By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The city’s football teams continue to impress but is it too little too late with only four games left? Whilst neighbors Vasco da Gama celebrated their return to the top flight next season in front of 85,000 at the Maracana on Saturday, Fluminense did their best to make sure they will also be there with a solid 1 x 0 win over title contenders Palmeiras. Flamengo will have been happy with that result, and their own 1 x 3 win at Atletico-MG keeps them in the hunt for the championship whilst Botafogo’s win over Coritiba puts five points between them and the relegation zone.
Fluminense 1 x 0 Palmeiras
Another talismanic display from striker Fred leaves Fluminense’s fans wondering what if, considering he has missed the majority of the season with injury. The win stretches the side’s unbeaten run to seven in the league with a goal for Fred in each game, whilst a new-look defense has been equally important in the rejuvenation process. Palmeiras may have had a goal disallowed in the first half, but the home side looked in control, and as the opening 45 minutes closed out they had a handful of good chances to open their account but were foiled by some wasteful finishing.
That pattern continued in the second period. Maicon’s pace was a constant threat down the right hand side and Conca as ever was pulling the strings in the middle, the Argentine surely a contender for player of the season. Indeed it was from one of his crosses that the first and only goal of the game came, the ball reaching Fred in the area and he barely even had to leave the ground to meet it with a header beyond the dive of keeper Bruno. Palmeiras hardly looked like a team in second place in the championship, Fluminense seemed a different team to that which has spent over half the season at the foot of the table.
Atletico-MG 1 x 3 Flamengo
In this top of the table scrap the home side started well and applied all the pressure in the opening exchanges. However, a freak goal from Petkovic direct from a corner soon put the visitors ahead and they never looked back. Maldonado made it two-nil just before the break with a well-taken shot from just inside the area and the Cariocas were coasting against the team one place above them in the league.
Ricardinho got one back for the Minas Gerais side moments after the restart when he reacted quickest to a loose ball inside the six yard box and it looked as though Flamengo’s slender lead could be in jeopardy. Ze Roberto wasted two glorious chances to make it 1 x 3 and relieve that pressure, but at the other end some equally poor finishing left the home fans frustrated. After an unusually quiet game, Adriano popped up with ten minutes left to put the result beyond any doubt, using his strength to get to a header first and power home his 18th goal of the season.
Botafogo 2 x 0 Coritiba
In another crucial game between two teams one place apart in the league Botafogo ignored the pressure of potential relegation, easing to a 2 x 0 win and putting some light between themselves and the bottom four. With no Andre Lima in attack it was left to two midfielders to lead the way with the scoring, Renato grabbing the first towards the end of a fairly uneventful opening 45 minutes, smashing the ball low to the right of keeper Vanderlei to send the slim 12,000 crowd wild with delight.
With only Marcos Aurelio in good shape Coritiba looked out of sorts all night, and as their coach moved to a more attacking formation to try and salvage something from the game, so the home side found more space behind their defense. Midway through the second half Botafogo had the game wrapped up courtesy of a fine strike by Lucio Flavio, and sat back to comfortably absorb their opponents and see the game out.
The 35th round next weekend will see three more opportunities for the Carioca sides to help their differing situations, as Flamengo travel to troubled Nautico, Botafogo meet Barueri in Sao Paulo and Fluminense host Atletico-PR at The Maracana.