Sunday, September 28, 2008

Flamengo vs. Sport, Pt. 2

This is a follow up to Part 1...
The game kicked off with rain coming down and the teams took a bit of time to get into the match. Flamengo was in need of a win - three points would take them into the top four, which in Brazil is good enough for a playoff spot.

The match was progressing slowly with the teams feeling each other out. The weather was playing a bit of a role, and the pitch was becoming increasingly slick as the half wore on. The best chance of the first 45 minutes came from a Flamengo corner. An outswinging ball wasn't dealt with properly by the Sport defense and a Flamengo player took a shot through a crowd of players. The ball deflected and the Sport keeper, Magrao, just got a hand to it before a defender eventually blasted the ball clear.

Halftime gave our guys a chance to regroup and we walked around a bit on the upper concourse. We coudn't really go far though - a locked gate separated the box seats from the rest of the upper terraces. The stadium itself was still under much renovation, especially as far as the box seat amenities are concerned. Lots of the box seats on our level were gutted and awaiting redecoration. Renovation is going to be a constant theme for this stadium and many others around Brazil. The target, of course, is the World Cup, which will return to Brazil in 2014 for the first time since 1950.

The second half commenced with a renewed intensity from both teams, and about ten minutes in, Sport struck first. A corner kick was completely misjudged by the Flamengo goalkeeper, and Roger was lurking at the far post to knock the ball into the unguarded net.
The crowd was stunned, but in the far corner of the stadium, the traveling fans were going mad. The Sport players ran over to celebrate with them, but at the Maracanã there's no chance of jumping into the crowd, Lambeau Leap style. There is a large moat surrounding the field, separating the crowd from the pitch, so Sport's players were restricted to some jubilant fist pumping with their traveling support.
Flamengo were up against it now, and they were struggling to create chances. The fans were getting restless, but when the coach decided to change things up, nobody in the Marcanã was pleased. Vandinho came on for Ibson and the substitute was roundly booed by the crowd. Of course, head coach Caio Júnior knew something that the fans did not, and Vandinho changed the game for the home team.

Flamengo started to create chances, and soon after, they were level. Juan, Flamengo's marauding left back, was the architect, playing a beautiful give-and-go with Vandinho. Juan calmly finished past Magrao and, just like that, the game was tied. The fans were in a frenzy - the flags were out again and the flares relit.
The downpour on the field was reaching its heaviest, and Flamengo, galvanized by the noise of the crowd, always looked like the side most likely to score a winner. Eventually the heavy pressure told, and just minutes from time Vandinho justified his manager's tactics by netting the winner. Off of a short corner, Marcelinho lifted the ball to the near post where Vandinho angled his header past the helpless Sport goalkeeper.

The crowd was in raptures and the final whistle came soon after. With the win, Flamengo boosted itself up to fourth in the standings and the team left the fied with the fans chanting Vandinho's name. Jeered and derided by the his club's supporters not 20 minutes before, he was now their hero - a paradigmatic example of how quickly fortunes can change in football.

We left the booth and headed to the ground floor. At the main entrance to the stadium, famous players in soccer history have left their mark by imprinting their feet in the cement by the entryway. The footprints of Brazilian legends from all eras mark the entrance to the famous ground, and our guys stopped by for one last picture.Eventually we returned to the hotel for a late dinner, but a slightly cold meal is only a small prince to pay for a match and an experience that none of us will soon forget.

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