by Robbie Blakeley
A couple of weeks back, I wrote on this website that substance was winning over style during the run-in to the 2012 Campeonato Brasileiro. Yesterday afternoon, in a thrilling encounter in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, I was gratifyingly proved wrong as second-placed Atlético-MG overcame league leaders Fluminense 3-2 in a rollercoaster of a game.
Flu’s lead remains six points and with just six rounds remaining are still favourites to lift the trophy on the first weekend in December. But yesterday Atlético, inspired by an invigorated Ronaldinho Gaúcho, proved they don’t consider the title race over. Not by a longshot.
The game was a tale of two veteran playmakers, Ronaldinho and Deco, a contest which the former walked. Deco has been one of the leading lights for the Rio club this year but in the lions’ den of the Estádio Indepêndencia, he wilted. Frustrated at failing to stamp his authority on proceedings the 35-year-old resorted to foot stamping and wailing in a futile bid to halt Atlético’s dominance.
And it was dominance in every sense of the word. The home side had 27 shots to the visitors’ paltry six and undeservedly fell behind to Wellington Nem’s predatory strike.
But Ronaldinho is built for games like this. Having already had a goal inexplicably chalked off in the first half, when apparent pushing in the wall allowed his free-kick to bulge the back of the net, he created the equalizer for former Manchester City outcast Jô.
The lanky striker subsequently put the Mineiro side in front, but Fred, with his 100th goal for Flu, leveled at 2-2 with just five minutes remaining on the clock. It appeared at that stage any nail biting contest for the title was finished.
A nine point advantage with six games to go would be nigh on unassailable. Flu fans in the stands were banking on that coveted second title in three years.
But they banked without the magical right peg of the former greatest player on the planet. Two minutes into the extra three, he chipped a delightful cross from the left towards the far post.
Dipping perfectly over the last defender, the ball landed on the forehead of Atlético centre-half Léo Silva to nod the last-gasp winner.
Cue pandemonium. Cue inevitable media gossip of a national recall for Ronaldinho. He had been the difference between the sides, a victory for creativity over caution.
With six rounds remaining and all to play for, Atlético have given themselves a fighting chance of wresting the trophy from the clutches of the Rio and São Paulo based clubs, who have lifted the Brasileirão trophy in each of the past eight seasons.
The last side to win the league outside of Brazil’s two major cities was Atlético’s great rivals Cruzeiro in 2003. With a resurgent Ronaldinho amongst their ranks, and if Fluminense continue to stutter as their pedestrian performance yesterday suggested, the sequence could at last be broken.
Robbie is the senior sports reporter for the Rio Times.