At the ripe old age of 82, Robinho Lazaró was as hungry as ever, leading his exciting young Vasco da Gama squad into the 2067 campaign. HIs big aim for the season ahead was to take a title fight to Goianiense, who’d won the last two Série A, after finishing third in 2066.
Vasco began the season with 32 players of 5-star potential, a further 13 with up to 4.5-star potential and seven with 3.5- or 4-star potential. They also had £55 million of transfer budget to work with but Lazaró was keen to keep improving the young squad he ‘d already built. But he did add even more potential with 17-year-old right-back Renato Augusto, who cost £4.6 million from Flamengo.
Rio State rolls around
The concept of having one month off between seasons still seemed bonkers to Lazaró. But his team began their Rio State defence well as a hat-trick and 10 key passes from Carlos Miguel, who signed a new contract in the summer, inspired a dominant 3-0 win at Bangu in which they had 43 shots to three.
They backed that up with a 5-0 thumping of Serie D side Volta Redonda and won all of their first five games before a big trip to Fluminense, who led the way on goal difference. And they showed why, dispatching Vasco 4-0! Lazaró again used the tournament as an opportunity to get youngsters some first-team gametime and they did well to finish 3rd, only losing 2-1 to Flamengo in the final game.
That meant another semi with Flamengo. Vasco again won the home leg with another Carlos Miguel brace inspiring a 2-0 success then won 2-1 away to reach the final. Vasco were massive underdogs but defied the odds in the first leg as Denis bagged a brilliant four-goal haul in the final half hour to batter Fluminense 6-1! Lazaró rang the changes and a 1-1 draw sealed a dominant aggregate victory.
Vasco da Gama defended their Rio State Championship title!
Vasco got a slightly better draw than last year alongside Argentine side Banfield, Paraguayan team Libertad and Peru’s Universitario, who they beat in the second round last season.
They began at home to Universitario and hammered them 4-0 with goals by Carlos Miguel wingers Leonardo Augusto and Renan Nelson, who also got three assists, and holding midfielder Arthur. They then won 3-0 at Banfield and took total control of the group as an early Carlos Miguel brace and a Leonardo Augusto assist hat-trick inspired a 4-0 win over Libertad then exciting academy product winger Thiago bagged a brace in a 5-0 win in Paraguay. A 1-1 draw at home to Banfield, with midfielder Jajá becoming the youngest-ever Vasco goalscorer aged 16 years 304 days, won the group before a rotated side won 3-1 in Peru.
Vasco got a decent draw in the second round against Colombian side Junior FC. They took control with a Leonardo Augusto brace and a late Denis strike to win 3-0 in Lazaró’s homeland and eased through with a 2-0 home win. That teed up an all-Brazilian semi against Internacional, who nicked a 1-0 win in the first leg despite visitors Vasco having 12 shots to eight. But Vasco hit back in style with a thumping 5-0 home success led by a Carlos Miguel brace.
Another all-Brazilian affair was waiting in the semis as Vasco took on Paranaense. They did well to earn a 1-1 draw away but home advantage was crucial again as a Messias Eduardo brace following goals from Denis and Carlos Miguel led a 4-0 hammering. Although Paranaense wasted 17 attempts. Vasco were headed to the Copa Libertadores Final for the first time since winning it in 2060!
Record-breaking start to Série A
The media had raised their expectations, predicting Vasco to finish sixth at 18/1 to win the title, behind holders Goianiense (13/5), Corinthians (7/2), Avaí and Fluminense (15/2) and Internacional (12/1).
Vasco had a tricky start away to Cuiaba, but they dominated the game without finishing their chances and came away with a 0-0. And the good performance in that match carried into a stunning run as Vasco won their next 10 games, including a 3-0 success at Fluminense, Denis bagging four in the first 19 minutes in a 4-0 victory over Avaí and a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Vitória, and a 3-2 win at Palmeiras.
That streak ended with 1-1 draws at Gremio and at home to leaders Goianiense, which saw them again equal the Série A record of 25 games unbeaten heading into a big game at rivals Flamengo, who were way down in 10th. This time they set a new record of 26 as Messias Eduardo’s last-minute equaliser nicked a 1-1 draw.
Vasco got back to winning ways as winger Walace scored his first senior goal in a 3-0 success at strugglers Naútico. And they hit the top of Série A for the first time as a Leonardo Augusto brace inspired a 2-0 win in their game in hand against CRB. But the unbeaten run ended at 28 with a 1-0 loss at Internacional, who moved level with Vasco at the top of the table, and another at home to Corinthians, who made it a four-way tie at the halfway mark!
Title battle hots up
Carlos Miguel scored the only goal against Cuiaba to get Vasco back on track and they kicked on from there with six wins on the bounce, including a derby day 2-0 win over Fluminense, before a 1-1 draw at Paranaense then a mass of suspensions saw them lose 2-1 to Gremio. And with 10 games remaining, it looked like another tasty title battle could be on the cards with Vasco narrowly leading the way.
Vasco extended their lead by two points with a dominant 4-0 win at Chapecoense then Denis scored the only goal at Paranaense before an easy 3-1 win at struggling CBR. They kept their good form going with a 3-0 win over Palmeiras then a 3-1 win at Vitória led by Denis’ 40th goal of the season. And with five games to go, the title battle was still alive as Vasco had an eight-point lead but couldn’t have asked for a much trickier run-in as they had to play rivals Flamengo and the other three sides in the top four!
