside the box as the cross came in, and Referee Gutemberg de Paula signalled a penalty kick. Argentinian striker Herrera shrugged off the pressure to slot the ball home and make it 1 – 0.
After the goal Flamengo’s coach Andrade took Toró off and put Vinícius Pacheco on, in an attacking tactical switch, and the team began to create more opportunities. A minute before half time, Flamengo grabbed the equalizer through Vagner Love, and his team entered the break back on level terms.
It took 25 minutes of a scrappy second half for the game to spark back into life when the referee gave another penalty kick to Botafogo for a contentious foul. This time it was “El Loco” Abreu who took it, and he too converted cooly to give his side a precious lead.
Flamengo reacted positively, trying hard to find another equalizer. The Botafogo defense, however, remained resolute until the 32nd minute, when a swift Flamengo move ended up with another penalty kick being awarded by the referee after Fahel brought down Ronaldo Angelim.
The experienced Adriano took the penalty kick, but goalkeeper Jefferson produced a magnificent save low to his left to maintain his side’s slender advantage, and no amount of desperate attacking play could save them as the game drew to a close; Botafogo was the champion.
It was Joel Santana’s seventh Campeonato Carioca win as coach. He has commanded all the “Big Four” teams of Rio in the past, and won state championships with every one of them: in ’92 and ’93 with Vasco da Gama; in ’95 with Fluminense; in ’96 and ’08 with Flamengo and in ’97 and now 2010 with Botafogo.
For Botafogo, this was their nineteenth Campeonato Carioca title ever, though they remain a well behind Flamengo who have a total of 31 titles, and Fluminense who have 30 to their name.
Now Flamengo must pick up the pieces and focus on the decisive Libertadores match they have on Wednesday night, at the Maracanã Stadium against Venezuelan team Caracas. Only a win will suffice if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the next round.