By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Vasco and Fluminense couldn’t be separated on Sunday night as the two sides drew 1-1 in an entertaining Carioca Classico. It has been a good two rounds for both teams, with each recording four points from a possible six. Meanwhile, Botafogo maintained their challenge for a place in the G-4, and Flamengo’s unbeaten record in the national Brasileirão tournament finally gave way.
Last Wednesday, in a repeat of this year’s Copa do Brasil semi-final, Vasco brushed aside Avai 2-0 to close in on league leaders Corinthians and Flamengo. Despite a less than fluid performance, goals from Diego Souza and the ever improving Dede, gave Vasco the three points.
On the same night, Fluminense comprehensively saw off Florianopolis outfit Figueirense 3-0, meaning both sides went into Sunday’s derby on the back of good results. Despite a shaky first-half, in which Abel Braga came in for a verbal hammering from Flu fans, goals from Edinho and a brace from Rafael “He Man” Moura put the 2010 champions on course for Sunday’s showdown.
The two sides started cautiously with both anxious not to concede space in which rapid counters could be exploited. After half an hour, the first flash point arrived.
Mariano’s low cross fell to the feet of Fred, who struck the ball with his usual ferocity. His goal bound effort struck the hand of Vasco defender Renato Silva, with Flu players and fans up in arms that the referee failed to award a penalty.
Their indignation was heightened four minutes later after he awarded a spot-kick to Vasco when Marcio Rosario tugged down Alecsandro in the box and he pointed to the spot. Juninho Pernambucano tucked away the resulting spot kick to give Vasco the lead.
Nense’s reaction in the second half was positive as they came out all guns blazing, peppering the Vasco goal with dangerous crosses from either flank. Argentine teenager Lanzini came into his own, linking up well down the left hand side with full back Carlinhos, who set up Rafael Moura’s headed equalizer with a delightfully teasing cross on the hour.
Flu were to have the better of the final exchanges, but a mixture of wasteful finishing and an excellent Fernando Prass kept the scores level in an entertaining advert for Carioca football.
Botafogo’s own title push suffered a drawback last Wednesday as they lost 1-0 to Internacional at the Beira Rio. In an even game, youngster Leandro Damião made the difference, grabbing the game’s only goal on 36 minutes as the Cariocas failed to reply.
But Caio Junior’s team found their form in convincing fashion on Saturday evening, beating Atletico-MG 3-1 at the Engenhão. Star performer of the year Elkeson got the ball rolling after sixteen minutes before Felipe Menzes made it 2-0 before half-time.
Atletico were visibly nervous as they continue to flirt with relegation. Their lack of tranquility made Botafogo’s task all the easier as Felipe Menezes stole in to put the game beyond any doubt ten minutes into the second half before Andre’s consolation.
Finally, Flamengo kissed their unbeaten record goodbye as they were humbled 4-1 by Atletico-GO on Thursday. Without Ronaldinho, who was serving a suspension, Thiago Neves failed to carry the team single handed and the visitors ran riot, taking an insurmountable four goal lead before Jael pulled a goal back.
A much improved performance led to an entertaining 2-2 draw away to Internacional on Sunday afternoon. The returning Ronaldinho scored from a free-kick to give Flamengo the lead, but the headlines belonged once again to Leandro Damião, whose eye-catching bicycle kick earned the home side a point after Flamengo striker Deivid had missed an open goal.