By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense are out of the Taça Rio, the Campeonato Carioca’s second act, despite thrashing Olaria 5-1 on Sunday afternoon. Three previous defeats left Flu’s fate out of their hands and they found themselves praying for either Vasco or Bangu, their Group B rivals, to slip up.
But there was no such occurrence as Vasco beat Nova Iguaçu 3-1 and Bangu comfortably dispatched Resende 2-0. Carioca giants Flamengo and Botafogo qualified from Group A, with the Rubro-Negro set to meet Vasco in the semis and Botafogo facing Bangu. The winner of the trophy will then meet Fluminense in the grand final, the Tricolor having won the Taça Guanbara back in February.
Vasco beat Nova Iguaçu 3-1 on a terrible pitch which stifled flowing football. Nevertheless, and in typical business-like fashion, the Vascaínos got the job done.
Coach Cristovão Borges had selected an attacking line-up and Vasco started in fifth gear, taking the lead in just the sixth minute when Romulo tapped home the rebound from William Barbio’s cross. Vasco remained in cruise control until the referee inexplicably gave a penalty for a handball when defender Douglas had no time to get his hand out of the way of the ball.
Zami tucked home the kick to level, and a combination of luck and poor finishing kept the scoreline that way until Alecsandro opened up with two late goals to send Vasco into the semis.
Their opponents Flamengo also won by a 3-1 scoreline and condemned victims Americano to relegation from the elite of Carioca football. Two goals from Deivid and another from Kleberson demonstrated no Libertadores hangover, despite coach Joel Santana resting six first-team players, including Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Vagner Love.
Youngster Thomas stepped up to the plate and proved he will be one to watch over the coming months as he continually searched for the ball and put the Americano defense under pressure as Mengão finished the opening 45 minutes strongly.
But they appeared a different side in the second, putting passes astray and failing to build up any head of steam. It came as no surprise when Diego pulled the minnows level, converting Alex’s cross.
Santana responded by replacing Diego Mauricio with Negueba, who immediately stretched the play with pace and width. He set up Kleberson to give Flamengo the lead again, before Bottinelli supplied Deivid to get his second of the match.
In his hundredth match for Botafogo, idol Loco Abreu missed a penalty as the Alvinegro could only muster a 1-1 draw with Bovista. It was the Uruguayans fifth failure in six spot-kicks but ironically helped his side set an easier semi-final clash, against Group A winners Bangu rather than Vasco.
After a largely forgettable opening period, Caio gave Fogão the lead early in the second. Rising high, he headed in Felipe Menezes’ precise cross. Then came Abreu’s moment to double the advantage after Renan had been felled. He powered the ball straight down the middle and Jefferson saved with ease.
Boavista’s equalizer was no less than they deserved and Botafogo must be wary of Bangu, whose meteoric rise in the Taça Rio is in stark contrast to their dismal Guanabara showing. Their players deservedly had a day off on Monday and celebrated with a churrasco, but it is back to business now as they seek to upset the odds once again.
Botafogo vs Bangu – Saturday
Vasco vs Flamengo – Sunday