Game 1 – América (9th, home): The tricky conclusion made this game massive. And they delivered as Messias Eduardo bagged a brace to inspire a 2-0 win. Both Corinthians and Goianiense also won.
Game 2 – Goianiense (3rd, away): It doesn’t get much tougher than a trip to the back-to-back reigning champions, who were on an eight-game winning streak and won 11 of their last 13. A win here could earn Vasco the title but they had a horror start as the hosts scored a pretty lucky goal inside six minutes. Vasco responded well as Denis teed up Leonardo Augusto, only to immediately concede again. A stern half-time teamtalk worked and they came back into it after the break but couldn’t finish their chances, so fell to a 2-1 loss. Corinthians also won so Vasco’s nearest rivals moved to within five points.
Game 3 – Flamengo (11th, home): This would ordinarily be one of the toughest games possible, but Vasco’s rivals were floundering in the bottom half of the table. But they rose to the big game to earn a 0-0, despite Vasco racking up 23 shots to five. Corinthians won to close the gap to just three points with two games to play, while Lazaró’s former side Palmeiras did him a favour by drawing with Goianiense, who then won their game in hand to move just two points behind.
Game 4 – Internacional (4th, home): Vasco were hit with major injury concerns as both Denis and goalkeeper Márcio António were ruled out for the rest of the season with training injuries. But some time off did the rest of the squad the world of good as they absolutely dominated Internacional by 21 shots to one and won 3-0 thanks with Alexsander scoring two and creating the other for Messias Eduardo and Paulo Alexandre keeping a clean sheet on Série A debut. Corinthians drew 3-3 at Chapecoense to drop out of the race but Goianiense nicked a 1-0 win at América in the 81st minute to take it to the final day.
Game 5 – Corinthians (3rd, away): Heading into the final day, Vasco led Goianiense by two points, had won one more game and had a superior goal difference (tied teams are sorted on most games won ahead of goal difference). So one point would be enough to be champions.
Annoyingly, Alexsander was suspended as Vasco faced a tricky trip to Corinthians and Goianiense travelled to ninth-place Paranaense. And they had an absolute horror show of a first half as Corinthians scored a 20-yard free-kick on 23 minutes, doubled their lead two minutes later and killed the game off inside half an hour. Elsewhere, Goianiense had a player sent off on 29 minutes and fell behind six minutes later.
Vasco got a goal back, Paulo Alexandre saved a penalty after a ridiculous VAR penalty decision before Camacho got sent off. So Lazaró’s eyes were fully elsewhere, and he delighted in seeing Goianiense concede a late second to hand the title to Vasco.
Vasco da Gama won Serie A to complete the Rio State and Série A league doubles!
Copa Libertadores Final
The Libertadores Final took place two weeks before the end of the league campaign. And yet another Brazilian opponent followed as Vasco faced off against Corinthians, who beat Boca in the semi-finals. Lazaró had a clean bill of health, so lined up:
Márcio Antonio; Camacho, Rodríguez, Fábio André, Otacilio; Arthur; Carlos Miguel, Renan Nelson; Leonardo Augusto, Alexsander; Denis
Subs: Messias Eduardo, Paulo Alexandre, Thales Henrique, Jajá, Thiago, Walace, Renato Augusto, Kellyton rodrigo, Elzio, Lúcio, Erivelton, Célio Roberto
The game started slowly but Corinthians eventually dominated the first half with nine shots to two and going close three times but they went into the break at 0-0. Vasco came back into it as Carlos Miguel and Alexsander missed glorious chances just after the break then Denis missed a header from six yards out just after the hour mark. But just as injury-time was approaching, Alexsander latched onto a terrible free-kick clearance, picked out Denis and the striker coolly chipped the outcoming goalie. That proved to be the winner as Corinthians offered nothing else and, based on their second-half efforts, Vasco totally deserved their win.
Vasco da Gama won the Copa Libertadores! And wrapped up an unlikely two leagues and continental treble!
This was a truly special season for Lazaró, defending Vasco’s Rio State title, just about winning Série A on the final day and winning Copa Libertadores for the second time against the old enemy Corinthians. That took the 83-year-old to 31 career cup successes and 35 league titles.
This year’s star man was Denis, who scored a new Vasco record 34 league goals and 41 in 59 appearances in all competitions. Pushing him close was Leonardo Augusto, who scored 28 and got 14 assists with a club-high 7.44 average rating in 60 appearances. Messias Eduardo scored 19 in 50, followed by Carlos Miguel (16), Alexsander (12), Renan Nelson (8) and 18-year-old Thiago (7). Midfielder Renan Nelson set a new Vasco record of 24 assists followed by Alexsander (16), Leonardo Augusto (14), Denis (13) and Carlos Miguel (11).
Vasco also had another solid intake led by “elite talents” in striker Kaká and left-back Dikson, as well as four “top talents.”
Things looked to be rosey but, a few days before the Libertadores Final, presidential elections took place in Vasco. The winning candidate Tiago Andrade Moura, in his infinite wisdom, put in £17 million and £14 million bids on two players that Lazaró absolutely did not need. And, considering the club had just £3 million in the balance – which had magically dwindled down from the £60 million Lazaró had built up – that didn’t seem overly wise, to put it politely. Secretly, Lazaró was fuming and, considering he’d achieved everything possible with Vasco, decided it was time for a new challenge at the end of the season.
So where will Lazaró end up next on the second leg of his Américas adventure? Join us on Monday to find out!