By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In one of the biggest games of the year for local soccer (football) fans, Cruzeiro defeated Rio’s own CR Flamengo after a scoreless regulation on penalties, 5-3, to win the 2017 Copa do Brasil at Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
The Copa do Brasil is an annual knockout football (soccer) tournament that begins in March and includes 86 clubs from across Brazil competing in a series of home-away matches. Eclipsed only by the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brasileirão) domestically, the tournament provides a showcase for smaller market clubs to compete against their large market brethren.
In the first leg of the tournament finals on Thursday, September 7th, Cruzeiro was fortunate to escape Maracanã stadium with a 1-1 draw when Flamengo keeper, Thiago, failed to secure the ball allowing Arrascaeta to knock in the tying goal late in the game.
Wednesday’s second and decisive leg picked up right where the first left off, with both clubs struggling to get on the scoreboard. Despite a couple of good chances for both clubs, the first period would end in a scoreless tie.
The stalemate continued deep into the second period. The best chance of the game up to that point came 33 minutes into the period when Muralha deflected a shot that went straight to Arrascaeta. With Muralha out of position, Arrascaeta appeared to have an open look, but he just couldn’t direct his shot home.
Just minutes before regulation ended, Guerrero looked like he might have the game-winner for the Rubro-Negra, but Cruzeiro keeper Fábio came up with the huge diving block to send the game to penalty shots.
With Cruzeiro leading 3-2, Fábio would come up big again in the shootout, guessing correctly on Diego’s shot for the tremendous block.
After a couple of successful shots from both sides, Thiago Neves calmly stepped up and, despite losing his footing, launched the shot right into the top of the net over Muralha, sealing the 5-3 victory for Cruzeiro and the 2017 Copa do Brasil championship.
Along with the championship trophy, Cruzeiro will collect the winner’s purse of R$6 million and, perhaps more importantly, the club qualifies for the next year’s Copa Libertadores.
With the Copa do Brasil coming to an end, Cruzeiro and Flamengo now turn their focus to the Brasileirão where both clubs are vying for the G-6 (top six).
As of writing, Cruzeiro are two spots ahead of Flamengo in the Série A table at the fifth position with 40 points. Flamengo are in seventh with 39 points.