31 January 2011

Vasco da Gama (1) x Flamengo (2), Campeonato Carioca 2011

With all of the writing about mega-events I rarely take the opportunity to write about football, which is more than a passing interest.

Contrary to produced and received wisdom, the biggest fixture of the Rio football calendar is not Flamengo x Fluminense (Fla x Flu) but rather Vasco da Gama x Flamengo. Known as the “Classico das milhões” (the derby of millions) Vasco x Fla happens four times a year and in the ‘classic  years’ of Rio’s football drew eight of the twenty largest crowds in Brazilian history

Vasco entered yesterday’s game having lost their first three games of the Campeonato Carioca. Flamengo had won all of theirs. Two teams going in opposite directions.  Vasco fired its coach who had been sabotaged by the two star players, Carlos Alberto and Felipe. This sabotage took the form of intentionally losing games, which is a pretty sinister thing. There is also speculation that the players are trying to end the presidency of Roberto Dinamite, who scored 700 goals for Vasco as a player. Are Dinamite’s political rivals paying players to lose games so that he is weakened come election time? Whatever is going on, Vasco is totally lost at sea and entered the day at the bottom of the table with no coach, no captain, no confidence, one goal and zero points from three games. Uma situação cumplicada.

Flamengo just signed Ronaldinho Gaúcho and appears to be rolling in cash. Even though they just escaped relegation in 2010 after winning the league in 2009, they looked comfortable in their first three games. In the lead up to the game the platitudes and clichés were flying, as usual – “Vasco sempre é um rival cumplicado” “Clássico é Classico, não dá para prever”, etc.

It’s high summer in Rio. Game time temperature at the stadium was 38°C, and probably much, much hotter on the field. Contrary to the ‘classic’ years, there were only 15,000 people in attendance. The reasons for the radical drop in attendance are too complicated to explain succinctly.  The broadcast team for PFC2 (owned of course by OGlobo) continually referred to the Fechadão by its original name, Estádio Olímpico João Havelange. That’s not the name anymore. It was changed to Stadium Rio last year in an empty appeal to internationalize this sad spaceship of a sporting venue.

The expectation was that Vasco were going to lose, badly. When David hit the first goal, there was no surprise, almost a relief that the anticipated had arrived. When Thiago Neves took advantage of a lovely through ball aided by some lazy defending and chipped over Fernando Prass just before half-time, it was basically over.
Contrary to expectations, Vasco did not lie down and die in the second half, but upped the intensity of the game once substitutions were made. One of the problems I have with following Brazilian football really closely is that the players are never around for long enough to become familiar with them. I would like to be able to report about how the insertion of Misael for Allan and Márcio Careca for Ramon changed things for Vasco, but I can only say that they did, and from the 20th minute of the second half on, Vasco were the better team.

One of the delightful things about watching games in Brazil is also one of the most frustrating. The commentators don’t tend to provide much depth to the game, but come up with some gems once in a while. They are also biased. For instance, instead of saying that Vasco had improved and were stringing passes together and looking good, the commentator (whose name I forget) said: Flamengo perdeu o meiocampo. Flamengo lost the midfield. Porra! Porque não poderia ter dito que Vasco melhorou? A small thing, but important.

The gems were the following:
Regarding one of Vasco's players: Ele é um jogador de pequissimos recursos. He is a player with limited resources. A damning condemnation of a professional footballer.

Regarding the lack of substitutions at half time: Flamengo não mexeu porque não precisa, Vasco porque não tem noção. Flamengo didn’t make any changes because they don’t have to, Vasco because they don’t have a clue.

After melhorando muito seu desempenho em campo, Vasco marcou e quase virou o jogo. A draw would have been lovely and just, but it did not come and Vasco have written a new page in their long history. They have never lost four games to start the Campeonato Carioca. This is the worst start ever. And while it is good and interesting to be living through a historical moment, it’s not exactly a happy time to be a Vascaino in a city where your major rivals have won all of their games.

There were numerous encouraging signs from Vasco in the second half yesterday. They’ve got some talent and were able to cut through Flamengo with some ease as the second half wore on. There are some major defensive lapses, particularly on the wings and there isn’t much hope that Carols Alberto and Felipe are going to rejoin the team after being “afastados” be Roberto Dinamite. Vasco has no coach and whoever decides to take up the task is going to be entering a caldron of political intrigue, a team without cohesion, and a relegation battle to fight. Then comes the Brasilieirão.

Flamengo has booked their place in the semi-final of the Taça Guanabara where they will meet the loser of Fluminense x Botafogo this weekend. 

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