By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo will face Vasco next Sunday in the Taça Rio final after beating Fluminense and Olaria respectively. Vasco narrowly edged their way into the final with a nervy 1-0 victory, whereas Flamengo persevered after a penalty shoot-out.
The past seven days have been frantic for Fluminense. Last Wednesday saw them defy the odds to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Copa Libertadores after a heart stopping 4-2 win against Argentinos Juniors in Buenos Aires. Twice Flu surrendered the lead after going in front courtesy of Julio Cesar and a thunderous Fred free-kick to leave the traveling Tricolores fearing the worst.
But Enderson Moreira, the interim coach until Abel Braga arrives at the end of May, has instilled a pitbull like determination in his players. With twenty minutes left, Rafael Moura forced home a corner from inside the six yard area to leave Flu needing a solitary goal.
The moment arrived in stoppage time when Edinho was brought down by Argentinos keeper Navarro. Captain Fred stepped up and nervelessly sent the ball into the top corner of the net.
Flu’s celebrations were marred by ugly scenes as fights broke out between players. But on their arrival back in Rio, Flu were mobbed by over 1,000 elated fans overwhelmed with their team’s heroic efforts. Fluminense will play Libertad of Paraguay in the first knock-out round on Wednesday (28 April).
Fluminense did not carry on their good fortune on Sunday after losing on penalties to Flamengo. The game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes, Thiago Neves cancelling out Rafael Moura’s header. The first half was delayed twice by the failure of the lights in the stadium.
Flamengo, without Ronaldinho Gaucho due to a knee injury, complained vociferously and almost succeeded in having the game postponed. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the game went ahead.
Fluminense’s confidence was evident, and with Conca and Marquinho driving the team forward from midfield looked by far the more dangerous. But they were made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal as Tarta, Souza and Araujo all missed spot kicks to see them eliminated 5-4.
Flamengo will meet a Vasco side in fine form as they beat Olaria 1-0 to continue their spark of form. A first half Eder Luis goal was enough to see them through and set up an exciting final between Rio’s two most supported clubs.
It was a poor game as Olaria set up to stifle their opponents as much as possible and Vasco continually failed to break them down. Vasco started the game slowly and nerves were apparent; their fans began to grow restless when the team failed to create opportunities.
As the first half wore on, Vasco midfielder Felipe began to take a hold on the game and Vasco’s quality eventually showed. It was his midfield partner, Fellipe Bastos, who put Eder Luis through on goal with a slide rule pass. The attacker calmly took the ball round the keeper and slotted home.
In the second half, Vasco grew in confidence and gradually took the game away from Olaria. But for a missed penalty from Bernardo, the scoreline would have been greater. Vasco deserve their place in the final and a shot at knocking Flamengo off their perch.