By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The return of Adriano to Flamengo’s front line was all the side required to emphatically answer their critics after a poor start to the season. The local hero grabbed a hat trick at home against league leaders Internacional as the side went on to win 4 x 0.
Fluminense lost 3 x 2 away to the bottom club Avai despite having overcome a two goal deficit, and Botafogo suffered a third defeat of the season, beaten 4 x 3 by Vitoria in a thrilling encounter in Bahia. The win pushes Flamengo up to 6th in the table, whilst Fluminense drop to 11th and Botafogo slip back into the bottom four.
Flamengo 4 x 0 Internacional: Inter may have had one eye on their Copa do Brasil final on Wednesday, but the result was still all important for Flamengo and coach Cuca, who looked to have the axe swinging over his job last week. Crucially for the side’s chances in this season’s championship the game also marked the return to form of Adriano who had been grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons of late. It took him less than 15 minutes to get his first, a delicate chip over the advancing Inter goalkeeper, and Emerson doubled the home advantage with ten minutes left of the half after some fine build up play from Ibson. Adriano grabbed his second with a perfectly-placed 25 yard free kick and with the score at 3 x 0 at half time the contest was effectively over.
Midway through the second period a generous penalty was awarded for a foul on Leonardo Moura inviting Adriano to complete the party with a hat trick, which he dutifully dispatched into the bottom corner to mark a fine afternoon for the Carioca outfit.
Vitoria 4 x 3 Botafogo: The Carioca side started the brighter of the two with some flowing passes but after just 11 minutes Vitoria went one-up when an inch perfect pass from midfield found Roger through on goal and he chipped the goalkeeper perfectly. Nothing so attractive about the second goal though, as Roger again received the ball from the middle and his deflected shot rebounded off goalkeeper Renan and onto his leg before rolling into the net, but nevertheless it was 2 x 0 early on and Vitoria were coasting. On the half hour Juninho pulled one back with a drilled free kick through a crowd of players, but straight from the restart Adriano restored the advantage with Botafogo totally switched off. The third goal in six astonishing minutes made it 3 x 2 at half time courtesy of midfielder Batista.
Botafogo were determined to find an equaliser after the break, and it was their star striker Victor Simoes who took advantage of some flimsy defending to poke the ball home with twenty minutes left. A remarkable comeback that almost earned the side a precious away point, but Vitoria’s Apodi was to have the last word as Botaofogo’s goalkeeper Renan rushed off his line to claim a cross only for the midfielder to get there first and head home the winner on 89 minutes.
Avai 3 x 2 Fluminense: Fluminense became Avai’s first victims as the Serie A strugglers scored a fine late strike to secure all three points. Ricardo Berna continues to keep regular keeper Fernando Henrique out of the side and he was beaten early on by Muriqui after a fine one two unlocked the Flu defense. He was at fault for their second too moments later, allowing a long-range effort from Marquinho to squirm under his outstretched arm.
The second half got underway with the visitors determined to find a way back into the game, but they were repeatedly hit on the break as Avai continued to threaten. A three-minute burst from striker Fred looked to have saved the day for Fluminense, starting with a penalty for a handball which he converted in unusual stop-start fashion and then a half volley from inside the area made it 2 x 2. With both keepers preserving the scoreline with some fine saves until deep into injury time it looked certain to finish a draw until Leo Gaga unleashed a rocket from 40 yards that flew into the top corner to send the home fans wild.
The first ‘Fla-Flu’ of the season takes place next Sunday at the Maracana and is sure to see a sell out crowd squeezed into the stadium to witness one of the country’s greatest footballing rivalries. The day before Botafogo host Goias knowing a win would help catapult them out of the relegation zone and up the table.