By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – On May 10th the 2009 edition of the Serie A Championship got underway, pitting the 20 best teams in Brazil against each other over a gruelling seven month season. Following the relegation of Vasco da Gama last season only three teams represent Rio this term, Fluminense, Botafogo and Flamengo who were last year’s highest placed Carioca outfit finishing in 5th place.
Cruzeiro 2 x 0 Flamengo: after Flamengo’s triumph in the Carioca State Championship last weekend the team was brought back to earth with a bump on Sunday, losing an away game 2-0 to Cruzeiro. The Rio outfit certainly had their chances, and having survived an intense opening five minutes of pressure began to turn the tables with Kleberson and Angelim going close, before the visitors were gifted a penalty when full back Jancarlos handballed inside the area.
The defender was sent off, but Juan’s spot kick was well saved by Fabio in the Cruzeiro goal. Moments later a controversial penalty at the other end was converted by new signing Kleber and the Mineiro fans went crazy. Flamengo continued to press in the second half but somehow failed to find an equaliser, and in the 45th minute Ramires finally commenced the celebrations by slotting the home side’s second under the despairing Bruno in goal.
Fluminense 1 x 0 Sao Paulo: Back in Rio, Fluminense were given the task of overcoming last season’s Serie A champions Sao Paulo, though recent history suggested the home team would have their way. The added incentive of last year’s leading scorer Washington appearing for the first time in the Sao Paulo shirt along with former Flu heroes Arouca and Cesar helped fire up the paltry 15,000 home crowd and with just two minutes gone Mauricio pulled out an inspired half volley that swerved away from Bosco into the top corner and gave the home team a dream start.
Sao Paulo had marginally the better first half though frequently wasted excellent opportunities, and with Fred starting his first Serie A game in attack for Flu and full of movement, a second goal always threatened. Sadly for the sprinkling of fans inside the Maracana that goal never came, but Fernando Henrique was called upon several times to preserve the slender advantage and keep the supporters in good spirits until the final whistle.
Santo Andre 1 x 1 Botafogo: The third Carioca team in this season’s Serie A, Botafogo, were also in action on Sunday against newly promoted Santo Andre at their Sao Paulo ground, and took a while to get going. The first half was dominated by the home team who went ahead on the half hour, and could have easily had more.
By the time the second half got underway the home side looked as if they were struggling with fitness and creativity, and Botafogo’s class began to show, led by Victor Simoes up front. He was responsible for the best chance of the second period as his shot hit first the bar, then one post, and finally the other before finding safety. As the game threatened to peter out, Cicinho was sent off for a foul on Fahel and the Paulistas were down to ten men. Unable to cope with the mounting pressure and extra workload, they switched off at the back, allowing Simoes to head home the late equalizer from what looked like an offside position.
After round one Flamengo sits at the foot of the table but should be able to redress the situation at home with newcomers Avai on Saturday. Fluminense travel to Barueri while Botafogo entertain Corinthians, who will be led by the resurgent Ronaldo Fenomeno, both on Sunday.