By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Vasco went two points clear of Corinthians after the 31st round of Brasileirão matches last weekend. Of the four Carioca teams, the São Januário side were the only club to win, defeating Bahia 2-0. Fluminense and Botafogo suffered defeats at the hands of Atletico-MG and Avaí respectively, whilst Flamengo were held by Santos.
A Diego Souza-inspired Vasco regained the top spot after a comprehensive 2-0 victory away to Bahia. With both teams ignoring the intense Northeastern heat, the game began at a lively tempo, both sides going close in the opening exchanges.
Diego Souza should have opened the scoring for the visitors after sixteen minutes but his effort was wrongly ruled out for offside. Gradually, Vasco wrested the game from their hosts, taking charge of the midfield and hitting on the counter at any opportunity.
And on 22 minutes, Felipe gave Vasco the lead with a fierce drive after exchanging passes with Diego Souza. Holding the advantage, Vasco’s midfield were happy to pass the ball at will, allowing Bahia little respite and even fewer attempts to level.
Only in the final ten minutes did Bahia manage to put exerted pressure on the Vascaino goal, but by attacking in numbers they left wide spaces ripe for exploitation. The magnificent Souza ruthlessly took advantage, wrapping up victory in the dying seconds to send Vasco top.
Fluminense’s title hopes were dashed a serious blow on Saturday as they lost 2-0 to Atletico-MG at the Engenhão. Without Fred and Marquinho, the Tricolor lacked the creative flair and clinical finishing that has been fundamental to their excellent form in the campaign’s second-half.
Flu went a goal down after ten minutes when Daniel Carvalho converted from the penalty spot after Mariano had tripped Bernard in the box. Subsequently the visitors saw little of the ball but Nense could not make their possession count.
In first-half injury-time Atletico delivered the K.O. punch. After a corner was only half cleared, Carvalho whipped in a viscious cross which Andre nodded past Cavalieri. The second-half continued in the same vein with Flu unable to break down their stubborn visitors, leaving them seven points off the top.
There was disappointment also for Botafogo, losing 3-2 to Avaí in the dying stages. Loco Abreu had given the Alvinegro an early lead, only to see it wiped out almost instantly by two quickfire goals from Robson and Cleverson.
Renato equalized just after the hour mark, heading home a Cortês cross, but as Fogão pushed for the winner they were caught on the counter. Lincoln’s long-range effort was spilled by Jefferson and Robert scored the rebound, keeping Avaí’s hopes of remaining in the top flight alive.
Finally, Flamengo came from behind to draw 1-1 with Santos on Sunday evening at the Engenhão and find themselves five points off Vasco. After a goalless first-half, a wonderful piece of skill from Santos striker Allan Kardec drew a clumsy foul from Alex Silva inside the penalty area.
Neymar assumed responsibility for the kick, and despite Junior Cesar’s unsporting efforts to put the teenager off, convincingly slammed the ball past Felipe. After conceding, Mengão stepped up a gear and found an equalizer on 77 minutes, Deivid heading home his twelfth of the season.
A minute from time, Santos thought they had won it when Edu Dracena headed in from close range, but the linesman correctly flagged for offside. Flamengo now face a tricky trip to Porto Alegre to take on an in-form Gremio as they try to stay in the title hunt with just seven rounds left.