By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A solid home win against the Bahian-based Vitoria on Saturday kept Flamengo on the right track and should see legions of supporters happy for at least another week.
Botafogo coach Ney Franco will have also been pleased with his side’s performance as they secured a 1 x 1 draw with former league leaders Atletico-MG showing form that has been sorely lacking of late. The point lifted them off the bottom of the league into 19th place while Flamengo sit 5th in the ranking. Fluminense drops to 15th but have yet to play this round.
Flamengo 2 x 1 Vitoria: Forced to play the game at Botafogo’s Engenhao Stadium, Flamengo looked more like the away side in the opening minutes. Vitoria pressed and settled much faster, making all the early pressure and hitting the post from a free kick.
An early injury to Toro, however, saw Everton enter the fray in midfield. Suddenly the Carioca’s looked far more dynamic, with Adriano denied an opening goal by the linesman’s offside flag. Ibson sent the ball just wide of the far post before Juan sent the fans wild with a left foot strike despite having been booed for most of the match. Everton missed a one on one after half an hour, and as the first period ended Flamengo looked in control.
Vitoria came out after half time determinedly looking for an equalizer and after fifteen minutes they found the breakthrough with a strong header from Roger into the corner despite close attention from two defenders.
In response some heavy pressure on the Vitoria goal came to nothing until Emerson, on 22 minutes, eventually punched through the back line and drilled a low left shot beyond Viafra in goal to seal the three points and send Flamengo, albeit temporarily, into the top four for the first time this season.
Atletico-MG 1 x 1 Botafogo: An unlikely draw between the former league leaders and the bottom club could prove the turning point in Botafogo’s fortunes after Sunday’s result in Belo Horizonte in front of nearly 50,000 fans.
Defensive strength was at the core of the performance, though the home side had a goal ruled out for offside after thirteen minutes and then went ahead with a stunning header from Eder Luis moments later. It took less than ten minutes for the scores to be level again though. Juninho fired home a long-range free kick as Botafogo grew in confidence towards the end of the half.
There was little to pick between the two teams after the break and both defenses must take the credit for keeping it at one-all. Alex Bruno put in some good athletic clearances for the home side and Castillo was solid in goal at the other end. Both had chances at the death to grab all three points. First Tardelli was kept at bay by Castillo, and then Alessandro almost stole in to finish off a rapid counter attack in a thrillingly tense final few minutes.
Fluminense have yet to play their 9th round game and will take on Corinthians on Wednesday night, then the schedule returns to weekend games as Botafogo take on bottom club Avai with a good opportunity to move away from danger in a must win game. Flamengo travel to Sao Paulo on Sunday for what is always an intriguing duel between two big clubs, and Fluminense play newly promoted Santo Andre at home at 6.30PM.