By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Another double-header in the Brasileirão this week saw Rio’s three clubs playing two games in five days. On Wednesday, Flamengo took on Barueri at home and Botafogo traveled to Nautico but only managed draws, faring better over the weekend with both grabbing vital victories. Fluminense continued their bad run with a defeat against league leaders Atletico-MG and only managed a draw in Sunday’s relegation battle.
Flamengo’s midweek match with Barueri was a long way from the spectacle their fans craved. The newly promoted visitors should not have provided too strong an opposition to the country’s biggest club, but that was not the case as the Paulistas took the lead early in the second half. Calls for the head coach Cuca were deafening as the game wore on, and despite an equalizer with fifteen minutes left, he was duly fired from the club after the disappointing result.
The personnel switch seemed to have the desired effect on the team, and on Sunday for the first time in the history of the competition Flamengo took all three points against Santos at the Vila Belmiro Stadium in São Paulo. Adriano was again on hand to level the scores with a long-range thunderbolt in the second half taking his tally to eight for the season, but the team needed a late own goal to snatch the win that takes them up to ninth place in the league.
Fluminense took to the pitch in Belo Horizonte on Thursday under the command of Renato Gaucho, the new coach who nearly took the team to Libertadores glory last year before a forgettable end to the campaign. The unlikely return of the former Fluminense legend brought a much-improved performance from the side but no better result, and the 2 x 1 defeat kept them rooted to the foot of the table.
Two soft goals were conceded to make it 2 x 0, but with Fernando Henrique returning in goal and Fred in attack the team looked stronger, and only failed to add to Kieza’s goal thanks to some fine saves by Aranha in the Atletico goal.
Sadly Fred was out of the game against Cruzeiro and may be away for two months with a serious thigh injury, but at least one point from the 1 x 1 draw was enough to lift them off the bottom of the league table. Once again it was Kieza with the all-important goal after Cruzeiro had taken the lead, but without a win in nine games it would take a miracle from Renato Gaucho to reverse their precarious situation.
Botafogo managed four points from their two games this week to help them well on their way out of the relegation scrap and ease the pressure on coach Ney Franco. An unlucky 2 x 2 away draw with Nautico saw several decisions go against the Carioca outfit in a bad tempered affair with ten bookings and a sending off.
Over the weekend an inspired performance against Internacional saw them climb to fifteenth in the table, which could provide the turning point for their season. The team from Porto Alegre have looked good all season but came unstuck as Botafogo scored two early goals and dominated the first half.
They then hit the post twice and had a goal disallowed while Inter clawed their way back into the game. Despite getting back on level terms they finally allowed Alessandro in with fifteen minutes left of the game to send the home fans wild with a close range finish.
More midweek matches this week will see Botafogo travel to Curitiba and Fluminense take on second-place Palmeiras in a tough encounter in São Paulo on Wednesday. Flamengo host leaders Atletico-MG on Thursday in what is sure to be an explosive encounter between two strong teams in good form.