By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It was a busy weekend at iconic Maracanã Stadium as Rio’s big four clubs took the pitch to battle for one of two coveted spots in the 2017 Campeonato Carioca championship final. In the first match, Fluminense easily dominated Vasco, 3-0, while two goals from Guerrero led Flamengo to the 2-1 win over Botafogo.
The final four of this year’s Campeonato Carioca had been set for several weeks now. Two spots are normally reserved for the champions of the Taça Guanabara and the Taça Rio, in this case, Fluminense and Vasco. While the remaining two positions went to Flamengo and Botafogo for their overall point totals in both the Guanabara and Rio campaigns.
In the first semi-final match at Maracanã, on Saturday, April 22nd, Fluminense came back from a scoreless first half with an offensive explosion in the second half. Only five minutes into the second period, Flu striker Richarlison knocked in the rebound off Vasco keeper Martín Silva’s block for the game’s first score.
Only five minutes later, Wellington Silva doubled the lead with a close-range goal past Silva. Léo completed the club’s dominant 3-0 performance with a header at the 26-minute mark, securing Fluminense’s spot in the finals and ending Vasco’s Campeonato Carioca season.
In the weekend’s second semi-final on Sunday, April 23rd, the fans who braved the heavy downpour at Maracanã were treated to a decidedly closer duel between Flamengo and Botafogo.
Similar to the first semi-final, most of the action occurred in the second period following a scoreless first. Only four minutes after the halftime break, Flamengo’s Paolo Guerrero opened the scoring launching a perfect shot past Botafogo keeper Fernández from just outside the goal area.
A big break for the Rubro-Negra came at the twentieth minute of the period when the club was awarded a penalty kick after an Everton shot appeared to inadvertently hit the arms of the Botafogo defender. Guerrero lined up for the penalty and promptly drove the ball just under a diving Fernández for his second goal and the 2-0 lead.
It wasn’t until the fortieth minute of the second period when Botafogo would finally have a chance to score with a penalty shot of their own. As Flamengo’s Réver tackled Sassá in the goal area, Sassá was able to take advantage of the ensuing penalty kick to get his team on the scoreboard.
Unfortunately for Botofogo it was too little too late, and despite three minutes of stoppage time, Flamengo held on for the 2-1 victory and a spot in the finals against Fluminense.
Flamengo and Fluminense will now battle in a home-away series over the course of the next two Sundays, April 30th and May 7th, to decide the champion of this year’s Campeonato Carioca.
The championship matchup is a rematch of last month’s classic Taça Guanabara final, won by Fluminense on penalty kicks following a thrilling 3-3 draw in regulation.