Mengão Créu at the Maracana
A number of ingredients contribute to making Rio de Janeiro A Cidade Maravilhosa (The Wonderful City). Among them are its spectacular carnival, the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the stunning Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks all of the metropolis' beauty.
Another two ingredients are dance and football, and on Sunday the city's best-supported team was jubilantly performing a routine currently riding an immense wave of popularity in the former Brazilian capital. In front of 84,000-plus at the Maracana stadium, Flamengo players showcased the Créu - a dance which accompanies a form of funk music - after a dramatic 2-1 victory over Botafogo in the final of the Taca Guanabara, the first of three stages that will determine the Carioca state champions.
Trailing at the interval, an Ibson spot-kick put Flamengo back on level terms before three players were sent off; Fogão pair Ze Carlos and Lucio Flavio, along with Rubro-Negro striker Souza. These dismissals accounted for five minutes of added time and during this period, Diego Tardelli netted a goal worthy of winning any game to deny a penalty shoot out that was just moments away. Collecting the ball just outside the 18-yard box, the 22-year-old sumptuously curled the ball around the diving Juan Castillo and inside the Uruguayan goalkeeper's left-hand post.
It was especially sweet for the former Sao Paulo and PSV Eindhoven player, who was dropped from the starting line-up but took just seven minutes to propel O Mengão to their 18th Taca Guanabara crown after replacing Toro. "I've always dreamed about this moment," enthused the hero of the hour.
It was a feeling shared by the masses of Flamenguistas who, together with their Botafoguense counterparts, served up a thrilling atmosphere inside Rio's footballing temple, and Diego Tardelli's team-mates. And when the final whistle sounded, there was only ever going to be one means of commemoration.
"We wanted to dance the Créu with our supporters so it was a special moment for us," explained Souza after the Flamengo squad had given several renditions of the dance. "We fought hard to win and deserved to celebrate."
Focus returns to continental dream
But while celebration continued long into the night for a number of Flamenguistas, their idols could be afforded no such luxury. The players must now prepare to return to the Maracana turf on Wednesday, when Cienciano will visit them in the Copa Libertadores. "We're already thinking about Wednesday," said Toro. "We must keep our feet on the ground and concentrate on the Libertadores."
His words echoed those of coach Joel Santana, who is eager for his side to follow up a creditable point from a meeting with Coronel Bolognesi in Peru with back-to-back victories over Cienciano and Nacional in Group 4. "We're all very happy with this success but now we must concentrate on Wednesday's match," he warned.
"We have to pick our best team and go all out for victory. Winning out next two games is important because seven points from three games would leave us in a comfortable position."
Flamengo sprinted up the Brasileiro standings to claim a place in this year's Copa Libertadores, and they have taken this form into the new campaign. With Joel Santana waving his managerial wand and the sheer volume of their support, the Fla players expect to perform several more celebratory dances over the coming months.
Créu may be a new craze, Flamengo an eternal attraction, but the pair currently share towering popularity in Rio de Janeiro. If 2008 continues at the same pace as it has started out for O Mengão, their romance is set for an extended run in the spotlight.