By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It feels like a long time ago that all the focus seemed to be on the demise of Carioca football compared with the Paulista outfits riding high in the league, and now with three games left Flamengo are pushing their rivals all the way.
Three wins will be enough to secure Sao Paulo their for a record-breaking fourth successive title, but Flamengo moved into second place over the weekend with a straightforward away win against Nautico and are dreaming of a first league win since 1992. If it goes down to the last day of the season, however, Sao Paulo will surely be favorites as they take on already-relegated Sport whilst Flamengo must travel south to take on Porto Alegre giants Gremio.
Fluminense made it five wins and three draws in their last eight games with victory over Atletico-PR and now stand just two points from safety with three games to play. It has been an incredible run of form after many had written the team off, but still may not be enough unless the momentum can bring wins against three sides all just above them in the league and either Botafogo or Coritiba (who they play on the last day of the season) slip up.
Completing the nail biting Carioca finale are Botafogo who have been beset by inconsistency all season. Defeat against Barueri on Sunday means the buffer between them and the relegation zone is now just two points, with their local rivals doing all they can to leapfrog them into safety. They too have a tough run in, with Palmeiras and Sao Paulo two of their final three opponents, a fact which could condemn them to Serie B football next season.
Fluminense 2 x 0 Atletico-PR
Fred was once again the hero of the hour, scoring his tenth goal in ten games since returning from injury. His strike partner Maicon has thrived in attack with the ex-Lyon legend, and it was his cross that opened up the defense for Fred to slide in the first goal. Maicon himself got on the score-sheet early in the second half, speeding into the box and beating the goalkeeper to Conca’s through ball with a deft chip into the top corner to seal the win. It was a nervy last five minutes after Marcelo smashed home a consolation goal, but the home side hung on and the 50,000 fans were once again enraptured with their team.
Nautico 0 x 2 Flamengo
Defeat all but condemns Nautico to relegation and they never really stood a chance against an impressive Flamengo side. Once again it was Adriano pulling the strings, and he set up the first goal for Petkovic to smash in from close range before sealing the win before half time with a simple tap in. The Imperador now leads the scoring chart with 19 to his name this season, Diego Tardelli of Atletico-MG is one place behind on 18.
Barueri 3 x 0 Botafogo
A hat-trick from Val Baiano saw off a nervous Botafogo, who never really got out of first gear. Baiano opened his account with a powerful strike on the half hour as the visitors failed to clear a corner, and within minutes of the start of the second half it was two-nil, a left-footed half volley beating Jeffersen at his far post. Deep into injury time he secured his hat trick with Botafogo in total disarray at the back and looking low on morale at a crucial stage of the season.
In the next round Fluminense travel to already-relegated Sport, Botafogo host Sao Paulo and Flamengo take on Goias at The Maracana hoping their local rivals can do them a big favor against the league leaders.