What a great match at The Engenhao, thatīs what the fans call the Joao Havalenge Estadio Olimpic, because thatīs the area itīs located in. I know the area quite well and have stayed with my friend Edinho and his family a few times in their former apartment about 200 metres away.
The stadium was built for the Pan-American Games in 2007 and was 550 % over budget, and is next to the train station Engenhao which is very convenien,t since there are no parking areas except for side streets filled with crowded sports bars and snack stalls. The stadium has a beautiful curved roof and is now owned by the City of Rio, but operated by Botafogo FC with their black star logo everwhere, including near each corner flag. Outside the main gates are three life size statues of legends, including DIDI, GARRINCHA and NILTON SANTOS.
I had been given a press pass and it took time in the warren of side streets to find the North Entrance. Two well supported clubs were playing and trying to chase leaders Corinthians of Sao Paulo. With Maracana being rebuilt from the ground up for FIFA World Cup 2014, most of the top local teams play here such as Botafogo, Vasco da Gama, Fluminense and Flamengo. Going into this local derby Vasco were second and Fluminense third, with only one more round next weekend.
The Tricolors of Fluminense and the black, white and a touch of red of Vasco were worn by most fans and once inside they waved huge flags which some fans danced and ran up and down and round the seats. I had a perfect view in the first row of the press seats in the upper deck on the half way line. It was the Fluminense side and workers were distributing thousands of carmine and green blow up ībangersī which the fans bang against each other as noise makers. The workers were raining down handfuls at a time to the lower deck, and the same was happening in the South side and the West End zone for Vasco with black and white versions,
The stadium is also built for track and field with an 8 lane track, keeping supporters at least 50 metres and more away from the pitch. The referee team enter from the South side with loads of security, to the sound of pierce whistling. Before kick-off the referee and 4 assistants go into a huddle . The visitors Vasco enter with the captain holding two babies, one white, one black in his arms with dozens of radio mikes, cameras and hand held TV cameras surrounding the squad. The Tri follow as huge banners are passed over fanīs heads, firecrackers, chanting and noise from the four sides. Itīs bedlam-and I love it.
Lots of end to end stuff on a perfect playing pitch after showers up to kick off, and some near misses, shots banging against the posts and some lousy shooting at either end. The referee, Marcelo De Lima Henrique has a can of a white spray which he marks the spot for free kicks, marches 10 yards and another mark. VERY Clever-AND EFFECTIVE. The white spots disappear in about 10 seconds but I hope the idea catches on, because it works.
It looks as if we are in for a 0-0 tie which would give Corinthians the title but NO, we have a game on our hands. Vasco open the score in the 75th minute with a header from Alecsandro but Fred equalizes 8 minutes later. Drama in the 87th minute when the referee goes to the side line to ask Vasco players to sit on their bench. He is surrounded then pushed by substitute Leandro who is shown red.
In the 90th minute Bernardo scores from close range and thats the winnerī!. A tense 5 minutes of added time and then the whistle goes and Bernardo kneels down and prays in the goalmouth. Half the fans go home smiling and singing, the other half sad and cursing. WHAT A MATCH.