By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – On a day of high tension in Rio the city’s three teams completed their individual searches for glory on Sunday afternoon, sending thousands of football fans into the streets to commemorate a truly historic season finale.
Champions Flamengo lifted the trophy for the first time since 1992 courtesy of a 70th minute header by defender Ronaldo Angelim in front of 85,000 delirious fans crammed inside the Maracana. Across the city red and black shirts filled bars and spilled onto the streets, closing off roads and mounting buses in celebration.
Elsewhere, Fluminense performed their miracle escape from relegation with a 1 x 1 draw away in Coritiba, rounding off an unbeaten sequence of eleven games and condemning their opponents to the second division. Botafogo also played their part, seeing off Palmeiras, themselves still title contenders on the last day of the season, with a gutsy 2 x 1 win at their Engenhao Stadium to retain their Serie A status.
But all three sets of supporters were made to sweat right down to the final whistle; here is how the afternoon played out…
At 5PM across the country referee’s whistles were blown, and all eyes were on league leaders Flamengo who, in first place with 64 points at the start of the day, knew only a win would do as Sao Paulo, Internacional and Palmeiras all lay close behind on 62 points awaiting any slip up.
Ignoring the script, first blood was to Gremio. Roberson flicked in an inswinging corner from the right beating Bruno and silencing the Maracana with just 21 minutes played. Still in shock, fans were then given the news that Internacional had taken the lead against Santo Andre, and were now league leaders.
The response from Flamengo was instant, however. Within eight minutes they were back on level terms as David drilled home a right-footed shot after a scramble inside the penalty area. News around the stadium soon spread that Sao Paulo had taken the lead against Sport and Inter were now 2 x 0 up, leaving Flamengo languishing in third place if the scores stayed the same.
Meanwhile Fluminense’s lead against Coritiba also proved short-lived. Marquinho’s left-footed strike had given the Tricolor a vital advantage, but a strong response from the home side saw Pereira fire home a header and make it 1 x 1 at half time, a scoreline sufficient to see both teams safe if Botafogo and Palmeiras remained goalless.
As the second halves got underway, pressure was piled onto Fluminense and Coritiba with the news that Botafogo had taken the lead, and soon they were 2 x 0 up courtesy of Wellington and Jobson, meaning Coritiba had to win to avoid relegation and condemn their opponents.
Elsewhere Sao Paulo were now three up against Sport and Inter were three up against Santo Andre. Flamengo probed and prodded without success, and Adriano was guilty of a couple of missed chances, and though Gremio looked unlikely to score, the rubro-negro had to if they were to secure a sixth league title.
With 24 minutes on the clock Flamengo won a corner, and Petkovic, swung in a pinpoint cross to a packed goalmouth. Towering centre-half Ronaldo Angelim rose highest at the near post and directed a header down into the bottom corner and as the net bulged the stadium exploded into a riot of screams and fireworks. Back on top, Flamengo just had to hold on and they would be champions.
Internacional finished convincing winners but could only watch and hope that arch rivals Gremio could grab the unlikely equaliser that would gift them the title. The final whistle at The Engenhao announced Botafogo were safe, and either Coritiba or Fluminense would go down.
At the Maracana a tense final twenty minutes was finally brought to an end and the party began in earnest as the 2 x 1 win announced Flamengo as 2009 Brasileirao Champions after a stunning second half of the season.
Chaos reigned in Coritiba as the game was delayed by crowd trouble, and violence flared up as the final whistle finally brought Coritiba’s relegation and confirmed Fluminense’s safety. At the very same ground where their team had beaten the champions 5 x 0 just months before, the stadium was ripped to shreds and riot police were called in to try and restore order.
In marked contrast in Rio, Flamengo were champions, Fluminense and Botafogo were safe, and the city celebrated well into the morning the end of a remarkable season of football. The final table is below.