By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo had the brakes applied to their 26 game unbeaten streak last Thursday after losing 2-1 to underdog Ceara at the Engenhao. The players seemed to be suffering from a post Campeonato Carioca hangover, and none felt the fury of the Flamenguistas more so than Ronaldinho Gaucho, who will need to make a marked improvement if the Rubro Negro are to be a dominant force in this year’s national league Brasilerao, commencing May 22nd.
The surprising defeat should serve as a wake-up call to the Carioca champions. Flamengo are not invincible it has been proven, but without doubt they have the resources to be close to it.
So far in 2011, they have won the state title, a tournament in which they played less than ten hard-fought and meaningful games. The national league comprises twenty teams however, playing against each other twice across seven months. By mid December, Flamengo will have played 38 matches against the best teams Brazil has to offer.
Winning the State level Campeonato Carioca can serve as encouragement for the national season ahead, but it is imperative sides do not rest on their laurels with tougher challenges looming. Presently, Flamengo’s most pressing issue is acquiring a new striker.
Club chairman Patricia Amorim is an astute director and is doing her utmost to fill her club’s gap. Just last week, she revealed she has been in contact with Vagner Love, currently pining for his homeland with Russian outfit CSKA Moscow. The striker sent Amorim a text message before the Taca Rio final against Vasco saying: “I am here supporting Flamengo. We are going to be champions. Please, come rescue me soon!”
For the moment, congratulations go to Flamengo for picking up the state title; they have won more than any other side in Rio, with 32, although Fluminense are not far behind on 30. Yet fans are holding this victory comes with an eye to the future, the national title, as well as the Copa do Brasil, in which Flamengo must now win in Fortaleza to qualify for the semis.
Flamengo possess, perhaps most importantly, a world-class coach in Vanderlei Luxemburgo. The 58-year-old has done it all in Brazil; he is the most successful coach in the history of the national league, with five trophies to his name. He has also managed the Brazilian national team and Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Luxemburgo will be key in convincing top players their futures lie at Gavea, the club’s headquarters, and his vast tactical knowledge will give his side a considerable advantage, as he proved in Sao Paulo with Palmeiras and Santos.
Flamengo’s name is not yet on the Campeonato Brasileiro, but with the likes of Luxemburgo, Ronaldinho, Thiago Neves, Felipe and Leo Moura, not to mention the possible return of Vagner Love, happier times don’t look too far away for the nation’s most famous club.