By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Copa do Brasil holders Vasco da Gama moved two points clear at the top of the national Brasileirão tournament with a convincing victory away to Cruzeiro on Sunday. Aided by the draw between Botafogo and São Paulo, the Vascainos gave themselves breathing space at the top with twelve rounds to play, just three years after being relegated to the second division and subsequently claiming the Série B title in 2009.
Fervor is spreading fast around São Januario as the chance of securing a league and cup double becomes an increasingly distinct possibility. Elsewhere, Flamengo won their first game in eleven and Fluminense grabbed a point away after scoring a controversial late penalty.
Before Sunday’s rout, Vasco dropped two points at home to Atletico-GO, drawing 1-1. After falling behind in front of a packed stadium, Diego Souza rescued a point for the Carioca club on the same day he earned a recall to the Seleção.
Souza justifiedthe invitation on Sunday with a man-of-the-match performance as Vasco ran riot in Minas, beating Cruzeiro 3-0. The attacking midfielder scored a hat-trick in a performance of the highest order.
Interim coach Crisotvão Borges used the number ten as a second striker and the player reveled in the role, scoring Vasco’s first five minutes before half-time with a beautiful angled drive.
Ably supported by veteran Juninho, Souza doubled Vasco’s lead on the hour, showing all the instincts of a true striker to finish from close range when Elton failed to convert. The ace completed his hat-trick in true style, lifting the ball over Cruzeiro keeper Fabio before heading home and sending the fans home singing.
Botafogo threw away a two-goal lead on Sunday against São Paulo at the Engenhão to draw 2-2. The result followed an excellent 1-0 win in Porto Alegre, courtesy of a Loco Abreu strike.
And the Uruguayan was the Alvinegro’s goal hero again, first opening the scoring almost on the goal-line before doubling Fogão’s lead from the penalty spot before half-time. But after the break he would be guilty of a glaring miss from three yards that would come back to haunt his team.
Despite making some excellent stops in Jefferson’s absence, goalkeeper Renan was at fault for São Paulo’s first when he spilled Cicero’s long range effort for Henrique to score the rebound. And in injury-time Rivaldo headed home Rogerio Ceni’s free-kick to salvage a draw for the Paulista side and condemn Botafogo to fourth place.
There was relief for Vanderlei Luxemburgo as Flamengo finally won, beating bottom side America-MG 2-1 at the Engenhão. As is the norm with the Rubro Negro these days, they did it the hard way after falling behind to a penalty in the first half.
Without shining in the second, they turned the tie on its head against a hapless defense, first Deivid nodding in unmarked before Thiago Neves scored the winner after a goalmouth scramble.
Finally, there was controversy at the Arena da Baixada as Atletico-PR and Fluminense drew 1-1. Atletico took the lead when Paulo Baier was played through to finish coolly. Flu looked to be heading for yet another away defeat until Argentine Lanzini went over easily in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Fred scored the resulting spot-kick to equalize and mark his eighth goal of the campaign. But the referee needed police protection to exit the stadium after Atletico fans surrounded the tunnel at the final whistle, furious at the late penalty he awarded.