By Jayme Monsanto, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – After spending the 2009 season playing smaller teams in smaller venues in Série B, Vasco da Gama is back to Série A – the elite of Brazilian soccer. Last Saturday, more than 80,000 Vasco fans packed the Maracanã stadium (this year’s record attendance) to witness the team’s triumph over Juventude, which granted them a place in Série A for 2010.
It was a sunny day in Rio, and the temperature reached a sweltering 40ºC. The hot weather may explain the lazy rhythm of the beginning of the match, as the first minutes of ball play didn’t have much action.
The first critical play was in the 23rd minute, when Vasco’s striker Elton entered the goal box and kicked the ball over goalkeeper Juninho, but the post stopped it from reaching the net.
But it didn’t take long after that for Vasco to score. Key player Carlos Alberto crossed the ball to Elton, and since he couldn’t reach it with his head, he hand-balled it to his fellow striker Adriano, who scored with a volley. Although the Juventude players complained to the referee, Elton got away with the handball and Vasco took the lead.
After that, the match went slow once again, with nothing happening until half time. Juventude made two substitutions for the second half that gave them an extra offensive edge: Jorge Felipe and Gustavo replaced Xavier and Léo Dias respectively. With the new players on the field, they managed to find the equalizer in the 17th minute. The goal was scored by defender Irineu, with a header.
Juventude coach Ivo Wortmann decided to put another striker in the field and go all offense against Vasco, but this substitution backfired. One minute after the striker Mendes entered the field, Vasco’s Adriano went pass goalkeeper Juninho and was wide open to score, but the goalkeeper stopped him with a foul. The referee called a penalty kick and expelled Juninho. Since Juventude had already done three substitutions, they couldn’t place another goalkeeper on the field, and the striker Mendes was chosen to defend the net.
It was the 24th minute, and Carlos Alberto was the one taking the penalty kick. The improvised goalkeeper Mendes was no match, and Vasco was once again in the lead. After that, the Carioca team played it safe for the remaining 20 minutes, and didn’t even exploit the fact that Juventude was outnumbered and had an improvised goalkeeper.
When the referee’s whistle announced the end of the match, a huge party begun. The players hugged each other and cried with joy as if it was a World Cup final, while thousand of fans screamed “O Vascão voltou! O Vascão voltou!” (Vasco is back) with all their hearts and lungs. Even the team’s president, Roberto Dinamite, came down to the field to celebrate with the players.
The Vasco squad lifted signs with thank you messages for their fans, saying their comeback was only possible because of their support. “Seu sentimento nos trouxe de volta” (your feeling brought us back) and “obrigado pelo amor infinito” (thanks for your infinite love) were some of the messages the players held.
Vasco da Gama is one of Rio’s four largest teams, along with Flamengo, Botafogo and Fluminense. Founded in 1898 by Portuguese expatriates living in Rio, Vasco has been national champion four times, state champion twenty two times, and even claimed international titles in the Mercosul and Libertadores das Américas Cups.