Botafogo 0-2 Flamengo
There is, in the eyes of many Flamengo fans, one piece of the jigsaw missing. Decent goalkeeper? Check. Solid defence? Check. Combative ball-winners? Check. Attacking midfielders? Check, check, write another cheque. A striker to provide a focal point? Oh. Oh dear. Diego Maurício, a promising young forward, seems unable to cement his place as a titular, whilst Wanderley seems to have been discarded after an impressive pre-season. The incumbent, meanwhile - former Fenerbahçe hitman Deivid - has flattered to deceive since his arrival last year, and must realise that he is just keeping the seat warm for someone more lethal.
That man, provided the Rubro-Negro commercial machine continues to purr, is likely to be Vágner Love; a striker who accumulated plenty of goals during his last spell at Gávea. Love has recently restated his desire to return to Flamengo later in the year, and is hopeful that current club CSKA Moscow facilitate the move. In the meantime, Fla will have to hobble on with their awkward blunt attack.
Ganhando sem freio; Flamengo celebrate Thiago Neves' second.
It is a testament to Flamengo's fighting spirit, then (or perhaps to the poverty of competition within the Campeonato Carioca), that they remain on course to finish unbeaten in the state championship. With no player racking up the goals, many of their victories this year have been obtained thanks to opportunist strikes from their stable of attacking midfielders; Ronaldinho, Renato Abreu and Thiago Neves have often been decisive for Vanderlei Luxemburgo's side. So it proved on Sunday against Botafogo; a relatively dull affair was settled by a Thiago strike either side of half time.
While the wait for a star striker continues, then, Fla fans will be largely content in the knowledge that the foundation of a strong team is in place. Despite the absence of an out-and-out goal-getter, the Rubro-Negro have battled to a three-month unbeaten run, and find themselves well placed both in the Carioca and in the Copa do Brasil. Taça na raça indeed.
Campeonato Carioca Round-up
Vasco continue to lead Group A of the Taça Rio, following a narrow win over Cabofriense. New boys Bernardo and Alecsandro were both on target for the Gigante da Colina; the former finished with glorious aplomb in the first half, and the latter tucked home a late penalty to seal the three points. Fluminense, meanwhile, thrashed Americano 5-1 at the Estádio Cláudio Moacyr. Araújo bagged a brace for the Tricolor, but the pick of the goals came from Darío Conca; the Argentine bent home a glorious free-kick in the opening period.
Campeonato Paulista Round-up
Palmeiras were without talismanic striker Kléber for their clash with Grêmio Prudente, but did enough to grind out a 2-0 victory. Defender Thiago Heleno put the Verdão ahead, before a late Douglas own goal thwarted any hopes Prudente had of a comeback. São Paulo were somewhat more emphatic, putting five past struggling Noroeste. Rogério Ceni claimed his sixth goal of the year from the penalty spot, and there were also goals for Marlos, Dagoberto, and Ilsinho.
Adriano was presented to the Corinthians fans ahead of their tie with São Caetano, but it would be another striker who stole the headlines at the Pacaembu; Éduardo scored twice for the visitors, condemning the Timão to an unexpected defeat. Santos also lost ground on the leaders; they struggled to a goalless draw with Americana.
Copa Libertadores Round-up
Grêmio had already sealed their place in the knockout stages ahead of Thursday's match against Oriente Petrolero, but will still have been disappointed with a 3-0 loss. The Tricolor will hope that the last 16 draw doesn't give them reason to regret their performance in Bolivia. Cruzeiro picked up their second win over Estudiantes in the group stages, romping to a 3-0 win in La Plata. In-form attackers Thiago Ribeiro and Wallyson put the Raposa in charge, before ex-Tottenham Hotspur utility man Gilberto completed the scoring.
Maikon Leite celebrates his goal against Cerro. Paraguayan security guards not impressed.
Santos travelled to Paraguay knowing that anything less than a win against Cerro Porteño would have severe implications for their hopes of progressing to the oitavas. The Peixe's task was rendered even more difficult by the absence of their three standout performers this term; Neymar, Zé Éduardo, and Elano were all suspended following dismissals against Colo-Colo. Nerves were settled early on when Brazil U20 star Danilo crashed home an unstoppable effort from 25 yards, and the quicksilver Maikon Leite doubled Santos' lead just after the break. Pedro Benítez reduced the arrears in injury time, but Muricy Ramalho's side held on for a deserved victory on the day of the club's 99th anniversary.
Copa do Brasil Round-up
Goals from Dedé, Alecsandro, and Bernardo gave Vasco da Gama a comfortable win over Náutico in the first leg of their last 16 tie; the perfect birthday present for club president Roberto Dinamite. Palmeiras also boosted their hopes of progress to the quarter finals with a 2-1 win away to Santo André. Avaí held Botafogo to a 2-2 draw at the Engenhão, while Atlético Paranaense drew 1-1 with Bahia at the latter's Pituaçu stadium.
Paraná club Coritiba (confusingly hailing from a city called Curitiba) will also fancy their chances of reaching the last 8, after an impressive 4-0 win over Caxias. Incredibly, Thursday's result was the Coxa's 19th consecutive competitive victory; a sequence which leaves them just two wins away from the Brazilian record, held by Palmeiras.
Best of the Rest
It was an eventful week for Internacional; they sacked Celso Roth last Friday, thrashed Canoas 6-2 on Sunday, and appointed club icon Paulo Roberto Falcão as their new coach on Monday. Roth, who guided Inter to the Libertadores last season, had been on shaky ground since the Colorado's disappointing Club World Cup campaign, and is unlikely to be missed by many of the club's fans. Whether Falcão can translate his popularity into managerial success remains to be seen; his last coaching role - with the Japan national team - ended fully 14 years ago.
Selected results. Carioca; Botafogo 0-2 Flamengo, Vasco 2-1 Cabofriense, Americano 1-5 Fluminense. Paulista; Palmeiras 2-0 Grêmio Prudente, Americana 0-0 Santos, Corinthians 1-2 São Caetano, Noroeste 1-4 São Paulo. Libertadores; Oriente Petrolero 3-0 Grêmio, Cerro Porteño 1-2 Santos, Estudiantes 0-3 Cruzeiro.
(Photos credits; (1) Bruno de Lima, (2) Jorge Adorno.)
(Photos credits; (1) Bruno de Lima, (2) Jorge Adorno.)