By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A sold-out Maracanã Stadium was the site of the first leg of the 2017 Copa do Brasil finals on Thursday, September 7th, as Flamengo and Cruzeiro battled to a 1-1 draw.
Both clubs scratched and clawed their way through the tournament semi-finals with Flamengo squeaking by cross-town rivals Botafogo, winning 1-0 in the second match, and Cruzeiro getting past defending Copa do Brasil champions Grêmio on penalty kicks.
At the outset of the game, Cruzeiro looked content to sit off and play for counter attacks which effectively kept the ball in Flamengo’s half.
A frustrated Flamengo saw few chances until about midway through the period when the Rubro-Negra’s pressure started to take its toll on the visitors.
At the 26th minute, an unmarked Willian Arão penetrated deep into Cruzeiro territory to just have his header blocked by Cruzeiro keeper Fabio. Arão almost got Flamengo on the scoreboard a few minutes later but Fabio again came out for the defend.
It would end up being a busy first half for the Cruzeiro keeper who had another block on Diego before the end of the scoreless half.
Despite their lack of offense, Cruzeiro had a great chance to open the game’s scoring at twelve minutes into the second period when Alisson launched a close-range shot that was well-defended by Thiago.
Flamengo would respond with a series of back-to-back shots from Berrio and Arão that were turned away by Fabio.
Another Fabio block would finally lead to the game’s first score thirty minutes into the half. As the keeper blocked Arão’s shot, Lucas Paqueta pounced on the rebound, knocking in the game’s first goal.
With the hometown fans expecting a sure Flamengo victory, a long range shot from Hudson would lead to the equalizer. Arrascaeta snuck behind the defense to score off the long rebound as Thiago failed to secure the block to tie the game at 1-1 and salvage the draw for the visitors.
The 2017 Copa do Brasil now moves to Belo Horizonte, with the second leg taking place at Mineirão Stadium on Wednesday, September 27th.
The Copa do Brasil is a knockout tournament running from March to November that includes clubs from around Brazil competing in a series of home-away matches.