By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense won their first Brasileiro crown in 26 years after overcoming Guarani on Sunday afternoon at home in Engenhão Stadium. The success means the Brazilian national league title stays in Rio de Janeiro for a second staight year after Flamengo won the 2009 championship.
In the last round, Vasco beat Ceara 2-0, while Flamengo earned a goalless draw at Santos and Botafogo were humbled 3-0 by Gremio in Porto Alegre. But it was Flu who had all eyes on them Sunday, they needed to equal the results of Corinthians and Cruzeiro to secure glory.
The atmosphere at was electric before kick- off, with ardent Tricolores filling the streets around the stadium. Over 41,000 fans jammed inside to witness the club’s crowning moment.
Credit must go to Guarani, who had little to play for having suffered relegation last week. Never-the-less they approached the game with dignity and professionalism, giving Flu’s 2010 inspiration Dario Conca no time to dwell on the ball and pick out team mates with his usual accuracy.
On the day, Emerson Sheik was the darling of Fluminense, stabbing home from close range in the 62nd minute to bring the title to Laranjeiras for the first time since 1984. It was also a proud moment for experienced coach Muricy Ramalho. Having won three league titles with São Paulo, he can now add this championship with Fluminense to his impressive resume.
As the teams entered the lion’s den, the arena reverberated with passion and the home side was visibly nervous. Passes went awry in the opening encounters and Guarani began to take a stranglehold on the game. When a chance did come Sheik’s way, he fluffed his lines and scuffed the shot wide.
The more the first half wore on, the more Guarani began to look assured. True to form though, Conca began to find his rhythm, testing Guarani goalkeeper Emerson with a low shot, before right back Mariano crossed for Fred only for the striker to head wide. Fluminense pressed in the final exchanges of the first half without success.
The two teams came out unchanged for the second period, and whatever Ramalho said at half time had an effect; Fluminense created as many chances in the first ten minutes as they had in the entire first half, Emerson and Carlinhos both going close.
Just before the hour mark, Ramalho gambled by bringing on a third striker, Washington, for Julio Cesar and went for broke. Finally, the goal Flu fans craved arrived. Carlinhos crossed from the left, Washington nodded down in the area and Sheik instinctively prodded the ball beyond Emerson. Cue delirium.
Wanting to defend the lead, Ramalho withdrew Fred, sent on holding midfielder Fernando Bob and swapped goal scorer Emerson for the erratic Rodriguinho. Sensing the game was only theirs to lose, an attack of nerves struck the home side again. Guarani began to come back into the game, forcing Ricardo Berna into a couple of smart saves – but nothing could ruin Flu’s day.
The 26-year wait was over and emotion poured out of Engenhão as the celebrations began. Congratulations Tricolor!