By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense and Botafogo remained on the coat-tails of Brasileirão leaders Corinthians and Vasco after the 32nd round of matches. Both sides recorded victories over teams battling against relegation to stay within touching distance of the summit. Elsewhere, Vasco were held by São Paulo whilst Flamengo were brushed aside by Gremio.
A Loco Abreu header guaranteed Botafogo a 1-0 victory over Cruzeiro at the Engenhão. The Alvinegro were forced to scrap before their quality shone through.
For the first half-hour Cruzeiro laid siege to the Botafogo goal, Montillo going close before Jefferson made an excellent save to deny Anselmo Ramon.
Cruzeiro’s tight defensive unit required a moment of inspiration to be unlocked and nine minutes after the restart it arrived. Elkeson received the ball down the left, looked up and planted a precise cross onto the forehead of Loco Abreu. The Uruguayan did the rest, heading powerfully beyond Fabio.
With the goal, inspiration and confidence seeped from the Cruzeiro players who retreated as if already accepting defeat. Elkeson and Caio both should have doubled Botafogo’s advantage but their wastefulness went unpunished as the match ended comfortably for the hosts.
A Rafael Sóbis double helped Fluminense to a 2-1 victory over Ceará in Fortaleza. The game started disastrously for Flu, when an unfortunate Márcio Rosário slip allowed Felipe Azevedo to race through and give the home side the lead after seven minutes.
Fluminense bombarded the Ceará goal and their perseverance paid off in the 31st minute after a move involving Deco and Fred was touched home by Sóbis. Fred remained in a creative mood, teeing up Marquinho just before the interval only for the midfielder to blaze wide.
The Tricolor emerged for the second-half trying to put the game to bed as quickly as possible but their finishing left much to be desired as Sóbis, Fred and Deco all missed opportunities. Just after the hour the winner came. Carlinhos sent Sóbis through, whose shot was enough to keep the team’s fight for a second successive crown alive.
Flamengo let a two goal lead slip to lose 4-2 away to Gremio. The match was Ronaldinho’s first return to the Olímpico since opting for the Rubro-Negro over his hometown club in January and his entrance was the signal for a shower of abuse to rain down.
For the first 35 minutes, it looked as though he would have the last laugh after Deivid and Thiago Neves put the visitors ahead. But in the face of adversity Gremio rose from the ashes.
On the stroke of half-time, the home side gave themselves a chance when Andre Lima managed to spin away from Wellinton and shoot beyond Felipe. And as the intensity inside the stadium grew, Ronaldinho shrank.
Early in the second-half Gremio equalized, Andre Lima beating Renato before unleashing a curling effort from 25 yards. The Gaúchos’ impressive physical conditioning set them in stead to romp home with two more exquisite goals.
First, Douglas beat Felipe unchallenged before Miralles scored the goal of the game. Easily evading the ineffectual Wellinton, he drove a fierce shot into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Vasco fans were left frustrated after their side only mustered a goalless draw against São Paulo. The Vascaíno felt robbed after referee Ricardo Marques Ribeiro failed to award a penalty when Allan was tugged inside the box by Juan.
The visitors’ game-plan was largely uninspired as they sought to stifle Vasco’s midfield at any opportunity. Vasco tried to impose a high tempo but only managed to threaten from set pieces.
The draw saw them lose first place to Corinthians, who defeated Avaí 2-1. Next for Vasco is a tough trip to in-form Santos, where anything less than success could see them slip further from glory.