|Adriano and Gil lift the oddly-designed Brazilian championship trophy [EPA]|
Flamengo completed an amazing turnaround in their season to bag a first Brazilian championship in 17 years a week after taking the lead in the standings for the first time.
Ronaldo Angelim headed the winner in the 69th minute as Brazil’s most popular club beat Gremio 2-1 at the famous Maracana stadium.
The result also secured a glorious resurrection for striker Adriano, who nearly quit football nine months ago and was realeased by Italian champions Inter Milan to return home.
Nineteen goals later in a campaign that saw the Rio club lose their coach and lurk in the bottom places in the first half of the season, Adriano is looking forward to a World Cup appearance with Brazil after clinching his “dream” of being a champion with his home club.
“I can hardly believe it,” said Adriano, fighting back the tears as he spoke on the pitch at the Maracana where a crowd of 80,000 watched the match.
“I’m remembering all I went through, I don’t even have strength left to celebrate.
“Really, this is a dream, to be a champion again and, above all, to be happy.”
Once one of the most feared strikers in the world, Adriano, 27, was released by Inter Milan after he lost his passion for football but, after joining Flamengo, he returned to his best and regained his place in the Brazil squad during the World Cup qualifiers.
“When (other teams) realised Flamengo was in the fight it was already too late. We won and now the rest are left with regrets”
Flamengo coach Andrade
Flamengo struggled in the beginning of the season and were near the bottom of the standings, until former star midfielder Andrade took over the team to replace coach Cuca in August.
They lost five of their first six matches under Andrade, but then were beaten in just one of the last 16, taking over at the top for the first time in the next-to-last round after a 2-0 win over Corinthians last week.
“When (other teams) realised Flamengo was in the fight it was already too late,” said Andrade after Sunday’s match.
“Flamengo went top in the penultimate round and then we had only one more game, we won and now the rest are left with regrets.”
Meanwhile Adriano said being close to his family was fundamental in recovering his joy for the game, he did not rule out a return to Europe – even if he would like to stay long enough at Flamengo to play for them in next year’s Libertadores Cup.
“I’ve had a lot of proposals, I’m not going to lie to anyone about that,” he said.
|Police say three of their number were hurt in the riots in Curitiba [AFP]|
“But, certainly, what’s important to me today and was always in first place is my happiness. Everything I do from here on will be well thought through,” he said.
Gremio had taken the lead when midfielder Roberson tapped in a corner kick from Douglas Costa in the 21st minute.
But Flamengo replied nine minutes later when defender David netted a hard right-footed shot in front of goal after a header bounced off Adriano’s chest.
Angelim’s header from a corner kick from Serbian midfielder Dejan Petkovic secured the win.
Flamengo finished with 67 points, with Internacional second on 65.
Last season’s champions Sao Paulo were third, also with 65 points and Cruzeiro were fourth to grab the last spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s most important competition.
Celebrations and riots
The end of Flamengo’s 17-year wait for their sixth Brazilian title sparked a huge street party including fireworks in Rio by the country’s most numerous supporters, estimated at 35 million.
Fans who failed to get into the Maracana were able to watch the match on giant screens and roads were closed off for the celebrations.
Elsewhere at least 18 people were hurt in fan rioting after Coritiba drew 1-1 with Fluminense and were relegated to the second division of the Brazilian league.
Hundreds of Coritiba fans charged the field after Sunday’s match, tearing down stands and battling with riot police, who responded by firing rubber bullets.
Fans also trashed at least four bus stations in Curitiba, the capital of Parana province and the team’s home city, where authorities said three officers were hurt in the mayhem.
Fights between fans also broke out in Rio de Janeiro after Flamengo’s title win.