By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo overcame Fluminense 3-2 on Sunday at the Engenhão in one of the most enthralling Fla-Flu derbies in history. The game ended amidst chaotic scenes as Fluminense players and coach Abel Braga attempted to surround the referee in angry protest at some of his questionable decisions.
For Botafogo and Vasco, the weekend also ended in disappointment. On Saturday, Botafogo dropped points after only managing a 2-2 draw against Bahia. The following day, Vasco were comprehensively thumped 3-0 by Internacional in Porto Alegre.
But the weekend’s main act unfolded in Sunday’s classico. Abelão had opted for the experience of Deco over the pace of Lanzini in the Flu midfield, a ploy which saw the Tricolor largely control the first half’s possession.
Rafael Moura squandered Fluminense’s best chance of the half, driving Mariano’s cross wide from just eight yards. Flamengo, despite not looking comfortable on the ball, created an excellent opportunity when Renato’s pass put Deivid clean through, but the burly striker shot tamely at keeper Cavalieri.
The first talking point came in first-half injury time at a throw-in. As the ball was in mid-air, Rafael Moura and Renato jumped in contention. The Flamengo player brought his elbow crashing down on Moura’s jaw, drawing blood and necessitating medical treatment.
Referee Felipe Gomes da Silva, who was shocking throughout, took no action against the Flamengo player as Tricolores stood aghast. This was the first of several contentious calls that continued through the game.
As the second half began, Flamengo remained disorganized and Fluminense took advantage on the hour with the game’s opening goal. The lively Marquinho stole possession from Diego Mauricio before laying the ball to Lenadro Euzebio down the right channel.
The center-half put in a deep cross, converted by Rafael Sobis to give Flu the lead. Fluminense played better football but sloppy defending, their downfall for the entire season, allowed Flamengo to equalize nine minutes later when ex-Tricolor Thiago Neves converted Negueba’s cross.
The equalizer stirred Flamengo, who finally began to play cohesively. Bottinelli, on as a second half substitute, stung the palms of Cavalieri with a rasping drive before Thiago Neves went close again.
Sensing the game was slipping away from his side, Braga made a triple substitution, Lanzini, Souza and Martinuccio replacing Deco, Diguinho and Sobis. The ploy worked as Souza and Lanzini combined for Flu’s second, the latter heading home the former’s outswinging cross with just twelve minutes to go.
But Flamengo never threw in the towel and the equalizer, despite arriving in dubious circumstances, was a gem. Bottinelli sent a delightful free-kick over the wall and into the top left-hand corner of the goal, giving Cavalieri no chance. And when he was awarded space in Flu’s third with less than sixty seconds remaining, he let fly with a slice-shot which found its way into the bottom corner, sending the Flamenguistas wild.
The winning goal caused the Fluminense players and coaching staff to erupt. Abel Braga could not be restrained as he entered the field to remonstrate about the foul da Silva had awarded for Flamengo’s second goal.
In the dying seconds, Souza was harshly shown a straight red card for a foul on Bottinelli to further incense Fluminense. As the final whistle blew, da Silva needed a wall of protection from Flu staff feeling they had been robbed of victory as the curtain closed on a game that will live long in the memory.
The result left Flamengo just four points off the top, whilst Fluminense must rebuild if they are to remain in the title hunt. The current champions are seven points off Corinthians with ten games left to play.