By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – After leaders Palmeiras’ surprise 2 x 0 defeat to struggling Santo André midweek, the door was left open for Flamengo to close in further on the top spot which they did with a narrow 1 x 0 win against local rivals Botafogo.
Fluminense meanwhile showed character to come back from 2 x 0 down at Goiás and grab a draw, but the point is unlikely to be enough to stave off relegation ahead of a tricky fixture list as the season draws to a close.
Botafogo 0 x 1 Flamengo
There was trouble between fans and police before kick-off as the two sides met for the first time at Botafogo’s Engenhão Stadium, an encounter normally reserved for the Maracanã’s better infrastructure for precisely that reason.
The tension stalked the pitch in a dramatic encounter in which Botafogo, desperate to end a ten-game winless streak, gallantly refused to crumble in the face of superior opposition. Petkovic, Adriano and Zé Roberto comprised the intimidating frontline for Flamengo, while André Lima and Reinaldo failed to spark into life at the other end.
Fierro almost finished off a good flowing move early on and Zé Roberto put the ball just beyond the far post as the visitors asserted themselves. When Botafogo did eventually get going, despite a handful of good openings Bruno was barely tested in the rubro-negro (ruby-black) net. With half an hour gone, Botafogo’s defensive frailties were ruthlessly exploited by Adriano who picked up the ball near the halfway line, held off the attentions of three defenders, and fired the ball into the net to make it 0 x 1.
With the wind in their sails, Flamengo launched some stunning counter-attacks but could not add to their tally and Botafogo again got back into the game. Lima got close to the goal twice and for the first time Flamengo looked nervous, eventually conceding a penalty for a push on the forward. To the delight of his fans, Bruno palmed away Lúcio Flávio’s spot kick and the game finished 0 x 1.
Goiás 2 x 2 Fluminense
With fifteen minutes played in Goiânia, the home side were two goals up against the bottom club in the league and looked to have the game sewn up. First Harley fired into the top corner from close range after a fine counter-attack left Fluminense hopelessly exposed at the back, then Romerito took advantage of more indecision to power home a header from barely six yards out.
Just before the break, however, the visitors were given a lifeline when Felipe missed the target for Goiás with just the goalkeeper to beat and then at the other end Mariano held off the defense to slide the ball under Harley in goal. From then on Goiás never looked settled. In the second half it was all square once more when Fred was hauled down on the edge of the area and Gonzalez curled a delightful free kick into the top corner with Harley rooted to the spot. The home side looked more likely to snatch three points as the game drew to a close, and only two spectacular saves from Flu’s Rafael at the death preserved the status quo.
There are midweek games to follow and the 32nd round which see Botafogo hosting fellow strugglers Náutico on Wednesday in a must-win match. Flamengo travel to Barueri the same evening and could finish the round joint leaders, while Fluminense host Atlético-MG knowing a win could get them off the bottom for the first time in months.