By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Another weekend of misery ensued for Rio’s top-flight clubs with draws for Fluminense and Flamengo and defeat for Botafogo.
Just a point at home against fellow relegation candidates Náutico could signal the end of Flu’s campaign leaving them well adrift of safety and in need of ten wins in their last fifteen games to be within a chance of survival.
Botafogo are six points ahead but still stuck in the bottom four, while Flamengo’s fans remain frustrated by their team’s inability to progress beyond mid-table.
Sport 2 x 1 Botafogo
Two goals in the opening ten minutes killed off any potential Botafogo challenge before it could get going in Pernambuco on Saturday evening. Despite the rejuvenation of their frontline with Victor Simões and André Lima back in form, the Carioca side were given little chance once Fabiano and then Wilson had given Sport a two-goal cushion with just seven minutes on the clock. As the home fans went wild and Botafogo’s defense lay in tatters, a heavy defeat looked on the cards, but rather than press on, Sport relaxed and saw out a quiet remainder of the half.
That policy began to look dangerous once Juninho had clawed one back for the visitors from a free-kick with 35 minutes left to play and Botafogo appeared ready to spoil the party, but they were ultimately reduced to speculative long-range efforts against a well-organized back four and Sport were deserving 2 x 1 winners.
Atlético-PR 0 x 0 Flamengo
With Flamengo’s Adriano away on international duty against Argentina, the scene looked set for his opposite number and last season’s top-scorer Alex Mineiro to grab the glory on Sunday afternoon in Curitiba. However, a dismal goalless draw was all that the two sides could muster. Atlético started the match the brighter of the two but could not convert some early chances, and an uneven pitch coupled with some poor passing created a forgettable first period.
At the start of the second half, the home coach António Lopes was expelled from the dugout for intimidating the referee and had to be escorted away by the police. Only the sending off of Willians midway through the second half provided any talking point as he elbowed Marcio Azevedo in the face, but Atlético couldn’t make the extra man count and the game finished 0 x 0.
Fluminense 1 x 1 Náutico
20,000 fans turned out on Sunday night hoping to see their team’s resurgence under new coach Cuca, and most will have left with a familiar feeling of disappointment as Flu let slip another three points. They look increasingly like a team destined for second division football.
There were few great surprises for the new coach’s first game in charge, and any attempts at flowing football were hampered by the puddle-strewn pitch, but a breakthrough finally came when Conca’s right-footed shot beat Gledson to give the home side a narrowly deserved lead at half time.
Hopes of building on the lead were dashed within seconds of the restart when Carlinhos Bala spoiled the party with a scrappy-headed goal, and even with Cuca throwing everything into attack in a bid to make a winning start, Náutico denied him his moment.
In the next round Flamengo will host Sport at the Maracanã on Saturday, while Sunday sees an exciting duel between two great rivals when Botafogo and Fluminense face each other in the first ‘clássico’ of the second half of the season.