VASCO have the opportunity to secure their first title of the season by winning the first stage of the Rio state championship in this evening’s final against Fluminense.
Fluminense are looking to end a nineteen year wait since last their last success in the Taça Guanabara after overcoming Botafogo on penalties midweek; Vasco arrive at the final as favourites having eliminated Flamengo in Wednesday night’s other semi-final.
Vasco have been in impressive form in the state championship, winning each of their nine games en-route to the final, in a season, where so far, fortunes on the field have been in stark contrast to events off it.
The Gigante da Colinha began the season smarting at the loss of Rodrigo Caetano – a well-connected, key figure behind the scenes of the club’s resurgence in recent years. The departure of Caetano, who ironically took on a similar role at Fluminense, hinted that all was not well at the São Januário. And the problems soon became apparent as the players confirmed media speculation claiming that salaries had not been paid on time.
As Vasco fell behind in payments, Felipe, a senior member of the Vasco side, led the player revolt declaring that the squad would no longer stay at a team hotel on the night before a game – a common method of pre-match preparation in Brazil known as concentração.
The rift between the players and the club failed to negate Vasco’s form, as the wins continued but relations between the relationship between the board and one player in particular soured further, as exciting young forward, Bernardo took to the courts to claim back his unpaid wages, simultaneously causing embarrassment to the club and straining his relationship with both his teammates and supporters.
Unpaid wages is not an uncommon occurrence in Brazilian football, but to maintain consistency amidst the backdrop of such uncertainty is of credit to the players and their coach, Cristóvão Borges.
The coach finds himself in the biggest challenge of his short career as a head-coach after being drafted in to assume control at Vasco after Ricardo Gomes suffered a pitch-side stroke last August – plunging the then assistant into the hot seat of one of Brazilian football’s most turbulent clubs.
Winning the Taça Guanabara title would guarantee Vasco a place in the grand final of the Rio state championship (should the club not win the second stage of the competition themselves) but Borges urged for his side to forget about their flattering state championship form which reached peak with Wednesday night’s 2-1 semi-final win over arch-rivals Flamengo.
“Vasco has a 100% campaign, statistically this is a fact. But we cannot delude ourselves with this. In games against Fluminense, Flamengo, Botafogo, everything is very equal and there is no favourite. They are all strong teams and their all very finely balanced, so these games are very complicated, but there are fine details that make a team dominate the other and win,” Borges explained.
The Vasco directors would do well to implement the stability Cristóvão Borges has created on the field in the São Januário boardroom.