By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In a repeat performance of their win over Fluminense in the Campeonato Carioca semi-finals, Vasco struck again in the game’s final minute to take the first leg of the Campeonato Carioca final, 3-2, over Botafogo on Sunday, April 1st. With the win, Vasco carries the goal advantage into next Sunday’s second and deciding match.
At one time, the Campeonato Carioca (Rio State championship) was decided between the winners of the tournament’s first two phases: the Taça Guanabara and the Taça Rio. But, due to recent rule changes, the two respective winners, Flamengo and Fluminense, only landed as far as the semi-finals.
Then, in the semis last week, Flamengo lost to Botafogo, 1-0, while Fluminense fell to Vasco, 3-2, resulting in a state championship final between two teams, Vasco and Botafogo, who had not won in either of the tournament’s first two phases.
The strange circumstances preceding Sunday’s game did not take away from what would end up as an exciting and entertaining first leg of the championship final.
The home fans at Nilton Santos Stadium celebrated early when Renatinho made a spectacular play, stealing the ball and scoring to give Botafogo the 1-0 lead only three minutes into the game.
Vasco responded with a rocket launched off the right foot of Yago Pikachu that tied the game 1-1 at the 28th minute. Only two minutes later, Pikachu would score again, this time from close range and in traffic, to give Vasco the 2-1 lead.
As the half was coming to a close, Botafogo would equalize with a beautiful header from Brenner to tie the game 2-2 at the 44th minute.
The game would teeter back and forth for most of the second period with neither club able to break the stalemate.
Just as the game appeared headed for a draw, Vasco’s Thiago Galhardo took a corner kick which deflected off of several players before an alert Andrés Ríos knocked the ball past Gatito for the 3-2 game-winner.
“Everyone is to be congratulated, again a great game, with a lot of goals,” exclaimed Pikachu after the game. “There is tranquility for the next game, we have a considerable advantage, but everything is open.”
With their win in Sunday’s first leg, Vasco will have the one-goal advantage heading into the second leg of the final next Sunday, April 8th, at Maracãna Stadium. Should the game end in a draw, Vasco will be declared the champions on aggregate goals.