By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s big four clubs – Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo and Flamengo – all qualified from their respective groups in the 2012 Taça Guanabara and will meet tonight (Wednesday, February 22nd) and tomorrow in the semi-finals. Vasco, who topped Group B with a hundred percent record, will play Group A runners-up Flamengo in the first game at 10PM.
The following evening, Thursday, at the earlier start of 9PM, Botafogo takes on Fluminense. Both games will be held at the Engenhão stadium in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone).
In the final round of matches in the opening stage of the 2012 Campeonato Carioca, Group A matches took place at 4:20 PM, with Group B games kicking-off at 7PM. All four clubs collected three points to progress.
Vagner Love scored his first goal since returning to Flamengo as the Rubro-Negro came from behind to beat Resende 3-1. New coach Joel Santana opted for an adventurous front line of Deivid, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Love which took time to gel but subsequently paid lucrative dividends.
After falling behind early in the second half to a looping Marcelo Regis header, Mengão required just fifteen minutes to turn the tie on its head. Ronaldinho nodded in Bottinelli’s corner before Love tapped home Leo Moura’s low cross.
Negueba confirmed victory with eight minutes remaining to set up a meeting with Flamengo’s biggest rivals. Last year, Flamengo beat Vasco on penalties in the Taça Rio final to claim the Carioca crown.
It was also plain sailing for Botafogo, who comprehensively beat Macaé 3-0. With Rio’s three other sides with one eye on the Copa Libertadores, the Alvinegro have high hopes of winning the Taça Guanabara and moving into the final of the state championship.
Botafogo imposed themselves from the off and took the lead through Herrera’s lofted volley on 27 minutes. Elkeson and Miacosuel were in inspired form and the latter set up Felipe Menezes to slot home the second before the interval.
Elkeson added a third three minutes before the end to put the icing on the cake but coach Oswaldo de Oliveira was left with a headache for Thursday’s semi. Maicosuel collected his third yellow card and will be suspended, whilst Loco Abreu and Andrezinho could miss out through injury.
Fluminense avoided the embarrassment of early elimination as they cruised past Bangu 3-0. After failing to win any of their past three in the tournament, Flu’s passage to the semi-finals was in doubt.
But with Vasco overcoming Boavista 1-0, victory ensured the Tricolor’s qualification. A Flu victory was rarely in doubt against a Bangu side that had lost all six games and once Fred put them ahead from the penalty spot there was no turning back.
The man-of-the-match was youngster Wellington Nem, whose movement and pinpoint passing guaranteed victory. He set up Araújo for the second with an exquisite through ball on 36 minutes before adding the third from close range in the second half.
But the 3-0 victory would have been worthless had they not had a helping hand from the Vasco. And the Laranjeiras Carnival was confirmed seven minutes from time in the Boavista-Vasco tie when Kim scored to maintain Vasco’s perfect record and eliminate the Saquarema outfit from the cup.
Taça Guanabara Semi-Final Matches:
Wednesday: Vasco vs. Flamengo, 10PM at Engenhão
Thursday: Botafogo vs. Fluminense, 9PM at Engenhão