Fluminense’s title-clinching victory at the weekend reflected their performances throughout the Brazilian championship — pressure from opponents, superb saves by goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri and a late winning goal from captain Fred.
The striker, the championship’s top scorer with 19 goals, secured a 3-2 victory over Palmeiras with his second goal of the match in the 88th minute on Sunday to hand “Flu” their second title in three years, with three matches to spare.
It was not unusual during Fluminense’s matches this season for their fans to be in complete desperation.
In many games, the team had less possession, shots at goal and clear chances than their opponents, but they generally emerged with the three points.
Their pragmatic approach had for most of the championship been in the shadow of Atletico Mineiro, which included the brilliance of Ronaldinho and youngster Bernard.
All it took was for Atletico to waver in the second half of the championship, allied with the combination of Cavalieri’s remarkable saves and Fred’s finishing touch, to carry the team from Rio to the title.
Cavalieri, formerly at England’s Liverpool where he saw little action, is regarded as the best goalkeeper in Brazil, even though he has not appeared in national team coach Mano Menezes’ plans for the 2014 World Cup.
He made one of his most difficult and crucial reflex saves on Sunday to deny Palmeiras’ Mauricio Ramos, with the score 2-2.
“We were criticized a lot, but we never let any of that get into our dressing room, we always kept our organization and focus, and I think we were crowned because we worked a lot for it,” Cavalieri said.
Fred, who played and scored at the 2006 World Cup as a 22-year-old, has also been overlooked by Menezes this year and made controversial comments about being more concerned with Fluminense than 2014 World Cup hosts Brazil.
The Fluminense fans did not complain that their leading players were not called up for Brazil’s many friendlies this year, some clashing with championship matches, since their team remained at full strength.
However, now that the title is theirs, Fred has changed tack.
“To play a World Cup and Confederations Cup at home is every player’s dream so I hope to earn another chance, maybe even at the beginning of next year,” he said pointedly.
Fred is one of six players in the team that also won the title in 2010, but his links with the club goes back to 2009.
Fluminense spent 27 rounds of the 2009 championship in the relegation zone before embarking on a run of 11 matches without defeat, including seven wins, to avoid the drop at the last gasp.
Fred played a key role, becoming the team’s talisman.
“This is a story that began in 2009 with the ‘team of warriors’ who escaped relegation, then became champions in 2010 and now again,” he said.
“My story is Fluminense’s story,” Fred added.