By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A long-overdue win for Fluminense against Avaí on Sunday at the Maracanã closed the gap at the bottom of the league, but the team remains six points off safety. Under-fire manager Cuca will hope that it sparks a change in form that could still save their season against all odds after an eleven-game winless streak.
Flamengo meted out a soggy 0 x 0 draw against Internacional in dreadful conditions in Porto Alegre and Botafogo further complicated their situation with a 1 x 3 home defeat to Vitória, which leaves them looking vulnerable in eighteenth position.
Fluminense 3 x 2 Avaí
A 20,000 strong crowd inside a sweltering Maracanã were almost given a dream start when Marquinho was set free by Conca, but he fired his shot over, and moments later at the other end, Avaí stole possession and Muriqui rolled the ball into the path of William who only had to tap in from a couple of yards to make it 0 x 1 and silence the home fans. It could have been worse had Rafael not pulled off a fine save from the same player, but some good work on the right by Fábio Neves was converted by Alan to make it 1 x 1.
On the half hour, Avaí were ahead again through Muriqui’s header, but some suicidal defending as the half drew to a close allowed Conca to steal the ball. He then found Fabio Neves who finished from six yards out.
The second half had a lot to live up to, and though the quality of football tailed off, the fans will not have minded. Rafael pulled off some important saves in his best performance of the season and then Alan again rose to the occasion, punishing a fumble by the Avaí goalkeeper with a tight finish with half an hour to go. That strike proved enough to finally finish of a strong Avaí challenge.
Botafogo 1 x 3 Vitória
On the evening that a new statue homage to Botafogo legend Nilton Santos was unveiled at their stadium, the Alvinegro probably wished they could call on some of his genius to halt their slide down the league table. Botafogo dominated the first half but there was little goalmouth action bar the opening goal for Vitória on the half hour, which actually came off a Botafogo player – Juninho – as he tried helplessly to cut out Leandro’s cross.
The home side were further troubled by the sending off of Emerson midway through the second period, but kept in touch until a final five minutes that saw three goals in quick succession. First Leandro Domingues put the result beyond doubt with a dazzling solo goal, immediately followed by another classic strike, this time Glaucio finishing off a strong run. When Laio got one back for Botafogo right at the death, there were too few home fans left in the ground to care.
Internacional 0 x 0 Flamengo
All the talk pre-match surrounded the condition of the pitch, as groundsmen tried in vain to sweep away the standing water. The game went ahead but was reduced to farce with the ball stopping in puddles or skidding through at speed, preventing play of any quality and largely responsible for the 0 x 0 final scoreline.
In such conditions the goalkeepers had to be alert, and Lauro did well to smother a Petkovic free kick – he was marginally the busier of the two – but in reality there were few clear chances in a scrappy and soggy ninety minutes of football, where the final whistle got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
The 27th round pits Flamengo against Fluminense, in what will be a massive opportunity for both sides to set up the final push of the season to chase the top four or avoid relegation respectively. Botafogo travel to in-form Goiás, desperate to bring their poor run of form to an end.