By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Vasco were held to a 1-1 draw by rivals Flamengo on Sunday afternoon in a result that allowed Paulista outfit Corinthians to claim their fifth Brasileirão crown. Starting the weekend two points off the top, only a win would do for the Vascaínos if they were to claim their second major trophy in six months, following their Copa do Brasil success in June.
Vasco had made the perfect start with a Diego Souza header on the half-hour, but were pegged back in the second half when Renato Abreu fired home from close range. Rio’s second classico saw Fluminense and Botafogo also play out a 1-1 draw.
Flamengo fans celebrated the result as if they themselves had claimed the crown. In reality, the Rubro-Negro booked their place in next year’s Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. For the first time in history, there will be three Carioca clubs in the tournament – Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo.
As the game kicked off at Engenhão Stadium, Vasco raced out of the blocks and seized the game by the throat. Flamengo took to the field with three holding midfielders and looked happy to try and hit Vasco on the counter.
But with so many players behind the ball, Ronaldinho was left in desolate isolation up front, whilst Felipe began to direct play for Vasco. Linking well with Diego Souza, the latter should have earned his side a penalty when Willians tugged at his shirt, but referee Péricles Bassols failed to whistle.
But the Vasco number ten would soon make amends, heading in Nilton’s cross to put Vasco into the lead. The Vascaínos erupted inside the Engenhão – the title they craved was within their grasp. All that was missing was a goal from Palmeiras over the Corinthians at the Pacaembu.
Flamengo felt the pressure crank up. Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves tried to wrest the initiative but to minimum effect. But now, Vasco had something to lose and the tension on the pitch was palpable.
The experience of veteran Felipe that came to the fore for the São Januário once again. His touch and vision gave Vasco the greater threat as half-time approached, and as the whistle blew Alecsandro missed an opportunity to stretch Vasco’s lead.
Flamengo came out with a more aggressive stance in the second half, knowing defeat could see them slip out of the G-5 and qualification for the Libertadores. Ronaldinho, now supported by Deivid in attack, finally began to inspire.
It was from R10 that Mengão’s equalizer arrived. He played the ball into Deivid who touched it onto Renato. Free in the area, the number eleven swept home to restore parity.
Sensing the game was slipping away from his side, Cristovão took off Felipe and Fellipe Bastos for Bernardo and Eduardo Costa. But just minutes later, disaster struck for Vasco as Jumar was shown a second yellow card and was sent off.
Flamengo pressed but were reduced to ten men themselves when Renato was booked for a second time for simulation. His reaction was shameful as he aggressively approached the referee, jabbing a finger into his chest.
Vasco hearts were to be broken as the final whistle sounded at the Pacaembu, ending a goalless draw between Palmeiras and Corinthians, crowning the latter champions. But credit must be handed to a Vasco side who have battled through adversity this term and can go from strength to strength in 2012.