By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, April 8th, the 2018 Campeonato Carioca came to a dramatic conclusion as Botafogo’s Joel Carli scored in the 95th minute to level the match 3-3 on aggregate against Vasco. In the ensuing penalty shootout, Gatito Fernández made a huge save on Henrique to give Botafogo the 4-3 win on penalties and the Campeonato Carioca championship trophy.
In the first leg of the championship final last Sunday, April 1st, it was Vasco with the last-minute heroics as Andrés Ríos scoring in the final minute of that match to take the first leg, 3-2, over Botafogo. The win set up Vasco with the one-goal advantage heading into yesterday’s second leg.
With Brazilian national team (seleção) coach, Tite, watching intently from the press box at famed Maracanã Stadium on Sunday, both teams started the match tentatively. The first period saw neither club able to create space or shot opportunities
Near the end of the first period, Botafogo would gain the advantage when Vasco’s Fabrizio was ejected for stepping on Luiz Fernando. But O Glorioso was unable to capitalize.
The stalemate continued well into the second period. As the game entered its final minutes and with Vasco ready to celebrate, a last-minute shot attempt from Botafogo led to the rebound that landed right into the waiting foot of Joel Carli. Carli promptly knocked it just past Vasco keeper Martín Silva to make the game 1-0 sending the match to penalties.
In the shootout, each keeper came up with a big save, but with Botafogo leading 4-3, Vasco’s Henrique stepped up and attempted a near corner rocket. Gatito guessed correctly, dove to his left, and expertly blocked his second penalty shot of the day. Botafogo’s players and coaches stormed the pitch in celebration.
Sunday’s win was Botafogo’s 21st Campeonato Carioca championship and the club’s first since 2013.
Despite a superb shutout performance followed by two penalties defended, after the match, Botafogo keeper Gatito exclaimed that he was ready for more.
“I wanted to get more, but I could not,” said the elated Paraguayan goalkeeper. “Thank God we got this title. This team knew how to go through adversity…We deserved it.”
The club will have little time to celebrate the state championship as it now turns its attention to international competition. On Thursday, April 12th, Botafogo will face Chile’s Audax Italiano in the first round of the Copa Sudamericana.