By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2010 Champions Fluminense made an excellent start to the second half of this year’s Brasileirão campaign, recording back-to-back wins over São Paulo and Atletico-GO. The results eased the pressure somewhat on coach Abel Braga, who appeared to have one foot through the exit last week.
Meanwhile, Botafogo and Vasco each picked up three more points in their chase for the title. For Vasco fans, it has been an emotional period after Ricardo Gomes was rushed to hospital last week for emergency surgery. He came out of a coma on Wednesday night and is in serious but stable condition.
And it has been a disastrous week for Flamengo, who saw their own title push take a sharp turn for the worse after two successive defeats. The losses drop them to fifth place, behind two of their Carioca rival teams.
On Wednesday evening, Vasco comfortably brushed aside Ceara 3-1 in a victory dedicated to Ricardo Gomes. Both sets of players entered the field holding up banners in support of the Vasco coach.
And the side put in a performance their coach would have been proud of. Despite missing a hatful of chances in the first half, strikes from Eder Luis and a double from substitute Elton temporarily lifted the São Januario club into second.
But they were brought crashing back down to earth on Sunday after being humbled 4-1 by bottom club America-MG in Minas Gerais. A victory would have seen Vasco go on top, but they fell behind on nineteen minutes.
Juninho Pernambucano equalized with a trademark free-kick, but Kempes put the home side in front again from the penalty spot. America refused to back off in the second half and their pressure paid off with two more strikes to ruin Vasco hopes.
Botafogo remained in the title picture after a fluid performance saw them beat Palmeiras 3-1 at the Engenhão Stadium in Rio. Herrera and Gustavo put Fogão two up after just twenty minutes, and from there Palmeiras were never in the game.
The Paulistas tried in vain to get on the offensive foot in the second half, but any hopes they had of a recovery were dashed by a Maicosuel effort on the hour mark. Botafogo remain undefeated at the Engenhão this season and a more consistent away form will be the key to lifting the trophy.
Their excellent play comes at a time when Flamengo are beginning to run out of gas and the strains put on their squad are beginning to show. Last Wednesday, not even a Ronaldinho brace could save them as they lost 3-2 to relegation candidates Avai.
If they thought a return to home soil would aid their plight, Flamenguistas were sadly mistaken; the Rubro Negro were outplayed as Bahia beat them 3-1. Booed from the pitch and without a proven finisher, Flamengo’s title challenge is beginning to crumble as others race to the fore.
Fluminense put in two encouraging displays to take six points from six and move closer to the G-4. First came a 2-1 victory away to São Paulo, where goals from the ever improving teenager Lanzini and Rafael Sobis saw the side return to Rio with all three points.
On Saturday, they did things the hard way in a 3-2 victory over Atletico-GO. Having fallen behind in the tenth minute, Flu were awarded a penalty to level. But Rafael Moura skied the effort before the visitors were awarded a penalty of their own.
Goalkeeper Bida converted the kick to put Atletico 2-0 up. But amidst stunning scenes, three goals in the last three minutes saw Flu snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
First Rafael Sobis lashed in an effort from 25 yards before tapping in the rebound when Bida could only palm Rafael Moura’s shot. And deep into injury time, Moura headed in Marquinho’s inswinging free-kick to complete the comeback; Abel Braga lives on the knife-edge for another week.