By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Botafogo edged out Fluminense 3-2 in a thrilling encounter at the Engenhao on Sunday night to retain first place at the top of Group B in a game that will live long in the memory of both sets of fans. Having taken top position after six rounds, it is likely Botafogo will now avoid a semi-final clash with Flamengo.
Both teams played open football, but the first moment of real danger didn’t come until the 23rd minute and Botafogo capitalized. Renato Caja unleashed a swerving shot from all of 35 yards that dipped viciously before crashing into the net off the underside of the bar.
Rafael Moura then scored twice for Fluminense in the final fifteen minutes of the first half to put them 2-1 up at the break to cap an excellent opening 45 minutes of football, in which Fluminense also lost midfielder Valencia after he collected two yellow cards.
And the entertainment didn’t stop there. Seven minutes into the second half, Botafogo were awarded a penalty when Moura climbed over Loco Abreu at a free-kick. The Uruguayan stepped up to take the spot-kick, but was left humiliated when he tried to trick Diego Cavalieri with a cool chip down the middle.
The Flu goalkeeper was not fooled and held his ground to take simple catch. But Abreu’s anguish didn’t last long. Four minutes later his side were awarded a second penalty, and this time he lashed it hard to the goalkeeper’s left and into the back of the net.
Fluminense desperately tried to regain the lead, but in doing so left huge open spaces ripe for exploitation. And exploited they were. Renato Caja, perhaps the best player on the pitch, sent a perfect pass through to Herrera to drive the ball home and take the points for Botafogo on an extraordinary night.
Before meeting on Sunday, Fluminense had taken the lead at the top of the group after beating Duque de Caxias 3-1 thanks to a hat-trick from striker Fred on Wednesday evening. Botafogo had fallen two points behind after being held 1-1 by Bangu.
In Group A, Flamengo are the only side to still have a perfect record in the Taca Guanabara after rounds five and six. On Wednesday, the Rubro Negro narrowly defeated Nova Iguacu 1-0, before their new hero, Ronaldinho Gaucho, got on the score sheet over the weekend in a 3-2 victory away to Boavista to qualify for the semi-finals.
The former Barcelona and AC Milan midfielder scored from the penalty spot after Deivid had been felled by Boavista keeper Thiago. Deivid then doubled their lead early in the second half after good work down the right channel from Leo Moura, the striker nodding in his tantalizing cross.
Boavista drew level with two goals from Frontini, but Fla keeper Felipe should have stopped the equalizer, a long range shot that somehow crept under his body after taking a deflection. However, Ronaldinho’s special day was not to be ruined, as Negueba stabbed home a cross from Willians late in the game.
Vasco, already eliminated from the Guanabara Cup, recorded their first win of the competition on Sunday, beating Americano 3-0, after recording a goalless draw with Volta Redondo on Thursday.