By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – They may have left it late, but their timing could not be better. Whilst first Palmeiras and now Sao Paulo appear to have faltered at the crucial minute, Flamengo finally seized the moment this weekend and surged to the top of the league with just one game left to play.
Nerves will no doubt play a big part next weekend at a sold-out Maracana, the team knowing that a win will see them champions, but their neighbors Fluminense and Botafogo also face nail biting climaxes to their seasons. Flu are out of the relegation zone for the first time since the tenth round whilst Botafogo are back in it having lost away to Atletico-PR and must win on the last day of the season and hope Fluminense beat Curitiba in order to preserve their top flight status.
Corinthians 0 x 2 Flamengo
With Adriano out and Ronaldo substituted early on with a thigh problem it was lesser known striker Ze Roberto who stole the show. His goal after 26 minutes put the visitors in command, a strong run holding off two defenders before squeezing the ball past the flapping goalkeeper and the Carioca side never looked back.
With Ronaldo off and the news that Sao Paulo were losing to Goias spreading around the ground, Flamengo took control and looked like champions-elect. It remained just 0 x 1, however, until Leo Moura went down in the area deep into injury time, stepping up himself to take the penalty and settle any residual nerves before the final whistle announced the start of the party.
Fluminense 4 x 0 Vitoria
It was a fitting feast of goals for the 50,000 fans who cheered their team with the help of 160,000 balloons all bursting noisily as the game kicked off. Knowing they had to win to have a chance of avoiding relegation the home side settled well despite the exhausting midweek trek to Quito, Equador, for the first leg of the Copa Sul Americana final in midweek, a game they lost 5 x 1.
Two early goals within seconds of each other gave them an opportunity to relax and enjoy the last home game of the season despite their precarious situation, and Fred again was on the score-sheet, curling home a deft shot straight from the restart after Alan had finished off a beautiful passing move to open the scoring. Fans’ favorite Conca grabbed two goals to make it 4 x 0 and even ugly scenes at the final whistle couldn’t dampen the party spirit.
Atletico-PR 2 x 0 Botafogo
Botafogo slumped to what could be a costly defeat against fellow relegation candidates Atletico, a win that puts the Parana team safe and leaves the Cariocas in the relegation zone once more. It was an ugly match and with so much at stake the quality of football suffered. Some dreadful marking from the visitors’ defense allowed Wallyson in for the first goal on 39 minutes, tapping in Paulo Baier’s well-weighted pass and Atletico were on their way. Baier himself made it 2 x 0 with a neatly taken header, and Botafogo will have to rely on other results to go their way to avoid dropping into Serie B next season.
The final round of the 2009 Brasileirao next Sunday afternoon could hardly be more finely poised. Now with a two point lead at the top Flamengo go into their home game with Gremio knowing a win will see them champions. No less than four teams could still take the title however, with Inter, Sao Paulo and Palmeiras all two points behind and ready to take advantage of a Flamengo slip up.
Fluminense have a midweek Copa Sul Americana final to distract them from their last game against Coritiba where a win will definitely see them safe and secure a remarkable escape from what looked like certain relegation two months ago. Finally Botafogo entertain Palmeiras in a game where both sides have all to play for but for very different reasons.