By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo are the 2011 Carioca champions after defeating Vasco 3-1 on penalties at the Engenhao on Sunday. Coupled with the Taça Guanabara they won in February, Flamengo claimed the Campeonato Carioca with Taça Rio success. The game ended goalless after 90 minutes, sending the tie to a penalty shoot-out. Vasco missed three spot kicks to hand the title to the Rubro Negro.
Flamengo have now won seven successive shoot-outs, their last defeat coming against Santos in 2004. Goalkeeper Felipe, who played such a decisive role in his team’s two other shoot-out victories this term, was not called on this time.
All three of Vasco misses – by Bernardo, Fellipe Bastos and Elton – were off target. The win secured Flamengo’s 32nd state title, as well as their fourth in the last five years.
Flamengo are worthy champions; they remained undefeated throughout their eighteen matches in the competition, winning eleven and drawing seven. For Vasco, the heartbreak continues. They have now gone eight years without winning the state championship, and in that time can only point to the Serie B title, won in 2009, as their solitary piece of silverware.
Coach Ricardo Gomes must now ensure his players are fully motivated for their Copa do Brasil tie on Wednesday night against Atletico Paranaense. Flamengo face Ceara on the same day.
Vasco started the Taça Rio championship game slowly and nervously, perhaps aware of their tag as underdogs. Right wing-back Allan was their most effective attacking output in the opening exchanges, galloping up the flank on numerous occasions to put crosses into the danger area. Vasco’s unwillingness to gamble with too many forwards didn’t help his efforts reap any early reward.
Flamengo had welcomed Ronaldinho Gaucho back into their line-up, having fully recovered from the knee injury that had ruled him out of the last two matches. The playmaker looked off the pace in the first half, misplacing passes and failing to keep up with the tempo coach Vanerlei Luxemburgo impressed on his players before kick-off.
Even so, Flamengo’s two greatest chances in the first half were created by him. On 22 minutes, he crossed for Thiago Neves, who wastefully headed over, before starting a slick passing move that left Bottinelli one on one with Fernando Prass. The Argentine shot straight at the goalkeeper.
In the second half, Vasco reorganized, tightening up in midfield to give Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves less time on the ball. Yet Vasco still remained toothless in creating genuine goalscoring opportunities.
Gomes tried to send a spark into his side by sending on Bernardo, who has played a vital role from the bench in Vasco’s run in the competition. True to form, he made an immediate impact. Just minutes after coming on, he sent Felipe into a scrambling save.
Referee Luiz Antonio Silva dos Santos sparked controversy by sending off Flamengo’s Willians and Vasco’s Allan for sparring. Many felt he overreacted in a game of such importance where tempers were running high, and no blows were thrown, perhaps a yellow card each would have sufficed.
With that the last action of a stifled game, penalties commenced. Thiago Neves scored the winning kick to take the title and crown Flamengo 2011 Campeonato Carioca champions.
After fulfilling their promise on the state circuit, it is now up to Luxemburgo to prepare his players for an expected assault on Fluminense’s national crown.