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By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL –  The Taça Rio, the second stage of the Rio state football (soccer) championship, kicked off last week and it was a familiar tale for Rio’s traditional ‘big four’. The format is identical to the recently finished Taça Guanabara, but with Flamengo and Vasco swapping opponents with Fluminense and Botafogo.

Goalscorer Ronaldinho gets a shot away, photo by AgenciaFla.

While Flamengo, the Guanabara champions, Fluminense and Botafogo all started the new competition with routine victories, Vasco da Gama again faltered early, succumbing to a mediocre Macae side. Boavista, beaten Guanabara finalists, started this phase of the tournament as well, comfortably beating Bangu 3-1.

Flamengo’s two new signings, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Thiago Neves, are beginning to show encouraging signs of forming a promising partnership. It was they who scored their side’s goals in a 3-2 win against Olaria, Thiago Neves bagging a brace. The favorites recovered well from going a goal down inside five minutes to equalize in injury time of the first half, Thiago Neves getting his first.

Ronaldinho got in on the act three minutes after the restart, chipping into the net after a delightful slide rule pass from Neves. Flamengo were never in danger with Thiago Neves running the show, and the little man added his team’s third to wrap up the points, finishing off a rapid counter-attack, before Olaria pulled back a consolation.

Botafogo finally saw off Volta Redona 4-2 after initially letting a two goal advantage slip. 2010’s defending champions raced into a two goal lead inside twenty minutes courtesy of Herrera and Caio. However, slack defending meant the visitors would go in at half-time level as Fogao left themselves vulnerable on the counter.

Serginho was allowed to carry the ball unmarked towards the Botafogo goal before shooting ferociously. Goalkeeper Jefferson could only parry and Jhonnattan put in the rebound. The goal did not quench Botafogo’s attacking thirst and again they were caught with a sucker punch as Avalos brought the scores level. But two goals in the first ten minutes of the second half restored the hosts to the comfort zone, and from then on there was no way back for their opponents.

Araujo makes a case for more first team action by getting on the Flu scoresheet, photo by Wallace Teixeira/photocamera.

Over in Sao Januario stadium, Muricy Ramalho experimented with a blend of youth and experience as Fluminense won their opening match 2-1 against Resende. Ricardo Berna, Edinho, Souza and Araujo all got a run out, and Araujo it was who gave Flu a first half lead, glancing in Mariano’s cross at the near post. It was just reward for the Tricolor, who had constantly pressurized Resende without finding a breakthrough.

However, their good work was undone 100 seconds into the second half, when Edinho’s poor defensive header fell to Kim, who finished calmly to level the scores. Flu retook the lead almost immediately when Marquinho whipped in a free kick for Leandro Euzebio to head home. As the half wore on, Resende were reduced to hopeful punts from range, with Kim and Fabio going close, but Flu hung on to take the three points.

And things are going bad to worse for Vasco. After a disastrous Guanabara campaign, they fell 3-1 to minnows Bangu. A change of coach has not brought a change of fortune, and once again they are looking like enduring a humiliating few weeks ahead.

Taça Rio, after the opening round.
Taça Rio, after the opening round.
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