By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo marched with authority towards the semi finals of the Taça Rio after comfortably seeing off Botafogo in the Engenhao on Sunday evening. Fluminense thrashed Americano to leapfrog Botafogo in Group B, and Vasco recorded another win as their excellent form continues.
It was an emotional weekend of matches as all games honored the twelve victims killed in the Realengo tragedy last Thursday, before every match, players linked arms in the center circle for a minute’s silence.
The weekend’s biggest game was the classico between Botafogo and Flamengo. The difference was Thiago Neves, who has had a far greater impact on Flamengo than the often lackluster Ronaldinho. The midfielder scored both goals in a 2-0 win for the Rubro Negro which guaranteed qualification. Botafogo slipped to third place in Group B, behind Fluminense and Olaria.
For Flamengo, it is now 21 games unbeaten and here they were at their mesmerizing best. As the game kicked off, the midfield play from both was strong with little attacking play; Ronaldinho and Deivid looked like souls stranded on a desert island in the Flamengo attack.
But it was Ronaldinho who had the first chance of the game, heading weakly. The game continued in the same stifled manner, both sides afraid to cede ground. Botafogo enjoyed more possession, but failed to make it pay in the way Thiago Neves did after 35 minutes.
Renato Abreu put in a low cross from the left wing which found Neves unmarked at the far post. The midfielder finished the chance with one touch. Botafogo’s only reply came through Loco Abreu, who kept Flamengo keeper Felipe on his toes. However, Botafogo lacked that bit of imagination that came so naturally to Thiago Neves, putting the game beyond doubt two minutes from time with another tidy finish.
Earlier in the day, Fluminense thrashed Americano 5-1 to go top in Group B. Tricolor fans were made to sweat as they saw their side fall behind again. But on this occasion it was the spur Flu needed.
Led by a resurgent Conca, Flu powerfully broke down their opponents and walked away from the rout with the semi finals firmly in their sights. Conca got Flu back on level terms ten minutes before half time before Mariano provided the second for Araujo less than sixty seconds later.
The second half became an exhibition match as Fluminense picked off their opponents at will. Ten minutes into the second period Flu were 4-1 up after goals from Mariano and Araujo. Marquinho completed the scoring three minutes from time.
On Saturday, Vasco continued their impressive form to beat Cabofriense 2-1 and remain top of Group A. In a closely fought game, Alescandro’s penalty in the 86th minute proved decisive in keeping Vasco’s winning streak alive.
Vasco opened the scoring after twenty minutes with a goal that perfectly described “team play”. Felipe fed Eder Luis down the right flank who crossed to Bernardo. The midfielder found himself with no room to shoot, before cleverly turning his defender and coolly scoring with his right foot.
The goal had been coming and Vasco continued to dominate until an uncharacteristic error led to the Cabo equalizer. Goalkeeper Fernando Prass spilled a cross and Zotti was left with the simple task of tapping in.
In the second half, Cabofriense were reduced to ten men, but it was not until they were awarded a penalty kick that Vasco could finally retake the lead. Eder Luis was breaking dangerously in the area and a rash moment saw him impeded by the Cabo defense. Alescandro dispatched the penalty to start the party.
Now, with Vasco and Flamengo through to the semis, Fluminense need only a draw on Sunday against Nova Iguacu to join them. Botafogo must win at America and hope Vasco do them a favor against Olaria to keep their state title hopes alive.