By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense returned from Rio Grande do Sul with all three points after beating Internacional to move to within two points of Vasco and Corinthians at the top of the Brasileirão. Flamengo also returned to winning ways whilst Botafogo’s unbeaten record at the Engenhão ended.
Botafogo’s sixteen game unbeaten run at the Engenhão came grinding to a halt after a 1-0 reverse against Figueirense. The Florianopolis side have been in excellent form of late; this was their fifth straight win. To try and stop the visitors from gaining early momentum Caio Junior had dropped Herrera and replaced him with Léo in a 4-5-1 formation.
The ploy failed as Fogão fell behind in the fifth minute when Julio Cesar was afforded space to lash a shot into the top corner from 25 meters. Botafogo enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but had precious little to show in terms of chances created, and as the half-time whistle blew fans vented their frustration.
Herrera appeared for the second-half to add more beef to the front-line. The hosts continued to control the midfield but rarely threatened. Figueirense clung to their lead to break into the top six, while Botafogo contemplated a missed opportunity.
Sunday wasn’t any better for Vasco, who lost 2-0 to Santos at the Vila Belmiro. The home side took the lead in the third minute after Neymar was felled clumsily by Dede. The former subsequently curled a free-kick over the wall into the top right-hand corner.
Vasco were unlucky not to level when Diego Souza’s header was harshly ruled out, but it was the home-side who pressed with more urgency, taking the fight to a Vasco too willing to sit back, ride attacks and try to hit on the counter. Midway through the second half, Borges put Santos out of sight with a fierce long-range drive. With Corinthians losing against América-MG, the two sides remain locked on 58 points.
A Thiago Neves hat-trick helped Flamengo thrash Cruzeiro 5-1 at the Engenhão. Fla had fallen behind when Anselmo Ramon bundled home from close range, but ten minutes later Deivid leveled.
The number nine gave Flamengo the lead three minutes into the second-half before Thiago Neves added a third with a fine angled drive. His hat-trick goal was exquisite, lifting the ball neatly over the onrushing Fabio. The result leaves Flamengo three points off the top, with a daunting trip to Coritiba next.
A 2-1 away win against Internacional left Fluminense just two points off the top. A disciplined performance, coupled with goals from Rafael Moura and Rafael Sóbis is further evidence the methods Abel Braga has striven to instil are bearing fruit.
Veteran Deco deserved the plaudits after creating both Flu goals. In an even first-half, he put in a pin-point cross for Moura to nod in from three yards to put Flu ahead.
With attacking trio Leandro Damião, Andres d’Alessandro and Oscar, the home side were a constant threat and on 36 minutes Oscar, completely unmarked twelve yards out, converted Damião’s cross to equalize.
In first-half injury-time, Flu found the winning goal. Deco picked out Sóbis, whose low shot found the far corner. As a mark of respect to his former team, Sóbis refused to celebrate the strike.
Flu retreated in the second-half, protecting their slender lead, but Inter were uninspired and their troubles were confounded when Juan was sent off eight minutes from time. After a difficult period of adjustment to life under Abelão, Flu are in the fight for a second successive title.