By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Vagner Love scored his ninth goal of the 2012 Brasileirão campaign to give Flamengo a 1-0 win over rivals Vasco in the eighteenth round of the national tournament. The victory moved the Rubro-Negro up to ninth in the table as their form continues to improve considerably under new coach Dorival Junior.
Meanwhile, Fluminense put more pressure on Atlético-MG with a narrow victory over Sport Recife in Volta Redonda. But Flu’s fellow Cariocas, Botafogo, failed to aid the Laranjeiras side, losing 3-2 to Atlético in Minas Gerias, allowing them to stay on the top of the chart by three points.
“All you need is Love” is how the song goes and right now the beat certainly rings true for Flamengo. The striker has been the one bright spark in a dismal 2012 for Mengão, which saw them lose in the semi-finals of the Campeonato Carioca, eliminated at the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, and put in a so far dismal showing in the Brasileirão.
But all that looks set to change after a memorable afternoon at the Engenhão Stadium. Flamengo and Vasco, Rio’s two most well-supported clubs each had a striker in top form amongst the ranks, but it was Fla goalkpeer Felipe who stole the show.
Despite Vasco playing the better football and creating more threatening opportunities, fans walked away from the stadium with the replays of fine Felipe moments playing in their minds. For Vascaínos, their own goalkeeper’s costly mistake meant they left with nothing.
The first half took a while to warm up as both sets of players prodded cautiously. Mengo midfielder Luiz Antônio had the first chance, blazing over on four minutes. The early shot gave fans hope of an open encounter but what followed was more midfield struggles with little goalmouth action. The fans waited in muted anticipation for the pot to bubble over.
On the half-hour, that moment arrived. Nílton headed at goal to see Felipe palm the ball away. On the rebound, Douglas saw his header beaten back by the Flamengo keeper again.
Two minutes later Felipe was pulling off more heroics, pushing Wendel’s rasping drive around the post for a corner. Soon afterwards, he kept the score goalless with a save from Juninho’s long shot; at times he appeared to be a one-man wall.
Finally, he was given some respite as Flamengo began to wake up and smell danger. Ramon’s daring dribble and shot brought a save from Fernando Prass.
But, unlike his opposite number Felipe, he didn’t get the ball away from danger. It fell to the feet of Vagner Love, who gleefully scored from the rebound to put Flamengo in front.
Vasco coach Cristovão made changes, bringing on the quicker Carlos Alberto for veteran Felipe. But Felipe matched him as well, beating away his shot on 56 minutes.
On a rare counter, Thomás almost doubled Fla’s lead but Prass saved his drive. And once again Felipe was left to save Flamengo’s bacon after Juninho’s free-kick found Carlos Alberto.
Five minutes from time Fla full-back Leo Moura missed an open goal from two yards to seal victory. But, on an evening when the result was far more important than the performance, all was forgiven.
2012 Brasileirão Round Eighteen Results:
Atlético-MG 3-2 Botafogo
Fluminense 1-0 Sport
Flamengo 1-0 Vasco
Náutico 1-0 Bahia
São Paulo 3-0 Ponte Preta
Santos 3-2 Corinthians
Coritiba 4-0 Cruzeiro
Grêmio 4-0 Figueriense
Portuguesa 1-1 Internacional
Atlético-GO 2-1 Palmeiras