By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A two-goal brace from Flamengo striker Bruno Henrique made all the difference Flamengo needed to win the first leg of the Campeonato Carioca final 2-0 against local rivals Vasco da Gama.
Bruno Henrique was the name of the hour as the Rubro-Negro gained a deserved first-leg victory over Vasco da Gama, thanks to two quick-thinking goals from the Flamengo striker. Much of the praise also went to Uruguayan midfielder Giorgian De Arrascaeta, who replaced captain Diego in midfield and commanded the second half.
With such a big change in midfield, Flamengo got off to a disjointed start, creating many chances but always falling at the last hurdle, with Bruno Henrique within a hair’s breadth of hammering home the first goal after one minute played.
While the ball didn’t connect, the striker showed a glimpse of the strength, speed, and determination which would later cause so much damage to his opponents.
A handful of chances and half-chances fell to the two teams as both sides struggled to settle into a rhythm. And after twenty minutes, the first near-miss came courtesy of Flamengo striker Gabriel, who lashed a left-footed shot against the side netting.
With a smattering of botched chances during the next twenty minutes, both sides ended the first half frustrated, giving their supporters little to shout about.
It was the Rubro-Negro who stepped back out onto the pitch with a renewed vigor, and Gabriel was almost rewarded with the first goal as his header narrowly bounced past the left-hand Vasco goalpost two minutes into the second half.
Last year’s champions Vasco then responded with a headed chance of their own as midfielder Marrony seemingly headed the ball up into the air only to have it curl towards the Flamengo goal and strike the top left corner of the post.
In a hodgepodge fashion typical of today’s performance, Flamengo’s attacking force of Arrascaeta and Bruno Henrique combined during a goalmouth scramble, leaving Bruno Henrique free to strike a loose ball into the Vasco goal, making it 1-0 to Flamengo after nine minutes of the second half.
Even at 1-0 down, Vasco continued to create chances, but their 35-year-old striker Maxi López looked off-pace and could never seem to get comfortable with the ball.
A moment of controversy descended upon the stadium after twenty-five minutes when Bruno Henrique apparently netted Flamengo’s second, only to be declared offside after the referee consulted the VAR (Video Assistant Referee).
However, the leaders didn’t wait long to score again, finding the goal seven minutes after having their first attempt to go 2-0 up denied. Once again it was Bruno Henrique who was in the right place at the right time after some abominable defending from Vasco, and he smashed a rebounded shot into the top right-hand corner to make it 2-0 Flamengo thirty-two into the second half.
As Vasco looked for some much-needed consolation during the last minutes of the game, Flamengo continued to exploit their stretched defense and was almost awarded a penalty during the dying moments. But the game ended in a deserved 2-0 victory to the favorites, who now seem all but certain to claim the Campeonato Carioca this coming Sunday at the Maracanã.