By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense slipped up on Wednesday night in Group 3 of the Copa Libertadores, drawing 2-2 with Argentinos Juniors at the Engenhao. It was a sluggish performance from Muricy Ramalho’s men, who twice fell behind on a night when they never managed to dictate the tempo.
It is only thanks to striker Rafael Moura they came away with a point, but more imposing performances will be needed in their remaining group games if Fluminense are to reach the final sixteen.
The excitement and animation of the Tricolores was soon eroded as their Buenos Aires based opponents defended competently while playing swift, counter attacking football. Despite the stadium only being around half full, a wave of noise erupted as the players arrived on the field.
However, the Argentines refused to be intimidated by the wall of clamor directed against them, and soon settled into a composed passing rhythm as Fluminense’s midfield failed to clamp any authority on the match. With only a couple of minutes on the clock, Juniors player Oberman burst into the box and looked set to fire across Cavalieri, only to be blocked by a superb last ditch tackle from Mariano.
Oberman was claiming a penalty, but the referee waved him away with replays showing he made the right decision. Fluminense responded, and less than a minute later Willians unleashed a powerful shot from range, which goalkeeper Navarro did well to tip over.
As the first half wore on, the game’s equilibrium moved further and further towards the visitors, and Salcedo missed a glorious chance to give them a lead when he sliced Escudero’s excellent, bending cross wide. And two minutes before the interval, the Argentines’ pressure deservedly paid off.
Escudero crossed again from the right, afforded far too much space by Carlinhos, who inexplicably had strayed into the middle of the penalty area. Even there, he failed to clear the danger. Neill got up completely unmarked and directed an excellent header beyond the reach of Diego Cavalieri into the far corner of the net.
When the teams emerged for the second half, Ramalho had sent Rodriguinho on in place of Willians to give Flu’s attack more potency. With two up top, the hosts were able to hold the ball up more frequently in more dangerous areas of the pitch and within twelve minutes of the restart found themselves level.
Souza crossed from the right and Rafael Moura met the ball powerfully with his head. The goal revitalized Fluminense, who began to press with greater urgency, but it was the visitors who retook the lead with a perfectly executed counter. Salcedo, the visitor’s most creative source all evening, sent in another tantalizing cross and Niell leapt above Cavalieri to score his second of the night.
But Flu players didn’t allow their heads to drop and replied within three minutes of going behind. Another cross, another header, this time Mariano providing the assist for Rafael Moura to get his second of the night and level the match.
The Tricolor wave of attacks continued, but were forced to accept a point when the final whistle blew. Fluminense will get the chance to earn their first win in the Libertadores in two weeks time in the Engenhao, when they play Uruguayan side Nacional.