By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Carioca clubs recorded a perfect round last weekend as each team walked away with three points in the national Brasileiro tournament which started in May. After six rounds all four of Rio’s major teams are in the top ten, with Botafogo in forth, Vasco in fifth, Flamengo in seventh and Fluminense in eighth.
All was forgiven on Saturday evening as a Ronaldinho inspired Flamengo comprehensively dispatched Atletico-MG 4-1 at the Engenhao Stadium. The attacker had been the focus of Flamengo fans’ frustrations over the past seven days as leaders of Fla Jovem, an organized fan group, turned up at the training ground to protest about his constant partying amidst poor performances.
He put in a dedicated shift though, scored a beautiful goal and was the source of Flamego’s invention. The game had been even in the first half and it looked like Flamengo’s woes were going from bad to worse when Dudu glanced in to give the visitors the lead.
As Flamengo heads dropped, Mineiro failed to take advantage and Ronaldinho produced a moment of magic to level. Pouncing on a loose ball, he controlled and sent a dipping volley into the top corner of the net. The final twenty minutes belonged to Flamengo as Thiago Neves put them ahead, before two goals in the last five minutes from Deivid completed the scoring.
The fighting spirit returned to Fluminense on Sunday as they scrapped to a 1-0 win away to Avai. Forced to play more than half the match with ten men after Rafael Moura was sent off, Abel Braga abandoned his free flowing philosophy as his side dug their heels in. It was the first victory of his second reign as Flu coach and eased the mounting pressure.
The most encouraging sight for Tricolores was the return to form of Conca. He shared the responsibility of playmaker and second striker, having already put in two dangerous crosses before converting Marquinho’s low cross from five yards.
A minute later, Moura was wrongly sent off for striking an opponent. Replays later showed that as the pair tussled for the ball, the Flu striker’s had brushed the shoulder of Avai defender Gustavo Bastos who went down like a sack of potatoes.
Despite the numerical advantage, Avai could not make it pay. Flu’s midfield was well drilled and passed the ball around, toying with their opponents who could not find a reply.
Botafogo moved into fourth with a 2-1 victory over Gremio. The team are now unbeaten in five and have begun to find rhythm under Caio Junior.
Botafogo controlled the game but did not take the lead until the 70th minute when Elkeson’s shot-cross was turned in by Marcelo Mattos. A brief respite followed as the lights failed. When play resumed Botafogo had not lost their edge.
Caio beat three men down the right wing before laying the ball across for Elkeson to score. A wonderful team move had the fans on their feet. Gremio pulled a goal back in injury time but it was too late to dampen Botafogo spirits.
Fernando Prass put in a heroic display to ensure Vasco a 1-0 win away to Atletico-GO. The Carioca side took the lead in the opening minute of the game and had to survive an onslaught to maintain their advantage.
Whereas in the last two games Vasco have conceded late equalizers, on Sunday they held firm and continue to look like a side capable of challenging for the title. Prass made three decisive saves in the second half to keep Vasco’s lead in tact. His excellent recent form has left some scratching their heads as to why he is not with the national squad in Argentina for the Copa America. With many more match winning performances like this one, an international call-up could be on the horizon.