By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, February 12th, the 2017 Campeonato Carioca edged closer to closing out stage one (Taça Guanabara) of the tournament with two of Rio’s big four going head-to-head as Flamengo clashed with Botafogo.
In an intense battle marred by violence before the game, the Rubro-Negra outlasted Botafogo 2-1 thanks to goals from Guerrero and Everton.
The stakes were high heading into Sunday’s game at Engenhão. A Flamengo victory or tie would guarantee the club a trip to the Taça Guanabara semi-finals, while anything less than a win would mean elimination from the first stage of the 2017 Campeonato Carioca for Botafogo.
The atmosphere was tense as local news reported shots and explosions as fans fought outside Engenhão before the start of the game. Anywhere from one to three fans were allegedly shot during the scuffle and taken to the hospital. At time of writing, at least one was in serious condition from gun wounds to the face.
On the field, Flamengo started the game aggressive with several scoring chances from Everton, Diego, and William Arão, all within the first fifteen minutes of the game. Botafogo was on its heels for most of the first half, but was able to keep Flamengo off the scoreboard.
The Rubro-Negra finally broke though at the 35-minute mark. Guerrero received a beautiful cross from Diego to knock the ball in for the game’s first score.
Flamengo almost added to its lead only three minutes later with a rocket shot from Everton, but a clutch save from keeper Helton Leite kept Botafogo in the game. Leite’s efforts would pay dividends only a minute later, when teammate Roger knocked in a header to tie the game at the 39th minute.
The second half was a back-and-forth battle until the 65th minute following a crazy sequence that began with a bicycle kick pass from Flamengo’s Rafael Vaz and ended with Everton finally tapping the ball into the back of the net to give Flamengo the 2-1 lead.
Flamengo fans breathed a sigh of relief at the 86th minute, when Vinicius Tanque missed a point blank shot that would have tied the game. Botafogo missed a couple of other scoring chances and after four minutes of stoppage time, Flamengo was able to hold on for the 2-1 win.
With the victory, Flamengo sits atop Group B of the Taça Guanabara with twelve points. The club next plays second-place Madureira on Sunday, February 19th, before gearing up for the start of the Taça Guanabara semi-finals the following week.
For Botafogo, in the Campeonato Carioca, the club must now turn its attention to hopefully having a better showing in stage two (Taça Rio), which begins on March 11th. More immediately, the club will prepare for its next match in the qualifying round of the Copa Libertadores against Olimpia on February 15th.
The Campeonato Carioca tournament is played in three stages: Taça Guanabara, Taça Rio, and the Finals, where the winners of the first two stages face off to decide the champion. If the same team wins both of the first two stages, that team is crowned the champion rendering the Finals unnecessary.