By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – All four Rio sides stayed in contention for the 2011 Campeonato Brasileirão title after the last two rounds saw a remarkable return of six wins and two draws. At the end of round thirty, Vasco, Botafogo, Flamengo and Fluminense are still fighting for the crown between Paulista top outfit Corinthians and São Paulo in sixth place.
Botafogo overcame their recent dip with two vital victories, the first 2-0 over Corinthians at the Pacaembu. First-half strikes from Loco Abreu and Maicosuel, a constant thorn in Corinthians’ side, separated the sides.
The Alvinegro dominated the entirety, never allowing the Corinthians midfield a moment’s creativity. Not even the entrance of ex-Flamengo marksman Adriano rejuvenated the hosts as their position on top of the perch wobbled perilously.
Botafogo followed up on Sunday with a routine 2-0 victory over relegation candidates Atletico-PR at the Engenhão. An Antonio Carlos header and Loco Abreu penalty wrapped up the points, which saw Fogão move to within two points of Corinthians and Vasco with a game in hand. A victory away at Santos on Wednesday will put them a point clear of the pack.
After last week’s derby win, Flamengo have left their disastrous mid-season form behind and sit just three points off first place. Last Wednesday Mengão drew 1-1 with Palmeiras before a hard fought 1-0 victory against Ceara kept the Rubro-Negro within touching distance of the top.
Flamengo were initially inspired by Ronaldinho, back from international duty with the Seleção, as his quick wit and lightning feet opened spaces in the Ceara defense, only for Deivid to waste several clear chances.
As Ronaldinho’s light dimmed, Thiago Neves’ shone and it was from his cross that Deivid headed the game’s only goal. Ronaldinho was sent off late on and will subsequently miss Sunday’s tussle with Santos; the contest between the two earlier in the season was one of the most thrilling in Brasileirão history.
Two consecutive victories left Fluminense four points off the top, having recovered from their controversial defeat to Flamengo. Last Thursday, a Fred hat-trick was enough to see off Coritiba 3-1 at the Engenhão.
Typically doing things the hard way, Flu conceded the equalizer before two goals in three minutes secured success. On Sunday, the Tricolor emerged as 2-1 victors away to Palmeiras after a nail-biting second-half in which a sense of injustice hung over the Flu camp like a storm cloud.
Fred headed Flu into the lead during a first-half of domination before Palmeiras came out for the second transformed as they peppered Flu’s goal. Controversy followed when the referee awarded Palmeiras a penalty for an apparent trip on Luan; replays showed the player threw himself over the trailing leg of Leandro Euzebio. Valdivia equalized from the spot.
But five minutes from time Flu snatched victory. Martinuccio found space down the left and crossed for Fred, once again, to find the back of the net. Fluminense now have a must-win match on Saturday at home to Atletico-MG, but will have to do so without Fred, who will serve a one game suspension after picking up his third yellow card of the campaign.
Vasco fought from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Atletico-PR last Thursday, an Elton brace ensuring they remained level with Corinthians. Proceedings were far more straightforward on Sunday evening with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Atletico-MG at São Januario.
In a one-sided affair, the game was as good as over after eighteen minutes; Elton and Fagner put Vasco into a lead which the visitors never looked like clawing back. Up next for Vasco is a trip to Bahia where dropped points will see Carioca rivals pounce.
With all four teams positioned in the top five, football in Rio is currently the cream of the crop.