By Jayme Monsanto, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – One week after Botafogo’s 2-0 victory over Vasco da Gama in the final of the Taça Guanabara, the Campeonato Carioca continued at the weekend with the opening round of the Taça Rio, the second leg of the state championship. As expected, the ‘big four’ of Rio (Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama) all got off to winning starts.
Taça Rio’s rules differ only slightly from those of its predecessor. The sixteen teams that participate in the Campeonato Carioca are still split into the same two groups, but whereas in Taça Guanabara each team had to play once against everyone in his own group, in Taça Rio, each team plays against everyone in the opposite group. Confusing? Slightly, but the permutations are certainly less exciting than the on-pitch action.
On Saturday, Flamengo defeated Macaé 4-1 at the Raulino de Oliveira Stadium, in Volta Redonda. Coach Andrade couldn’t count on key players Álvaro and Petkovic, who were injured, and Kleberson and Adriano, who were called up by coach Dunga to play for the national team in their friendly against Ireland, but the result was barely in doubt.
Flamengo started slowly, and the team was having difficulty holding back Macaé’s offensive moves. In the 29th minute, however, Williams was fouled inside the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Vagner Love stepped up and scored, but the lead was short-lived when Laio pulled one back for the hosts moments later.
Andrade made some changes to his team during half time, and Flamengo’s performance in the final third improved greatly. Another goal by Vagner Love and two by Vinícius Pacheco sealed what was in the end a straightforward victory, and Love is now the Campeonato Carioca top scorer with eight goals.
Taça Guanabara champions Botafogo opened their Taça Rio campaign with a 3-1 victory against Americano. The match was held at the Godofredo Cruz Stadium, in Campos, and the the visitors’ first half showing was far from convincing, going in at 1-1 with goals by Marcelo Cordeiro (Botafogo) and Leandro Gomes (Americano).
In the second half, coach Joel Santana put on striker Caio, and the super-sub building quite a reputation as Botafogo’s lucky charm did the trick again. Two goals in 25 minutes sealed an important win for his side.
On Sunday, Vasco played Volta Redonda in a nearly empty São Januário Stadium. With just 986 spectators looking on, Vasco completed a weak 2-1 victory with a performance as unconvincing as the attendance. Vasco’s goals were scored by Phillipe Coutinho and Elton, while Adriano netted one for Volta Redonda.
Finally, Fluminense defeated Friburguense 5-1 at the Maracanã Stadium on Sunday in a match that saw the goal scoring debut of promising 17-year old Wellington Silva. The young player was very emotional before kickoff, crying tears of joy as he entered the Maracanã field for the first time in his first team uniform.
The home side’s other goals were scored by Fred, Conca, Éverton and André Lima. Friburguense’s Wallace scored their only goal from the penalty spot.
Taça Rio’s second round will take place midweek with Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco playing against Madureira, Tigres and Bangu respectively on Wednesday night, while Botafogo meets Duque de Caxias on Thursday.