By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Saturday, May 8th, in the second of two final matches in the 2016 Campeonato Carioca championship, Vasco da Gama tied with Botafogo to win the state championship. Unlikely hero, defender Rafael Vaz, scored the tying goal in the second half for Vasco, extending its unbeaten streak and securing the title.
The tightly contested match took place, like the first, at Rio’s famous Maracanã Stadium (even though it is currently on loan to the Olympics). In that first game, Vasco had defeated Botafogo 1-0 and only needed a tie to raise the championship trophy.
The first half was a back-and-forth defensive battle with neither club able to seize the advantage. At the four-minute mark of the second half, Botafogo finally broke things open with Leandro Barbosa, taking advantage of a cross from Diogo Silva, to score the game’s first goal.
After a few anxious minutes from the Vasco fans, 27-year-old Rafael Vaz, who had only made his first ever start in September, scored the most important goal of his career so far, with a header which tied the contest at the ten-minute mark. Despite a furious attack from Botafogo, Vasco would hold on for the tie and the championship.
After the game, the one-time reserve and unlikely hero reflected on his career and the goal.“Last year,” said the defender, “I could not contribute. I was even training separately from the team, but God has blessed me, and I could make a comeback.” About the goal, he expressed, “At the time, I thought of my family, at work every day.
The championship was also a big moment for Vasco coach Jorginho, who took over the team in mid-August and recently announced he would continue coaching the club. For the coach, winning his first-ever championship was very emotional,”For me it was very special. It was like winning the World Cup.”
For Vasco, the tie extended its unbeaten streak to more than six months with their last loss coming to Fluminense, at the Campeonato Brasileiro on November 1, 2015.
Now, the club’s attentions turn to the Brazil Cup and the Campeonato Brasileiro which begins next week.