Fluminense and Santos played one of the best matches of the weekend on Saturday; Vasco remain top of the Brasileiro after an entertaining draw with Corinthians; Dinamo Moscow took advance of slip-ups from Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow in Russia. Here’s how it happened.
It’s squeaky bum time in the Brasileiro, where the campaign entered its final third this weekend with a handful of important fixtures. Aside from a top-of-the-table clash between Vasco da Gama and Corinthians, Sao Paulo hosted Flamengo and reigning champions Fluminense welcomed Copa Libertadores winners Santos.
Let’s start there. Having kickstarted their quest to retain the title with a late-summer streak that saw them lose just once in seven outings, Fluminense won a topsy-turvy match against Santos that featured spectacular goals, imaginative playmaking and careless tackles—in other words, everything Brazilian football has to offer.
Neymar (Who else?) opened the scoring after 32 minutes when he cut in from the left, slipped in between two Fluminense defenders and arrowed a low, hard drive just inside Diego’s near post. He also turned playmaker for Santos’ second goal, two minutes from time, when he teed up Renteria’s equalizer. (Over the balance of the match it became more and more evident that with Ganso missing due to injury, Neymar’s playmaking skills have flourished. He might even be a better prospect than we might have first thought.)
Fluminense controlled much of the proceedings between the two Santos goals, however, and Marquinhos equalized just seven minutes after Neymar’s goal when he was put in the clear by a cultured pass from Fred. His first attempt was stopped by Rafael—who was brilliant on the day—but he made no mistake with the second to send the two sides level into the break.
With both sides trading chances, and Rafael continuing to keep Santos in the game, the deadlock was never going to remain for long. Fluminense striker Rafael Sobis—on loan from Al Jazeera—was introduced in the 64th minute and tallied his fifth goal of the season just seven minutes later. But if the hosts had thought they could cruise to the three points, their intentions were dashed in the 81st minute when Digao was ejected for a nasty foul on Renteria. And when Renteria made it 2-2 in the 88th minute, a draw seemed the eventual, and fair, result.
But the dramatics weren’t over just yet. Deep into the fifth minute of stoppage time Rafael Sobis again repaid manager Abel Braga for his substitution when his ball played into the box was headed into goal by Marcio Rosario. It was the final act of the match, and with the three points Fluminense kept pace with local rivals Flamengo for a Libertadores berth.
Flamengo, themselves, were involved in a compelling match on Sunday at the Morumbi. Both they and Sao Paolo had a player sent off over the 90 minutes, and after Dagoberto’s equalizer for the hosts cancelled Thiago Neves’ opener just after the hour-mark it was left to Renato to win the match for Flamengo seven minutes from time.
Back in Rio, Vasco remained atop the standings for at least another week by virtue of a 2-2 draw at home to second-place Corinthians. Dede opened the scoring for the hosts in the 14th minute, and the two sides trading chances from there—Alex and Danilo scoring for Corinthians and Fagner adding a second for Vasco.
Unlike many of the major leagues in Europe, the Russian Premier League campaign is split into two phases. All 16 teams in the top division play home and way in the first section of the schedule before splitting into two groups of eight. The top-half group goes on to play home and away to determine the title and European places; the bottom-half group settles the relegation question. Fans of Scottish and Belgian soccer will be familiar with this system, but it’s worth explaining as only four rounds remain before the split.
At the moment Zenit St. Petersburg remain slight favourites to retain the championship. But the big winners this weekend were Dinamo Moscow, who closed to within three points of Zenit after coming from behind to beat Krasnodar 3-2 at Khimki Arena, courtesy of two goals from Liverpool flop Andriy Voronin. Dinamo have now won four of their last five matches and will next travel to St. Petersburg for a showdown with the league leaders.
In addition to Voronin, Dinamo have several players fans of Western European football will recognize. Former Schalke striker Kevin Kuranyi partners Voronin in attack and Luke Wilkshire, who represented both Middlesbrough and Bristol City, is the club’s right-back. Ex-Wolfsburg winger Zvjezdan Misimovic is also in the side, although he started on the bench against Krasnodar.
Dinamo now have 50 points from 26 matches while Zenit have 53. CSKA Moscow remain between them with 51 points. Neither of the top two were able to win this weekend, however, as Zenit drew 2-2 at Spartak Moscow and CSKA were held to a goalless draw at Kuban.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer