By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, Fluminense lifted the 2012 Brasileirão trophy many in the Brazilian press had them as favorites since the league kicked-off in May. Having won the Campeonato Carioca earlier this year, and following a credible performance in the Copa Libertadores, coach Abel Braga and his players deserved the plaudits that have come their way over the past eight months.
Despite clearing enough points to win three games before the season close, it has not always been easy this year. Criticized heavily for their style of play, considered by several as “anti-Brazilian,” there is no arguing it has been efficient in the extreme, with the club winning 22 and losing just three of their 35 matches until now.
Atlético-MG, who have since fallen to third following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Vasco, were seen as a club worthy of the title. The pairing of Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Bernard in attacking midfield, mentor and protgée, worked wonders at times, especially in the first half of the season, but an underlying fragility cost them dear during the season’s second act.
Fluminense, despite not wowing the crowds in the same manner, were the definition of consistency, their success built on a solid bedrock. Goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri enjoyed the finest year of his career, firmly putting behind him his Liverpool nightmare.
Time and again the stopper came to his club’s rescue when Flu had been thrust onto the back foot. Cavalieri is seen by Tricolores as one half of Flu’s success. The second half can be found at the opposite end of the pitch; Fred.
The Flu hitman has bagged nineteen goals this season and is in line to win the Brasileirão’s golden boot. He is three strikes ahead of São Paulo’s Luís Fabiano.
In the same way that Cavalieri saved Flu’s bacon, Fred decided matches when it mattered. The club’s recent 1-0 win over Botafogo was perfect proof of the pair’s worth.
Flu had one clear chance in the ninety minutes and Fred snaffled it up, but only after Cavalieri had made three excellent saves to keep the score goalless. But Fred is more than just a scorer, he is the focal point of the team.
He bears the responsibility of the players on his confident shoulders and has been an excellent example for the young and exciting Wellington Nem to follow over the past few months. The 20-year-old will surely leave for European pastures soon, probably after the 2013 Libertadores campaign.
What is rewarding is that Cavalieri and Fred have finally been acknowledged by Seleção coach Mano Menezes. Having been overlooked for the friendly against Colombia tonight (Wednesday), Menezes will give the pair a deserved chance against Argentina in the SuperClassico.
Over 38 (or 35 thus far) games, Fluminense have shown themselves to be the finest side in Brazil. The next call of order is for the directors to extend Braga’s contract, which expires next month, and begin to build a squad capable of challenging for the Libertadores.
With 76 points from 35 games, they need two more to overcome São Paulo’s 77 in 2007. Victory over Cruzeiro on Sunday would underline this Fluminense side as the strongest in recent history.