By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The eleven month long Brazilian football (soccer) season is drawing to a close this weekend as the final round of the Campeonato Brasileiro takes place. For three of Rio’s four clubs competing, the drama is set to go down right to the wire.
Botafogo, who at one point this season looked like genuine title contenders, have suffered an alarming slump and now find themselves in fifth place. They are a point behind Goiás in fourth, the final place for Copa Libertadores qualification.
On Sunday they host Criciúma who need a point to guarantee safety in Serie A (premier league). It is a situation Botafogo fans are used to and the fans’ recent history of disappointment looks as if it may be set to continue.
Football writer James Nalton said, “On the face of it a home game against the team in 15th place should be a simple three points, but the fixture begins to look a lot more difficult when you consider that Criciúma is unbeaten in their last six games and also fighting to stay in the league. The current Botafogo team make it very easy to be pessimistic about their chances of qualifying.”
Meanwhile, Fluminense and Vasco’s situation is far more perilous. While Vasco’s well documented financial woes make a plummet down the league not so surprising, Fluminense’s extraordinary fall from grace has been as baffling as it has been unprecedented.
Fluminense, the 2012 Brasileirão champions, currently sits in 18th place, two points from safety of relegation to Serie “B”. Should they drop it will be the first time in Brasileirão history a champion has been relegated the following season.
Flu faces a daunting last day trip to face Bahia at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, and fans are losing faith fast. Radio broadcaster and Fluminense fan Alvim Bellis told The Rio Times, “The situation is very difficult. Not only do Fluminense have to win, we have to hope Coritiba and Vasco don’t.”
Vasco arguably have the hardest task of all sides battling to survive. The Cruz-Maltino must travel to third placed Atlético-PR, who needs three points to guarantee a Copa Libertadores qualification next year. The club is, however, not going down without a fight and have picked up seven points in their last three games, including successive victories over champions Cruzeiro and Náutico.
According to Infobola, Vasco has a 79 percent chance of suffering their second relegation in five years. What is certain is that one, or both of, Flu and Vasco will be playing second division soccer next season. As the season approaches, its curtain call in is the São Januário outfit who are showing the stomach for a fight.
For all intents and purposes, Flamengo’s season is already concluded. Free from relegation and having already qualified for the 2014 Copa Libertadores thanks to their Copa do Brasil success last week, the team and fans can approach Sunday’s encounter against Cruzeiro with ease.
While Rubro-Negro is able to bask in the glory of the national triumph, the season is far from over for Botafogo, Flamengo, and Vasco. It is one season that promises to spill drama until the final whistle in Rio de Janeiro.