In the thick of a Brazilian championship race that has been as unpredictable as ever, one thing at least is clear-cut as Flamengo bid to take maximum points from the final three matchdays: their reliance on attacking trio Ronaldinho Gaucho, Thiago Neves and Deivid.
When the gifted triumvirate are on form, Os Rubro-negros are formidable opponents indeed, with the three players having so far shared 40 goals in 35 games – the same number scored by Palmeiras and Bahia and more than Cruzeiro (39) and Atletico-PR (35). Yet when they fail to catch fire, such as in Thursday’s goalless draw with Figueirense, the team pay a heavy price.
Booed off by their fans after a lacklustre display, the 2009 Brasileirao champions virtually kissed their chances of reclaiming their crown goodbye by dropping eight points behind leaders Corinthians – with only nine to play for. “The fans’ reaction is to be expected. Personally speaking, I didn’t play well tonight; I had a really bad game. Nothing I tried came off,” said Ronaldinho after the match. “Now we just need to work harder and focus on clinching a Libertadores place.”
That goal does, however, appear well within their reach. Fla currently lie in fifth spot on 56 points, a final position which would ensure their involvement in the 2012 Libertadores providing Copa do Brasil winners Vasco finish in the top four. “Our fans, players and directors are all talking about getting into the Libertadores, and our rivals will be doing the same,” said coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo. “It’s a really big deal. Our project is still alive.”
Yet with Botafogo, Internacional and Sao Paulo just one, two and three points behind respectively, Luxemburgo needs his main men to pick up the pace once more. Boasting a team total of 57 goals – a divisional high – the combined totals of Deivid (15), Ronaldinho (13) and Thiago (12) is equivalent to an impressive 70 per cent share, thus underlining their importance to the red-and-black cause.
This importance becomes even more noticeable when you discover that Flamengo have picked up just 16 of a possible 42 points (38 per cent) in those games when none of the three has found the net. This goes some way to explaining the rough patch that did most damage to the club’s title aspirations: a ten-match winless run lasting from 14 August to 21 September. Indeed, that fallow period featured no fewer than five matches in which the trio all drew a blank.
Taking a more positive slant on the statistics, the Carioca giants took 19 points from 39 available (48 per cent) in the games where at least one of the three attackers scored, a success rate that shot up to 22 points from 24 (92.6 per cent) when two or more of the trident got in on the act. Finally, as you would expect, strikes from all three gifted goal-getters has proved a guaranteed three points for Os Rubro-negros, as evidenced by the thrilling 5-4 win at Santos and the 4-1 dismantling of Atletico-MG.
“We’re so close to clinching a Libertadores spot and we’ve been fighting it out near the top since the championship began,” said Thiago, before signing off with a statement of intent for the Flamenguista faithful. “We simply have to believe we can do it, and we’re going to fight until the very end.”