By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The nineteenth round of the 2011 Campeonato Brasileirão marking the national league’s halfway point, witnessed a round of classicos as local rivals across the country took to the pitch. Rio’s two derbies saw Fluminense pitted against Botafogo on Saturday, while the city’s two bigger clubs, Flamengo and Vasco, played Sunday.
For Fluminense, the first term has been one of inconsistency and disappointment, summed up perfectly in their capitulation at the weekend: after taking the lead, Abel Braga’s side once again let an advantage slip, losing 2-1, dropping them into the bottom half of the rankings.
On Sunday, Flamengo and Vasco drew 0-0, leaving both in the mix alongside Botafogo at the top of the table. Midway through the second half, Vasco coach Ricardo Gomes was rushed to the hospital after a vein burst close to the brain. The three hour surgery was a success, but the next days are crucial to his recovery. We all wish him well.
Braga’s problems increased as Fluminense went seven derby matches in 2011 without a win, drawing four and losing three. On Saturday, the gulf between the two teams was huge: for almost the entirety of the first half Fogão took the initiative, constantly probing and threatening.
Loco Abreu was guilty of missing their biggest chance after a catastrophic mix-up in a calamitous season for Flu center halves Gum and Marcio Rosario. But the Tricolor would take the lead when Fred, unmarked, headed in Souza’s corner.
Their sense of relief lasted barely a minute as Elkeson left Flu’s defense for dead to curl a shot beyond Cavalieri to equalize. The punchline came midway through the half, exposing flaws in Flu’s backline yet again.
A long ball down the middle from Jefferson found Loco Abreu, who was afforded far too much space to pick his pass. Fullback Lucas rampaged forward and Abreu’s pass to him was applied to perfection. Lucas cut into the area and slammed the ball into the far corner to put Botafogo on a high for the second half of the campaign.
On Sunday, Vasco were left with a raging sense of injustice after they had a last minute penalty appeal turned down in their goalless draw with Flamengo. The Vascainos played the better football throughout the ninety minutes and can count themselves unfortunate their efforts were not rewarded with three points.
But they found Flamengo’s goalkeeper Felipe in inspired form, and Eder Luis, Alecsandro and later Bernardo found no way past the stopper. Just before the interval, Flamengo were reduced to ten men for Welinton’s professional foul on Diego Souza, and spent much of the second half camped inside their own quarters.
With Ronaldinho slipping into anonymity, Flamengo found chances difficult to come by as their opponents applied constant pressure. The controversial moment came right at the death when Bernardo burst into the box, only to be felled by Leo Moura. But the referee failed to point to the spot when a penalty looked like the right decision.
Vasco players were up in arms, but they can be more than satisfied with a first half of the season that has seen them capture the Copa do Brasil and maintain a genuine title challenge. The season’s second act kicks off on Wednesday (August 31st) with Carioca football once again in the glory hunt.