By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It was a wild night for local football (soccer) fans yesterday, May 7th, as Rio’s two most popular football (soccer) clubs, Flamengo and Fluminense, faced off at iconic Maracanã Stadium in the deciding match of the 2017 Campeonato Carioca.
After an intense back-and-forth battle between the two fierce rivals in front of almost 70,000 fans, Flamengo would come out on top and raise the championship trophy with the 2-1 victory.
Thanks to that win, Flamengo entered yesterday’s finale with a significant advantage. The Rubro-Negra only needed a draw to win the championship, while Fluminense needed to win the match by at least two goals. Anything less, and the game would go to penalty kicks.
However, much to the dismay of the tens of thousands of Flamengo fans in Maracanã yesterday, Flamengo would quickly lose that advantage as Flu would score the game’s first goal only three minutes into the game.
Off a corner kick, the ball ricocheted off the head of Flu’s Renato Chaves into the direction of teammate Henrique Dourado. An alert Dourado redirected the ball with a header of his own into the net past a diving Muralha for the 1-0 lead.
With Flamengo missing on several shot opportunities of their own in the first half, Fluminense would take the 1-0 lead into the halftime break.
In the second period, Flu kept the pressure on, but several great saves by Muralha kept the Rubro-Negra within striking distance. At the thirty-minute mark of the second period, Flamengo had a golden opportunity to tie the game as Éverton broke free and launched a close-range shot right into the waiting hands of Flu keeper Diego Cavalieri.
As the minutes ticked away, the 1-0 game appeared to be heading to certain penalty shots, until the forty-minute mark when Flamengo’s star scorer, Paolo Guerrero would make his presence felt.
Cavalieri deftly blocked a header from Réver, but Guerrero pounced on the rebound knocking the ball past a helpless Cavalieri to tie the game at 1-1. With Nação Rubro-Negra (Flamengo fans) in mass hysteria, Guerrero celebrated his tenth goal of the Campeonato Carioca, the most of any player in the tournament.
Several minutes later, in stoppage time, a game full of highlight reel saves from Flu keeper Cavalieri would end with the goalkeeper’s ejection when he took down Flamengo’s streaking right back Rodinei, who was looking to score a breakaway goal.
Ironically, Rodinei would get his goal only minutes later in almost identical circumstances. The defender would once again use his speed to streak past Flu’s defense and easily score against substitute keeper Orejuela to seal Flamengo’s 2-1 victory and the 2017 Campeonato Carioca title.
Celebrating his first championship since joining the Rubro-Negra almost two years ago, an emotional Guerrero exclaimed to reporters after the game, “Amazing. A unique feeling, I do not know how to explain.” The Peruvian striker added, “Seeing a crowded Maracanã, full of red and black is incredible. Now everyone is singing, happy. It’s a unique feeling.”
The victory gives Flamengo their 34th Campeonato Carioca championship. However, the club will have little time to celebrate, as they now turn their attention to the Copa do Brasil where they will face Atlético Goianiense on Wednesday, May 10th.
Meanwhile, Fluminense will prepare for international competition as the team returns to the 2017 Copa Sudamericana to take on Uruguay’s Liverpool, also on Wednesday.