I'm pleased to present a new feature on this page; a report from a game that I actually went to! Yes, dear reader, your humble SKP correspondent was in attendance at the Engenhão as Botafogo triumphed 3-0 over lowly Atlético Mineiro. I have already been to a few games over here, but as this was the first since I started this blog, I'll include some more anecdotal material about the day alongside the match report. Hopefully this will be of some interest to those who have yet to experience watching football in this country.
Leaving home fully two hours before kick-off, we (my girlfriend and I) took two crowded buses from Recreio (in the South of Rio) to the Zona Norte; a huge, sprawling assortment of neighbourhoods on the other side of a ridge of mountains. Anyone in the UK who moans about public transport has simply not been here; riding a bus is like being inside a washing machine - all rattles, bumps, and gradually moistening clothes thanks to the humidity. Not knowing exactly how long the journey would last, we struck up conversation with a young Botafogo fan, travelling to the game with his friends. As ever in this country of good samaritans, he couldn't do enough to help us; advising us about the best seats in the stadium and directing us to the ticket office after we got off the bus.
Actually, 'ticket office' may be a bit generous to the scrum that greeted us, but twenty minutes later we emerged with two student (half-price) tickets for the upper tier of the West stand. After a quick moment contemplating the statue of Garrincha, the club's biggest idol, we made our way slowly up a spiral walkway and to our seats. The stadium, built in 2007 for the Pan-American games, was stunning; all swooping curves and metallic detail. The pitch, bordered by a running track, seemed incredibly small; dwarfed by the height of the two main stands. The atmosphere, however, contrary to my expectations, was great; the Fogo fans were out in force, as our bus companion had confirmed, for three main reasons. Firstly, the likelihood of victory was high; the Alvinegro had won their last game, whereas Atlético have been in abject form. Fairweather fans, the Brazilians. Secondly, it promised to be the first post-World Cup appearance of 'Loco' Abreu, a cult figure at the Engenhão. Thirdly, the game marked Maicosuel's comeback at the ground, after a spell with Hoffenheim in Germany.
The home fans would not be dissappointed; after 30 minutes, Maicosuel pounced on a rebound to send O Glorioso on their way to a commanding 3-0 victory. The man they call 'the magician' was in fine fettle throughout the opening period; combining particularly well with Jóbson, himself a revelation since his return from a doping ban. Botafogo looked assured of victory as soon as the first goal hit the back of the net, yet they would extend their lead only with the help of a huge slice of luck. Somália's low drive cannoned off the arm of Herrera, leaving Galo 'keeper Fábio Costa with no chance. The goal was allowed to stand despite the protests of the away side.
Botafogo took their foot off the gas somewhat in the second period, but still managed a third. Hard-working Argentine striker Herrera slotted confidently home from the penalty spot after Jóbson tumbled in the box. The contest was over, leaving the Fogo fans with little better to do than call for the introduction of 'Loco' Abreu. Their wish would be granted, with Joel Santana bringing off Maicosuel. As the cries of "OOOOO, EL LOCO!" subsided into a chorus of "OOOOOOOH, MAICOSUEL VOLTOU!" ('Maicosuel is back!'), the sense of optimism was palpable in the stadium. Chatting to another fan on the bumpy ride home, we agreed that if Botafogo produced such performances more frequently, a title challenge would not be out of their reach.
Gameweek 13 Round-up
Saturday's only other match (Santos vs Inter was postponed) saw Guarani romp to a 4-1 win over Avaí at the Brinco de Ouro. Renan's deflected effort put the Bugre ahead, before Ricardo Xavier benefitted from some hapless defending to net a second. Robinho's penalty gave the away side a glimmer of hope, but Guarani quickly snatched it away, extending their lead with volleys from Mazola and Fabão.
In Sunday's Clássico das Nações, Flamengo were beaten 1-0 by Corinthians at the Pacaembu. The Timão dominated the game, and will be delighted with the win, despite having only Elias' first half goal to show for their efforts. The result sees a gap opening up at the top of Série A; seven points now separate second-placed Corinthians with Ceará in third. At the summit, however, are Fluminense, who maintained their excellent recent form with a 2-1 win against Grêmio in Porto Alegre. Mariano's deflected free-kick handed the Tricolor a first-half lead, and Emerson quickly made it two; rounding the goalkeeper after Darío Conca's brilliant pass. Former Flu striker André Lima pulled one back, but also drew howls of disgust as he missed a simple tap-in. The loss spelt the end of coach Silas' spell at the Olímpico; he was dismissed after the game.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Palmeiras looked to have claimed all three points against Goiás, but were pegged back late on at the Serra Dourada. Ewerton smashed the Verdão into the lead, but Marcos Assunção's own goal ensured the points were shared. São Paulo, under the temporary command of Milton Cruz (following the departure of Ricardo Gomes), also surrendered a lead on the road; Cléber Santana's scuffed opener at the Arena da Baixada was cancelled out by Atlético Paranaense's Maikon Leite.
Vasco continue to work their way up the Brasileirão table following a narrow victory over Vitória at the São Januário. Zé Roberto's cute finish, his first goal for the club, was enough to secure a 1-0 win for the Gigante da Colina. Captain Carlos Alberto, making his first start after a period on the sidelines, was sent off for the home side. Sunday's remaining two games finished goalless; Grêmio Prudente and Atlético Goianiense picked up creditable away draws against Cruzeiro and Ceará respectively.
(Photo credits; (1), (2), (3) & (4) Writer's own, (5) Pedro Kirolos.)