Flamengo reborn in Fortaleza

This week Diego bows to the adoring Flamengo fans

After a tumultuous week, in which club’s training ground was vandalised and players were pushed, shoved and showered with popcorn by angry fans, Flamengo battered Ceará.

Football fans can be fickle at times and that can be particularly true in Brazil. We love it and we hate it, although nothing can condone the sort of violence that was shown by an angry mob of Flamengo during the week when a bunch of idiots, annoyed with their team, decided to go to the airport, push players and vandalise property.

But going from zero to hero and all of the associated debate in the space of a week is why we all love football, so I’ll focus on that and not the violence/intimidation. For the players, it is not pleasant at times, but pressure and criticism is part and parcel of playing at a big club. Diego responded in style and brushed off the criticisms and he dealt with that really nicely and eloquently in a post-match interview saying that he would not let a few angry fans stop him from playing for Flamengo even if that meant him using personal security.

The anger has been growing at Flamengo this season after some boring football, a couple of disappointing results in the Copa Libertadores and failure to win the Rio de Janeiro state championship. But the team has also faced questions about identity and style of play by struggling to fit so many household names into one team.

Finally, in Fortaleza, albeit against a pretty mediocre Ceará team, it all clicked. Flamengo must have been tired after flying to Colmbia last week for their Copa Libertadores match with Santa Fe (which they drew 0-0), flying back to Rio and then another 2,500 kilometers to Fortaleza. But they managed turned on a show on Sunday. Diego (one of the most criticised players) redeemed himself by scoring the second goal and celebrated by running into the crowd, where he was warmly received by the fans. Vinícius Júnior had probably his best game for Flamengo and scored two goals, although for me, the star of the show was Lucas Paquetá, who produced a brilliant performance in central midfield. Watch out for this kid – his name is certainly on my radar now after that show. He’s only 20 but played with a lot of confidence, maturity and composure. Good passing and even some tackles.

The good thing for Flamengo is that they are Brazil’s most popular club and have massive following in the North of the country. Yesterday’s game was played at the Castelão stadium, which was built for and used during the 2014 World Cup and is in the capital of the state of Ceara, the city of Fortaleza. The 60,000 seater stadium was nearly full to capacity and I’d guess that around half of those present were Flamengo fans. Effectively, it was almost like a home game for Flamengo, except instead of playing in front of their fans in Rio who were seriously pissed off, they played in front of their excited fanbase in Fortaleza that don’t see them play very often at all (Ceara are the only club from the state in the Serie A and were in the second division last year). Those fans weren’t going to let a dip in form ruin their day so unlike the hostile atmosphere that Flamengo’s players were facing in Rio, the team was generally very well received up north.

The team put on a performance worthy of the occasion and worthy of the excited northern fans. Thanks to the win, and results elsewhere, wouldn’t you just believe it and Flamengo jumped to the top of the league. After a terrible few weeks, suddenly things are looking rosy again. Diego wasn’t at his best but he played well and if Vinícius Júnior and Lucas Paquetá continue to flourish like they did on Sunday, this could turn out to be a very good year for Flamengo. Everton has gone to São Paulo, but if Vinícius Júnior continues to play like that on the left wing then they won’t miss him. Everton Ribeiro also played well on the right hand side, while Paquetá looked comfortable in the centre. It’s too early to say but with this team and formation, Flamengo might just be on to something.

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