By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense cut Atlético-MG’s lead at the top of the 2012 Brasileirão to a solitary point after the nineteenth round of matches, signalling the end of the league’s first half. In the round of classicos, Flu overcame Vasco 2-1, whilst Atlético were held by Minas rivals Cruzeiro. Flamengo and Botafogo played out a goalless draw.
Thiago Neves scored both goals in a man-of-the-match performance as Fluminense beat Vasco 2-1. The victory momentarily brought Flu level with Atlético, while condemning Vasco to a fourth successive game without a win.
Vasco started the brighter but without creating any chances of note and it was Fluminense who threatened first. From Carlinhos’ cross, Fred beat Dedé to head past Fernando Prass. As the Tricolor celebrated, the referee ruled out the goal for a push, to Fred’s disgust. Vasco reacted through Alecsandro, but Flu defender Gum was equal to his efforts.
The second half began at a higher tempo and again it was Vasco who started sharper. William Barbio tried to tee up Alecsandro but again he was thwarted by the Flu defense. Wellington Nem’s pace caused problems for the Vasco defenders as he launched rapid counters for the Tricolor.
Nerves began to show in both sets of players as the decisive breakthrough refused to arrive, but on 70 minutes, Flu finally broke the deadlock. Wágner’s cross was met by a stunning volley from Thiago Neves to give Flu the advantage.
It took Vasco just 60 seconds to respond, when Juninho’s cross was put into his own net by Gum. Then game opened up in the final ten minutes as both sides went for the jugular, but four minutes from time Thiago Neves’ low free-kick did the damage, knocking the fight out of Vasco.
A dull game which ended in a 0-0 draw between Flamengo and Botafogo was met by contrasting opinions from supporters. While Flamengo have made upward strides under new coach Dorival Junior, Botafogo are losing their early season impetus.
Flamengo shaded the game in terms of creativity, their greatest chance coming at the death when Liedson headed against the crossbar with Jefferson beaten. Clarence Seedorf had a solid game for Fogo, but their biggest problem has been common knowledge for weeks; the lack of a center-forward with a predatory instinct.
Flamengo’s recent form is encouraging; under Dorival Junior they have amassed ten points from their last five games. The cohesion that ran threw the side yesterday, from defense to midfield to attack was greatly improved, and for a play-maker of true class they may have won the match.
For Botafogo, it was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Seedorf, Lodeiro and Andrezinho all want to occupy the same position and only succeeded in hindering build-up play. When Cidinho came on for the injured Andrezinho the team took on a new shoe and aggression, the teenager partnering Elkeson in attack.
But Elkeson isn’t a true number nine, preferring to play just off a target man and subsequently failed to make the best use of the ball when it arrived. As the final whistle blew many Alvinegros had already left the Engenhão Stadium, the enthusiasm that accompanied Seedorf’s arrival two months ago evaporating fast.
The Rubro-Negros left more satisfied and more than a little excited about what the championship’s second half may bring.