By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2012 Campeonato Brasileirão began this past weekend with good results for three of Rio’s four sides. Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco all picked up three points in the opening rounds, while Flamengo were lucky to escape with a point after a dreadful display away at Sport Recife.
Flamengo’s thirty-day break, after premature elimination from both the Copa Libertadores and Campeonato Carioca, did them no favors as they scraped a 1-1 draw on Saturday evening. Only goalkeeper Paulo Vitor’s heroics gave them a share of the spoils, with Ronaldinho Gaúcho once again seeming anonymous as he stood in cold desolation on the left wing.
His post-match comments also did nothing to quash the rumors of a falling out with coach Joel Santana as he criticized the team’s tactical formation. Ronaldinho called for a three man attack, which once introduced reaped the equalizer, Vagner Love finishing Kleberson’s precise pass.
While the point on paper seems perfectly satisfactory, performances like this against bigger fish will have Flamengo out of the title chase by the half-way stage.
There were no such worries for Botafogo as they comfortable overcame São Paulo 4-2 at the Engenhão Stadium. Twice they had fallen behind, but a Herrera hat-trick sealed the points. The game had been an even affair throughout, but the Argentine striker Herrera was in inspired form when he came off the bench for Loco Abreu at half-time.
First he leveled with a well-placed header before dispatching a penalty to make it 2-2 after Luís Fabiano had put the Paulistas back in front. Youngster Vitor Junior scored a scorcher of a free-kick before Herrera grabbed his hat-trick.
Capitalizing on a mix up in the São Paulo defense, Fellype Gabriel seized the ball before teeing up Herrera, who finished with aplomb.
Fluminense recorded a vital win over 2011 champions Corinthians at the Pacaembu. In light of both side’s Libertadores ties midweek, Tite and Abel Braga sent out reserve sides for this match.
In truth, the game held little entertainment for the fans inside the stadium as a scrappy, gritty game unfolded. Leandro Euzebio scored the game’s only goal, heading in Marco Junior’s in swinging corner in the second half.
Flu played out the remaining time in relevant comfort as Corinthians’ second string failed to mount a sustained attack. Now the side must regroup before tonight’s (Wednesday, May 23rd) crucial second-leg quarter-final tie against Boca Juniors. Flu trail 1-0 from the first leg.
And finally, Vasco triumphed 2-1 on Sunday evening at São Januário. Despite starting with a reserve side, coach Cristovão had to call on the starters he had on the bench to ensure victory.
Grêmio started the game stronger but Fellipe Bastos’ long-range free-kick squeezed through the wall to give the Cariocas the lead. It took the visitors just three minutes to be level again.
Rondinelly made his way down the left before pulling the ball back to Fernando, who shot first time, finding the corner of Fernando Prass’ goal.
Strikers Kim and William Barbio were having next to no luck and it was only when Alessandro entered the fray that Vasco snatched victory. His powerful header gave three points to the Rio side, before their Libertadores game against Corinthians this week.