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By Jayme Monsanto, Contributing Reporter

Flamengo is now the biggest winner of state championships in Carioca soccer history, with 31 titles, photo by AgenciaFla.
Flamengo is now the biggest winner of state championships in Carioca soccer history, with 31 titles, photo by AgenciaFla.

RIO DE JANEIRO – After a match of high drama Flamengo once again won the Carioca Cup on Sunday, surpassing Fluminense’s 30 wins to become the undisputed state champions .

The team defeated Botafogo in an exciting duel that saw four goals, a missed penalty, the retirement of an important player (34 year-old Fábio Luciano, Flamengo’s defender and captain), and to top it off, ended in a dramatic penalty shootout.

A crowd of more than 84,000 people gathered at the Maracanã stadium to witness the match, and a lot more wished they could be there but were left outside, as the tickets for the match were sold out in record time (less than 12 hours) during the preceding week.

Since key players Maicosuel and Reinaldo were injured in last week’s first leg, Botafogo’s coach Ney Franco had to make a lot of tactical changes, and chose to use a single striker, Victor Simões. Flamengo on the other hand, with no injury concerns, was able to call upon a lineup and tactics that were similar to those used in the final’s first leg.

After a 15-minute delay to kick off, Botafogo dominated in the opening minutes, putting a lot of pressure on Bruno’s Flemengo goal. Despite the odd flap he managed to hold back all of Botafogo’s attacks in the first half, while in the 20th minute one of Flamengo’s first offensive moves resulted in a corner kick. Juan crossed the ball, and as goalkeeper Renan tried to intercept it the ball bounced back to Flamengo’s Kleberson, and he scored the match’s first goal with a strong header.

With Flamengo ahead, Botafogo’s defense remained tight, but they resorted to a lot of fouls – some simply too close to their box – and the pressure continued to build. In the 38th minute one such free kick resulted in Flamengo’s second goal and again Kleberson scored. This time, the free kick flicked off the back of Botafogo’s Alessandro, and tricked the young goalkeeper Renan by looping into the corner.

The first half ended 2-0 Flamengo, and Ney Franco made some changes to Botafogo’s line up in an all-out offensive effort. The reaction was immediate and the first Botafogo attack of the second half resulted in a penalty kick, as Juan performed a deliberate handball inside the area. Bruno guessed correctly which side Victor Simões aimed the ball at, and blocked the shot. The save was celebrated as if it were a third Flamengo goal, and the crowd sang “Bruno é o melhor goleiro do Brasil!” (“Bruno is the best goalkeeper in Brazil”) with all their hearts and lungs.

Botafogo kept up the effort, and this time even the “best goalkeeper in Brazil” was not enough to hold back their strike force. Amazingly, within three minutes the score was level, as first Juninho fired home a perfect free kick from just outside the box, and then Tulio Souza deftly clipped home the equalizer to send the outnumbered Botafogo fans wild.

Flamengo awoke from their slumber and, feeling the pressure, Ney Franco ordered his team to defend rather than go for the winner and after 90 minutes the score was tied at 2-2 as in the first leg.

In need of a result, the title would have to be decided in a penalty shootout. This was only the second time in Carioca soccer history that the final was to be decided that way – in 2007 goalkeeper Bruno saved two penalties and Flamengo defeated Botafogo.

Sadly for Botafogo, history was to repeat itself and Bruno was again the man responsible for a famous Flamengo victory. The goalkeeper was the hero of the night, saving three penalty kicks during the match: the first one by Victor Simões, in the opening minutes of the second half, and the other two by Juninho and Leandro Guerreiro in the tiebreaker penalty shootout.

The Flamengo players got all of their penalty kicks right, and when Bruno saved Leandro Guerreiro’s penalty, it was all over, Flamengo was this year’s state champion.

Fábio Luciano, Flamengo’s captain, lifted the cup and was cheered by thousands of Flamengo supporters shouting “FICA CAPITÃO!” (“stay captain”). He announced earlier this year that he would retire after Campeonato Carioca,  and the other Flamengo players dedicated the victory to the departing captain, with several even asking him to reconsider his retirement. He finally announced on Monday morning after the celebrations had died down that he would indeed be retiring.

The Campeonato Carioca conquest had an extra sweet taste for Flamengo coach Cuca, as he had been criticized for never having won any important titles and in both 2007 and 2008 he was in charge of Botafogo when the team was defeated by Flamengo in both state championship finals.

Flamengo won its 31st state title, and for the first time in Carioca soccer history a team other than Fluminense is the biggest winner of Rio de Janeiro state championships.

While the Botafogo supporters left Maracanã, the Flamengo fans teased them shouting “Vice de novo!” (“second place again!”), celebrating the third year in a row that Flamengo has beaten Botafogo in the Campeonato Carioca final.

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