By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense have one hand on the Campeonato Carioca, the Rio de Janeiro state championship, after comprehensively dispatching Botafogo 4-1 in the first leg of the final. Fred, Rafael Sóbis (two) and youngster Marcos Junior did the damage after the Tricolor suffered an early fright by falling behind to Renato’s volley.
True to form, veteran maestro Deco conducted the Fluzão orchestra as his experience and craft created a gaping chasm between the sides that could not be filled. In his quest he was ably aided by Thiago Neves, captain Fred and striker Sóbis; Flu’s attacking quartet could not be stopped on an inspired afternoon at the Engenhão Stadium this past Sunday.
But as good as Flu were, Fogão were anonymous. Their own attacking quartet of Loco Abreu, Maicosuel, Fellype Gabriel and Elkeson failed to put consistent pressure on then Tricolor defense.
Botafogo’s resistance finally caved when full-back Lucas was sent off ten minutes into the second half for two bookable offenses.
Despite falling behind to Renato’s expertly controlled volley, the first half was dominated by the men from Laranjeiras. Deco and Thiago Neves played at a high tempo and came close to picking the lock of the Botafogo defense.
But they would have to wait until the 43rd minute to equalize. Carlinhos put a deep cross in from the left which Thiago Neves headed back across goal. Seven yards out, Fred leveled with an acrobatic bicycle kick.
As the first half ended in a wave of euphoria so the second began. Botafogo tried to snatch the initiative but only succeeded in losing a man when Lucas was dismissed after a scything tackle on Thiago Neves. Just a minute later Flu took the lead when Deco played a trademark through-ball to leave Sóbis in the area.
The striker checked onto his favored left boot before curling an effort beyond the flailing palms of Jefferson. The lead inspired Flu’s players in a way it had failed to illuminate Botafogo in the first half, at a time when they had Fluzão on the ropes and they could have rammed home their advantage.
But as it was, Flu were allowed to put the first leg beyond reach with their third of the game. Sóbis would finish the move again, rounding Jefferson to score after Thiago Neves’ delightful supply.
Fogão coach Oswaldo de Oliveira made changes to no avail. Loco Abreu and Elkeson gave way to Herrera and Caio but it was Flu who would go on to score a fourth and give themselves a huge advantage going into Sunday’s second leg.
Eighteen-year-old Marcos Junior put the icing on the Laranjeiras cake, scoring his first professional goal to the delight of the 15,000 Tricolores inside the Engenhão.
Botafogo’s 23 match unbeaten run was blown away as Flu, so inconsistent for the vast majority of 2012, got it right when it mattered.
The Alvinegro now have to defeat Flu by three goals just to take the tie to a penalty shoot-out. The 2012 Campeonato Carioca Final match will be held at the Engenhão Stadium on May 13th at 4PM.