By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A brace from Fred helped Fluminense to a comfortable 3-1 win over Vasco da Gama in the Taça Guanabara final, leaving Fluzão as champions of the 2012 Campeonato Carioca’s first half. Next week, the second half Taça Rio commences, and to be crowned overall state champion the Tricolor will either have to capture that trophy as well or beat the winners in a play-off.
On Sunday, few regarded Flu as favorites against a Vasco side who had a hundred percent record in the competition. Yet Vasco came up against an offensive quartet on fire as Deco, Thiago Neves, Wellington Nem and Fred took their opponents to town.
The victory gave Flu their first Guanabara title since 1993 and gives Tricolor fans hopes of a bright 2012. In addition, it ends the club’s barren run of twelve classicos without a victory.
After eight wins in succession, Vasco lost the decisive game. Their insistence on using high balls into the box cost them dearly as their midfield was left unable to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
It was Fluminense’s big names – notably Deco, who was man-of-the-match – who handed Flu the title on a day when they finally gelled as a cohesive unit. They were ably supported by full-back Bruno and youngster Wellington Nem, whose energetic performance proved why he is keeping Brazilian international Rafael Sóbis on the bench.
The sides matched each other in the first half except for one vital statistic; chances taken. Nílton headed just wide for Vasco before Diego Souza slammed a shot against the post, but when Flu countered Nem was tripped inside the area and the referee rightly awarded a penalty.
Fred scored to put Flu ahead. And three minutes before the break, Deco doubled the lead with arguably the goal of the tournament so far.
Shaping to cross but spotting Fernando Prass moving across his goal-line, Deco angled a long-range effort into the top right-hand corner of the net. The goal stunned Vasco and Thiago Neves should have done further damage when put clean through.
In the second half, Vasco were a shadow of the side that had begun the game so brightly. The midfield was disorganized, Alecsandro was left isolated and Cristovão left it too late to introduce Felipe from the bench.
Ten minutes into the second half, Fluminense ended the contest with a wonderful team move. Bruno moved the ball up field to Neves, whose slide-rule pass released Fred. The striker struck the ball first time beyond Prass at the near post.
After that, only wasted chances stopped Flu turning the score into a rout. Diguinho shot wide from inside the box before Wellington Nem wasted a golden chance when one-on-one with Prass.
Eight minutes from time, Eduardo Costa headed a consolation for Vasco, and had Dedé hit the back of the net a minute later the end would have been nervy for the Tricolor. But the day was covered in maroon, green and white as Flu shouts reverberated around the Engenhão.
The Taça Rio, which runs until mid-April, gets underway on Wednesday, February 29th. Vasco kick-off their campaign against Bonsucesso, while Fluminense, looking to make a clean sweep of the Campeonato Carioca, faces Resende.