By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – 2010 champions Fluminense are closing in on the 2012 Brasileirão title after a nerve-wracking 1-0 win over Carioca rivals Botafogo last Saturday at the Engenhão. Coupled with last week’s victory over Flamengo, Flu have won two successive classicos, setting them in good stead for a difficult run-in but with a six point advantage over second placed Atlético-MG, who thrashed Figueirense 6-0.
As usual, number nine Fred was Flu’s savior with a goal late in the second half. The Seleção striker now has fourteen league goals, level at the top of the scoring charts with Portuguesa’s Bruno Mineiro.
But the negative result for Botafogo meant any Libertadores aspirations will probably have to be shelved for another twelve months. Oswaldo de Oliveira’s team have been far from consistent this term and their form at their own Engenhão stadium has cost them dear. The team stand ten points off Vasco, who beat Atlético-GO 1-0.
In truth, the Alvinegro were superior to the league leaders, especially in the first half when Tricolor goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri was forced into three smart saves to keep the score goalless. Fred barely got a sniff of goal with Fogão defenders Fábio Ferreira and promising youngster Dória marking him out of the game.
But like a true predator he waited, waited and finally sniffed out his only genuine chance, which he promptly buried. Exchanging the ball with the ever-increasing Wellington Nem, who is reportedly on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, Fred slipped the ball past the outcoming Jefferson eighteen minutes from time.
Despite another winning strike from Fred, the real plaudits must once again go to Cavalieri whose excellent form throughout the year has dug Fluminense out of several patches. He made his first contribution after just two minutes, saving from Elkeson’s close-range effort.
The first 20 minutes were all Botafogo as Flu barely had time to breathe. Cavalieri twice more came to their rescue as his midfield failed to halt the onslaught.
On the 34th minute Seedorf received a yellow card for needlessly throwing the ball away from Cavalieri as he prepared to take a free-kick. But as the half-time whistle blew, the former Dutch international had looked more threatening than his Flu counterpart, Deco.
Botafogo started the second half the brighter, Seedorf setting up Fellype Gabriel to head wide. But the Tricolor fans on the terraces knew Atlético-MG, inspired by Ronaldinho Gaúcho were ripping Figueurense to shreds and the players finally responded.
Flu finally tested Jefferson when Digão’s bullet header was palmed away. On the rebound, Gum failed to get his shot anywhere near the goal. Yet the best was yet to come for Fluminense. The touches were inch-perfect, the positional sense exact as Fred and Wellington Nem gave the side a vital victory on the path to a third national title in two years.
The party had begun on Saturday but there are ten more challenges to overcome. For Flu, that includes matches against the four sides directly below them; Grêmio in Rio, daunting away trips to Atlético-MG and São Paulo and one final classíco against Vasco.
Fluminense’s next encounter is an away trip to Bahia on Thursday evening. Botafogo are back at the Engenhão against Santos.