By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Sports Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Vasco have jumped to the top of Group A of the 2011 Taça Rio after beating Botafogo in the pick of the weekend’s matches. The result marks a complete turn around in form for the club, who endured an awful Guanabara competition as they failed to qualify for the semi finals. With new coach Ricardo Gomes at the helm in place of the fired PC Gusmao, the Vasco ship is sailing a far steadier course, and qualification for the semi finals looks probable.
The same cannot be said for Fluminense, who were again undone by Boavista. Having already knocked Flu out of the first stage of the Rio state championship, the underdogs again produced an upset to plunge the national champions into further despair after the departure of Muricy Ramalho last week. Meanwhile, Flamengo dropped points against Cabofriense.
On Sunday, the day Barrack Obama was presented with the shirt of Brazil’s biggest club, Flamengo could not deliver a performance to mark the occasion. The Rubro Negro drew a blank, drawing 0-0 with Cabofriense on a day they rested big guns Ronaldinho Gaucho and Thiago Neves. Luxemburgo cannot afford the luxury of resting his key players if they are fit.
The coach tried to prove to fans his squad talented enough to cope without their two most creative forces. He was wrong. Bottinelli and Negueba were weak in the first half, not finding space or time on the ball to create danger. Despite an improvement in the second half, there were still not enough heart in mouth moments for their opponents, who walked away with a point with relative comfort.
Things went from bad to worse for Fluminense on Saturday. In their first game since Muricy Ramalho’s departure, they lost 2-0 to Boavista to fall to third in Group B. From the beginning, Fluminense’s lack of direction was evident.
Boavista knocked the ball around as if in a training exercise and took the lead as if it were no more than a formality. When the goal came, it was one of real quality. Flu midfielder Diguinho clumsily bundled Erick Flores to the floor and Gustavo smashed in an unstoppable free kick from 35 yards. Fred came on in place of Rafael Moura for the second half and the team finally had its leader. However, when Conca crossed Fred headed haplessly over the bar.
Flu began to press but were stung on the counter attack fifteen minutes from time. Joilson found substitute Max unmarked in the penalty area and he calmly put the ball past Ricardo Berna. Fluminense have been left with a mountain to climb, but their priority must be to find a new coach as soon as possible.
Vasco beat Botafogo 2-0 on Sunday to lead their group. Diego Souza and Eder Luis scored the goals in a performance that showed Vasco’s rapid improvement. In the first half, Vasco were vastly superior and their fans were scratching their heads wondering how they were not in front.
The second half continued in the same vein and within fifteen minutes of the restart Vasco had their lead. Diego Souza jumped on defensive confusion, as two Botafogo defenders left the ball to each other. Souza nipped in to steal the ball, round keeper Jefferson and roll the ball into the unguarded net.
It was no less than Vasco deserved and ten minutes later the result was put beyond any doubt when Eder Luis acrobatically volleyed home from a corner. With five minutes left, Souza was substituted to huge applause. If he continues this form, there is every chance Vasco could be lifting the Taça Rio.