Rio de Janeiro minnows Bangu caused a stir in the Rio state championship – the Campeonato Carioca – on Sunday, by reaching the last four of the competition’s second phase whilst simultaneously avoiding relegation.
Bangu’s unlikely success has broken up the traditional dominance of the city’s four major clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco, with Flu’s state championship campaign coming to a premature end.
A disastrous run in the first stage of the Campeonato Carioca – the Taça Guanabara – left Bangu on the brink of relegation, as the club failed to amass a single point, losing each of their seven group games. But the appointment of coach Cleimar Rocha prior to the second stage of the Rio state championship – the Taça Rio – triggered a remarkable turnaround in form, which not only rescued Bangu from the drop but secured the club a semi-final tie with Rio heavyweights Botafogo.
“I do not consider myself magical or a saviour. The change was not my work, I credit it to the personality of the athletes, who have assumed the commitment to turn the tide,” Rocha modestly stated.
“When I received the invitation to lead Bangu, I didn’t hesitate to accept. As well as being traditional and quite appealing, I can say I had some experience here, when in 1984, I worked as a fitness coach.
“What I first did was to observe the reaction of the players, they needed to not only each believe in their ability but as a squad. What concerned me most was the team’s low esteem.”
Despite their progress, due to the Campeonato Carioca deciding relegation over both of its Taça Guanabara and Taça Rio stages, Bangu had yet to eliminate the threat of relegation by the time of Sunday’s final group game against Resende, with qualification to the semi-final’s also hinging on a victory for Cleimar Rocha’s side.
Thiago Galhardo netted either side of Fernando Lopes’ second-half strike saw Bangu record a commanding 3-0 victory to confirm the unique feat of simultaneously escaping relegation and winning their group.
“Accepting the task of taking a traditional team out of relegation zone is risky because it can mark a coach’s career negatively. It was a challenge and what motivated me to accept the board’s project, was that it offered me the chance to hire player and change the landscape of the first phase (the Taça Guanabara). A few experienced players arrived, our squad grew stronger,” reflected Rocha, who cited that the joint effort of the entire squad was the base of his side’s recent success. “There was no game what we won single-handedly; all have been overcome with all the players focused on our target at the end of the campaign.”
Despite having not won a major title since the last Taça Rio triumph in 1987, Botafogo will be wary of becoming the latest victims of Cleimar Rocha’s side, who warned: “Nothing is impossible!”