By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo guaranteed themselves a place in the semi-final of the 2012 Taça Rio after edging out Vasco 2-1 in a tense affair on Saturday evening. Ronaldinho, who this week has been the subject of much speculation concerning his future at Gaveá, converted a 92nd minute penalty which drew fury from the Vasco players, who confronted referee Wagner dos Santos Rosa at the final whistle.
The result was harsh on Vasco, who played marginally the better football, but goalkeeper Fernando Prass’ crass challenge on Léo Moura in injury time gave Flamengo a chance which they snatched without hesitation.
The result proved a welcome respite for coach Joel Santana, who just two months into his tenure is facing stern questions about his future after two successive defeats in the Libertadores which has left the Rubro-Negro bottom of their group with one match to play.
Tomorrow (Thursday, April 12th) Flamengo face a do-or-die challenge against group leaders Lanús. Anything other than victory will see Flamengo eliminated, whilst even three points may not be enough if the Olimpia-Emelec tie ends in a stalemate.
But on Saturday, all minds remained focused on the Carioca tournament and it was Mengo who made the better start, taking the lead on sixteen minutes. Vagner Love, who has been in prolific form since returning to the club, sound away from the Vasco defense and as he fell to the ground still managed to get a shot away.
The early goal did not affect Vasco, who wrested the play from their opponents and began to stifle the midfield. Just before the break, Eder Luis went narrowly wide with a low effort from the edge of the penalty area before Vasco finally got their reward four minutes after the interval.
Alecsandro had sent the ball into the danger area and defender Wellington failed to clear his lines. Diego Souza pounced on his indecision, steering a well controlled volley beyond Felipe to bring the scores level.
Flamengo, despite Ronaldinho’s best efforts, found no inspiration or impetus in the final third. The number ten hit the post with a wickedly curling free-kick, but other than that it was the São Januário side who looked the more threatening going forward.
Alecsandro offered little in the form of goal-side presence for the Vascaínos, and at the death his anonymity would pay the ultimate price. Two minutes into stoppage time, veteran Kleberson, whose resurrection in form has been nothing short of miraculous, dinked a through ball to Léo Moura, who found himself one-on-one with Fernando Prass.
In a futile attempt to steal the ball, Prass brought Moura crashing to the ground and referee Rosa did not hesitate in pointing to the spot. Ronaldinho coolly stroked the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net, sending the Vasco ‘keeper the wrong way and taking the three points back to Gaveá.
Enraged Vasco players, led by Rodolfo and Eduardo Costa attempted to surround the referee at the final whistle. Only police presence secured Rosa from a physical attack, with replays later confirming he made the right decision in rewarding Flamengo the penalty.
Taça Rio Round Seven Results:
Madureira 1-2 Fluminense
Olaria 0-0 Duque de Caxias
Bangu 1-0 Macaé
Vasco 1-2 Flamengo
Botafogo 3-1 Friburguense
Bonsucesso 3-3 Boavista
Volta Redonda 1-1 Resende
Americano 2-2 Nova Iguaçu