By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The classic ‘Fla-Flu’ encounter between rival football (soccer) teams Flamengo and Fluminense filled the iconic Maracanã with plenty of incident this past Saturday, April 6th, ending in a 1-1 draw that put Flamengo through to the ‘Campeonato Carioca’ (Carioca Championship) final. While on Sunday, April 7th, another of the ‘big four’ Rio teams, Vasco, dispensed with Bangu in a 2-1 victory that will send them through to face the ‘rubro-negro’ in what is known as the ‘Clássico dos Milhões’ (Derby of Millions).
Flamengo were the first team to reach the ‘Campeonato Carioca’ (Carioca Championship) final when they went through after a 1-1 draw against fierce rivals Fluminense this past Saturday. The rubro-negro made the most of their one-goal advantage from the teams’ previous encounter, on Wednesday, March 27th, which finished 2-1.
The game kicked off in dramatic style with Flamengo having a goal disallowed in the seventh minute. The referee consulted the ‘VAR’ (Video Assistant Referee) to rule that the Fluminense goalkeeper had been fouled during play, thereby cancelling Flamengo’s goal and setting the tone for a contentious game.
It was Flamengo who continued to create the best chances of the first half, with only some ingenuous and committed defending from Fluminense keeping the ball out of their net. However, in the forty-fourth minute of play, the ‘tricolor carioca’ went one goal up against the run of play, with Caio Henrique’s cross finding the head of Gilberto, who struck the ball into the back of the Flamengo net to make the score 1-0 to Fluminense.
In the second half, Flamengo continued unbowed, with attack after attack failing to get them on the score-sheet. They even had a penalty claim in the sixteenth minute of the second half, though this was denied by the referee.
The rubro-negro finally had their intrepid attitude rewarded in the twenty-third minute of the second half, with Renê Rodrigues Martins’s through-ball finding striker Gabriel unmarked, who then went on to coolly fire the ball into the bottom right-hand corner, sending Flamengo into the final.
Vasco da Gama had a tougher time vanquishing an excellent Bangu side on Sunday at the Maracanã to seal their place in the final. The underdogs in this tie registered the best chances of the first half, with a fierce long-distance strike by Anderson Lessa almost making it 1-0 after fourteen minutes played.
Chance after chance fell to Bangu, but some well-organized defending, world-class goalkeeping, and a bit of luck kept Vasco in the game for the first forty-five minutes. It then fell to Vasco to open the scoring, with Bruno César converting a penalty after seven minutes of the second half to make it 1-0.
Three minutes later Bangu replied in style, scoring an electrifying counter-attack goal with just three passes taking the ball from the keeper’s gloves to the back of the Vasco net, making it 1-1. However, this goal was quickly cancelled-out when Yan Sasse blasted Vasco back into the lead four minutes later to make it 2-1.
In a weekend full of VAR decisions, it then turned to the referee to deny Bangu a penalty after a supposed handball in the thirty-ninth minute, leaving the team frustrated and all-but-defeated, and sending Vasco into the final this coming Sunday.
Vasco and Flamengo will meet each other over the next two Sundays to decide the final of the Campeonato Carioca. There is no home or away advantage, meaning that two draws or two equal results will result in penalties at the end of the second game.