By Matthew Burgess, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Three of Rio’s main clubs endured mixed results last week ahead of the opening round of the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro, which gets underway this weekend.
In the quarter-final stage of the Copa do Brasil, Vasco and Fluminense both suffered first leg defeats to Vitória and Grêmio respectively, while it was Flamengo who recorded the best result of the midweek action with a 1-0 victory over Corinthians in the Copa Libertadores.
Brazil’s two most popular clubs clashed at a rain-soaked Maracanã last Wednesday in the Libertadores second round, as newly appointed coach Rogério Lourenço steered Flamengo to a deserved win thanks to Adriano’s sixty-fifth minute penalty – and all in spite of the first half dismissal of their left-back Michael.
Ahead of Wednesday’s decisive second leg, the result has created a much needed wave of optimism amongst Flamengo supporters who, for perhaps the first time this season, witnessed a performance reminiscent to that of their Brasileirão title winning form.
The match also marked Ronaldo’s return to Rio where he continues to be berated by the Flamengo fans. The striker moved to Corinthians last year after being widely expected to join Flamengo, and received a torrid time throughout the game from the unforgiving Flamengista’s enthusiastically reminding the two-time World Cup winner of last year’s transvestite-prostitution scandal in Barra.
In spite of the important victory, controversy has marred Flamengo’s preparations for tomorrow’s second leg in São Paulo as Adriano once again failed to turn up for Saturday’s training session, sending the media into overdrive. Later that day a statement released on his behalf did little to relieve the confusion, revealing that he had missed training in order to help his mother deal with a personal problem.
Flamengo responded by promptly fining their talismanic striker and instructing him to attend additional training to compensate the time he missed. Flamengo director Isaias Tinoco also hinted that further strife could await Flamengo and their troubled star, revealing that, “His problem is more serious than his absence from training”.
In what is set to be an exciting evening for Carioca football, Vasco and Fluminense are also both in action on Wednesday night.
After a disappointing 2-0 defeat against Vitória, Vasco coach Gaúcho will be looking to field a more adventurous team in their home leg at the São Januário. Questions were raised after both the experienced striker Dodo and exciting midfielder Philippe Couintho were left out of the first leg defeat and both should be recalled as Vasco seek to overturn the two goal deficit.
Fluminense head to Porto Alegre looking to reverse a 3-2 defeat against Grêmio at the Estádio Olímpico. In his first away fixture as coach of the Tricolor, Muricy Ramalho will be able to count on play-maker Conca who returns from suspension, but striker Fred remains unavailable as he recovers from appendicitis.
Finally, the main event, the Campeonato Brasileiro, returns this weekend, five months after Flamengo won their first league title in seventeen years last season.
Botafogo are the first local club in action, hosting possible Brasileirão challengers Santos. The match at the Engenhão on Saturday should prove to be an intriguing affair as both the Rio State and São Paulo State champions clash in the opening round of the season.
On Sunday evening, Vasco mark their return to Série A with a visit to this year’s Campeonato Mineiro champions, Atlético-MG. At the Maracanã, Flamengo begin the defence of their Brasileirão title against fellow contenders São Paulo and finally, in the late kick off, Fluminense travel to the North-East to take on newly promoted Ceará.