By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – State and national favorites Flamengo lifted the Taça Guanabara at the Engenhao stadium after narrowly overcoming a stubborn and disciplined Boavista side 1-0. The final match marks the half way stage in the Rio state championship, and in order to be crowned absolute champions, the Rio giants will have to win the second phase of the tournament, the Taça Rio, which will get underway shortly.
Flamengo put in an indifferent performance, but it was their expensive new superstar, 30 year old Ronaldinho Gaúcho, who made the difference on a slow afternoon to secure success and make sure Flamengo remain undefeated in 2011.
The former Barcelona and Milan idol earned the win for his new side with fifteen minutes to go with a peach of a free kick, winning the Rubro Negro’s nineteenth Guanabara title in the process.
When the final whistle blew, all the Flamengo players ran to Ronaldinho to salute their new hero. Everyone in the stadium could see that it was his genius that made the difference on an afternoon when no one shone, and a player of his abilities could continue to decide matches when there is little to decide between teams. When Ronaldinho lifted the trophy towards the Flamengistas (Flamengo fans), the atmospheric arena erupted with euphoria.
Boavista can credit themselves on their gutsy performances throughout the tournament, which culminated last week when they knocked out champions Fluminense at the semi-final stage. But on Sunday they had no reply for the 2009 national champions.
Flamengo coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo dropped striker Deivid to the bench, opting instead to start with attacking midfielder Botinelli alongside Thiago Neves and Renato, while Ronaldinho played the center forward role.
The idea was for the three middle players to feed Ronaldinho, who could in turn use his deadly right foot to devastating effect. Renato was Flamengo’s best player on the day, constantly looking to open up space in the Boavista defense and was the engine in his team’s midfield, driving his teammates on whenever possible.
But despite his best efforts, Luxemburgo’s tactics failed to reap dividends as Thiago Neves and Botinelli failed to gel as an attacking duo, repeatedly running into the same spaces and getting in each other’s way, succeeding only in hindering their team’s attacking impetus.
The team from Saquarema had a clear game plan from the off; stifle all service to Ronaldinho. For the vast majority their plan worked. However, when Thiago Neves was scythed down 25 yards from goal, there was nothing they could do from the dead ball situation.
Ronaldinho lined up the free kick and curled a venomous effort around the defensive wall and into the top right hand corner of the net. After taking the lead, Flamengo failed to push on, making life comfortable for themselves, and as the minutes counted down Boavista finally came out of their shells in a last ditch attempt to gain parity.
But Flamengo’s lead remained intact by the slimmest of margins, and the last eight weeks have shown that once again Flamengo are turning into a force to be reckoned with.