By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Following this past Sunday’s (April 2nd) pivotal final round of the 2017 Taça Rio, local football (soccer) fans finally know who will be facing who in the semi-finals of not only the Taça Rio, but the 2017 Campeonato Carioca.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the semi-finals of both tournaments will feature Rio’s big four clubs: Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco, and Botafogo, all battling it out for state supremacy.
It was especially high stakes for Botafogo heading into the final round as depending on the various outcomes on Sunday, the team could have fallen out of both the Taça Rio and Campeonato Carioca semi-finals. But, thanks to a superb two-goal performance from Sassá, including a highlight-reel bicycle kick, the Lone Star club defeated Resende 3-2 and guaranteed itself a spot in both semis.
Similarly, Vasco saw itself face-to-face with Nova Iguaçu on Sunday, with the winner earning itself a spot in both semis, and the loser leaving both the Taça Rio and the Campeonato Carioca empty-handed. With everything on the line, Vasco rose to the occasion and handily defeated Nova Iguaçu 2-0 with goals from Rafael Marques and Yago Pikachu.
Finally, in what was being billed as the classic matchup that “não vale nada” (worthless), the normally heated battle between Flamengo and Fluminense was tempered by the fact that both teams had already guaranteed their spots in the Taça Rio semi-finals. With both teams deciding to rest most of its starters, Flamengo and Fluminense fought to a 1-1 draw.
A recent rule change voted on by the various clubs left fans in the dark as to who would be in the semi-finals of both the Taça Rio and the Campeonato Carioca going into the last day of action. Originally, the winner of the Taça Guanabara was guaranteed a spot in the Campeonato Carioca final, but the rule was changed to only guarantee the Guanabara champion a place in the Campeonato Carioca semi-finals.
The rule change left many fans scratching their heads as it resulted in puzzling permutations where, heading into Sunday, a team such as Botafogo, could have seen itself in the semi-finals of the Campeonato Carioca to only lose the spot if a team such as Nova Iguaçu or Volta Redonda happen to win the Taça Rio.
Thankfully, Sunday’s games resolved many of these issues, and Rio’s big four will now enter a four-team battle royale in two separate semi-finals. In the Taça Rio semi-finals, Group B leader Botafogo will face Group C runner-up Fluminense on Saturday, April 8th, while Group B runner-up Flamengo will face Vasco on Sunday, April 9th.
Meanwhile, in the Campeonato Carioca semi-finals, Flamengo, who finished first in the overall standings of both the Taça Guanabara and Taça Rio, will battle Botafogo, the fourth overall team, on Saturday, April 22nd. Fluminense, the champion of the 2017 Taça Guanabara, will face Vasco on Sunday, April 23rd.