By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Iconic Maracanã Stadium reopened its doors on Sunday, March 25th, for the 2018 Taça Rio championship final between two of Rio’s biggest clubs, Fluminense and Botafogo. In the end, Fluminense’s offensive efficiency (scoring three goals on only six chances) and Júlio César’s clutch goalkeeping led to the club’s 3-0 win and third Taça Rio championship trophy.
Both clubs passed through the Taça Rio semi-final stage last week with Botafogo defeating Vasco 3-2 and Fluminense drawing 1-1 with Flamengo. Flu moved on despite the draw due to club holding the advantage from the classification phase.
Entering Sunday’s championship final at Maracanã, both teams were close to full strength, with one big exception for Botafogo. The Lone Star’s keeper, Gatito Fernández, was called up for national team duty for his home country Paraguay forcing Botafogo to turn to substitute goalkeeper Jefferson for the big match.
Sunday’s game got off to a fast start with Botafogo testing César within the first minute, but Flu’s reliable keeper was up to the challenge. At the 12th minute, some nifty passing from Fluminense’s trio of Ayrton Lucas, Sornoza, and Pedro led to the first goal of the game as Pedro launched a rocket over a leaping Jefferson for the 1-0 lead.
Throughout the period, Botafogo continued to search for their first goal with only a couple of fantastic saves from César preventing Botafogo from equalizing.
Shortly into the second period, Flu’s Pedro penetrated Botafogo’s goal area and delivered a terrific chest pass to Marcos Júnior who skipped the ball past an off-balance Jefferson for the 2-0 lead at the 58th minute.
Flu put the nail in the coffin in the final minute of regulation with a beautiful counterattack goal from Jadsen, who placed the ball perfectly in the top corner to seal the 3-0 final and the 2018 Taça Rio championship.
As in the semifinal game against Flamengo, keeper Júlio César delivered another inspired performance making a minimum of five critical saves in the match.
Speaking to reporters afterward, César said “Fluminense and Flamengo had a lot of emotions. But, tonight Botafogo had a lot of opportunities. We shook hands and we fought to the end.”
And with the Taça Rio now in the books, the keeper looked ahead to the Campeonato Carioca semi-finals and the team’s match against Vasco on Thursday, March 29th, “I am very grateful for tonight, but I know that Thursday we have another final. We will count on the support of all our fans to achieve our objective.”
In Thursday’s semi-final, Fluminense will have the advantage in case of a draw with Vasco thanks to Sunday’s win.
Meanwhile, Taça Rio runners-up, Botafogo, will take on rivals Flamengo in the Campeonato Carioca’s other semi-final match, taking place on Wednesday, March 28th.
Both Campeonato Carioca semi-final games are set to take place at Maracanã.