By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Wednesday, August 16th, two of Rio’s big four went head-to-head as Flamengo met Botafogo in the first leg of the 2017 Copa do Brasil semi-finals. It was an intense back-and-forth battle both on and off the field that saw both clubs fail to capitalize on critical scoring chances.
The showdown at Nilton Santos Stadium (Engenhão) was setup several weeks ago in the Copa do Brasil quarter-finals on July 26th. Botafogo showed it was clearly one of the top teams in the tournament with a dominant 3-0 win over Atlético Mineiro. Flamengo, meanwhile, barely squeaked into the semis, advancing on away goals despite having lost 4-2 to Santos.
Last night’s match was also Flamengo‘s first under new head man, Reinaldo Rueda, who was hired as the team’s head coach on Monday (August 14th).
Tensions boiled over outside the stadium even before the match started as the stadium entrance gate reserved for Flamengo fans was closed by Rio’s Military Police in an effort to control the onrushing fans. Unfortunately, the closure only heightened fans annoyance at having to wait while the match started. Officers had to eventually resort to pepper spray and rubber bullets to control the angry crowd.
On the field, both teams were displaying good ball movement but were unable to capitalize on several scoring chances. Flamengo, in particular, missed a golden opportunity right before the halftime break when Berrio launched a shot at point blank range right into the waiting arms Botafogo keeper Gatito Fernández.
The Rubro-Negra failed to score on another great chance at the start of the second when Diego just missed scoring on a free kick that ricocheted off the crossbar. It was more of the same in the second period, with neither team able to break through resulting in the scoreless draw.
The two clubs will now face off next week in the second leg of the Copa do Brasil semis on August 23rd at famed Maracanã stadium. Only a couple of weeks later, the two clubs will meet again in Round 23 of the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brasileirão) Série A on September 10th.
Adding fuel to the matchup between the two cross-town rivals was Botafogo coach Jair Ventura’s recent criticism of Flamengo’s hiring of head coach Rueda, a Columbia-native.
“Clubs should be looking at candidates from here first, and only afterward look abroad,” lamented Ventura. “This [Flamengo’s hiring of Rueda] is not something I look well on.”
The Copa do Brasil is a knockout tournament running from March to November that includes clubs from around Brazil competing in a series of home-away matches.