By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Current State champions Flamengo raced to the top of the league after the first round of 2011’s Campeonato Brasileiro. Vasco also continued their rich form, comfortably seeing off Ceara. However, Carioca sides did not have it all their own way on the opening weekend, as Botafogo and Fluminense lost to Paulista clubs Palmeiras and São Paulo respectively.
The star Ronaldinho scored a trademark strike as Flamengo made the perfect start to the Brasileiro. The thirty-year-old shook off his critics as he put on a show of sheer class. He created his side’s first goal after 25 minutes, laying the ball to Galhardo who crossed for Bottinelli to score. Five minutes later, he beat three men before teeing up Thiago Neves and soon after Galhardo again.
After being booed in his last outing, the play-maker was determined to show his best and on 65 minutes got on the score-sheet. Picking the ball up wide on the left and with a mesmerizing jink of his hips he moved into the penalty area before curling a pinpoint effort past the outstretched Renan.
Five minutes later, Thiago Neves made it 3-0 and the show was still not over as Ronaldinho began to toy with his jaded opponents. Diego Mauricio added the fourth to cap an excellent team performance, but all eyes were on the star.
Saturday proved to be a good day for Cariocas as Vasco earned a comfortable 3-1 victory away to Ceará. Preoccupied with their Copa do Brasil semi-final second leg clash against Avai on Wednesday night, coach Ricardo Gomes played a severely weakened side, led by the magnificent Bernardo.
Within 10 minutes he had created his first chance, only to shoot wide. Twice more threatened in the first half and it seemed inevitable he would eventually break down the creaking Ceará defense.
After a first half of Vasco dominance, Ceará started the second rejuvinated and took the lead after 65 minutes when Cleber bundled the ball home with his knee. The lead lasted less than fifteen minutes and Ceará’s downfall was orchestrated by Bernardo. Max launched a counter-attack, finding Elton who fed Bernardo.
The youngster shot from out wide, beating the goalkeeper with precision. Two minutes later, he had given Vasco the lead with a beautiful effort from 22 yards. It was no less than Vasco deserved, who made sure of the points two minutes from time with a strike from Jeferson.
On Sunday, Botafogo lost 1-0 away to Palmeiras and looked off the pace throughout. Kleber scored the game’s only goal midway through the second half. The first period saw little in the way of goalmouth action as both midfields cancelled each other out.
The game livened up as Palmeiras began to surge forward. On 51 minutes, they should have taken the lead when Kleber fired wide from close range. He wouldn’t have to wait long to make amends. Collecting a pass from Marcos Assunção he rifled the ball home. The goal served to animate Palmeiras who gradually took the game away from Botafogo while suffering little by way of resistance.
Defending champions Fluminense made a disastrous start to the new campaign, losing 2-0 to São Paulo at the São Januario Stadium. Fred missed out and it was left to Rafael Moura and Rodriguinho to spearhead a toothless attack. The game remained even for the opening half hour, Flu’s two best chances falling to Deco.
On the first occasion, Rogerio Ceni made a sprawling low save at his near post. On the second, Deco dragged wastefully wide having been set up perfectly by Mariano. With no one managing to profit from Deco and Conca’s exertions, Flu were made to pay when Dagoberto burst through their defense to smash the ball past Ricardo Berna.
Two minutes into the second half, exciting prospect Lucas Gaucho scored a wonderfully crafted solo effort. Starting on the left channel and cutting past two men, the midfielder drilled in a low shot to put São Paulo out of sight. São Paulo created and missed a host of chances which would only have underlined their superiority. Fluminense’s crisis is far from over.