By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fluminense remained top of the 2012 Brasileirão national football (soccer) tournament after the 23rd round of matches. Flu earned a tough victory against Internacional in Porto Alegre, whilst Carioca rivals Botafogo also won in Rio and Vasco and Flamengo were soundly beaten.
A wonderful counter involving Wellington Nem and Fred helped Fluminense to a 1-0 victory away to Inter. The former carried the ball an incredible 53 meters before laying it off to the latter, who finished with his customary coolness.
Nem was without doubt Flu’s man-of-the-match. He didn’t give the Inter defense a moment’s respite, a constant thorn in their side the entire afternoon. Flu were happy to sit and counter away to such dangerous opponents and Nem’s pace was crucial to coach Abel Braga’s ploy.
Even before his goal Fred wanted a penalty, claiming he had been pulled back by Rodrigo Moledo, but the referee awarded nothing. The number nine had to wait until the 28th minute for Nem’s moment of inspiration.
In the second half Inter still couldn’t halt Nem and defender Nei wad dismissed for a second foul on the youngster. But the numbers on the pitch were soon even as Flu defender Leandro Euzebio was sent off for kicking out at Indio. The two cards failed to change the dynamics of the game. On the day, Nem was unstoppable.
Botafogo restated their launch on the G-4 with a 3-1 victory over Náutico at the Engenhão. A brace from Elkeson, plus another from Andrezinho, did the damage on an afternoon when the result was more important than the performance for the Alvinegro, the side’s third straight victory following wins over Coritiba and Cruzeiro.
In front of 18,000 fans, Fogão took the lead after just 55 seconds, Elkeson cleverly back-heeling Andrezinho’s cross home. The home side dominated the first half and Seedorf went close before Elkeson doubled their advantage on 33 minutes.
In the second half nerves began to show and Náutico replied early on. The referee awarded the visitors a penalty when Gabriel tripped Souza inside the area.
Araújo converted the spot-kick and it looked like Botafogo’s good work was about to be undone. Náutico cranked up the pressure and goalkeeper Renan pulled off a smart save from Elicarlos.
As the game entered injury-time it looked like only one side were going to find the back of the net. But a swift Botafogo counter put the game to bed. Seedorf’s precise pass found Andrezinho to settle any last minute jitters.
Things went from bad to worse for Flamengo as they lost 3-0 away to Coritiba. It was the Rubro-Negro‘s third successive defeat and with no impending improvement relegation is beginning to look a distinct possibility for Brazil’s biggest club.
The side haven’t won since August 19th, when they beat Vasco in the classico, and they never looked close to victory on Saturday. Lincoln took advnatge of a gaping hole in the Fla defense to put the home side a goal up on sixteen minutes before Welinton’s error allowed Rafinha to double the advantage in the second half. Everton Ribeiro got the third on 72 minutes, but then fight had gone out of Flamengo long before.
Vasco had an even worse weekend, losing 4-0 to lowly Bahia at São Januário Stadium. The club’s early season form has disintegrated with the loss of important players, leaving the side now fighting to hang into their position in the G-4 and qualify for next year’s Copa Libertadores. On Monday evening, coach Cristovão Borges resigned from his post.