Brazil's Vasco da Gama, overcoming adversity on several fronts, won the inaugural Los Angeles Gold Cup soccer tournament Sunday when it defeated Rosario Central of Argentina, 2-1, in the championship match played in front of a crowd of 15,919 at the Coliseum.
The team with the nautical background thoroughly deserved its triumph. Clube de Regatas Vasco da Gama, named in honor of the 15th Century Portuguese navigator, was founded as a Rio de Janeiro sailing club in 1898 and did not add soccer until 1915.
Its voyage to the Gold Cup championship was certainly a stormy one, but the Brazilians survived to add another trophy to their already glittering showcase. Judged by Sunday's performance, it was a well-earned victory.
In midweek, Vasco da Gama lost two key players when Dunga and Romario were recalled to Brazil to rejoin the national team preparing for the South American championships. On Sunday afternoon, just an hour before the game, it lost Mauricinho when a disciplinary committee ruled that he would not be allowed to play after having slapped referee Vincent Mauro when the official ejected him from Saturday's semifinal against Guadalajara.
Vasco da Gama briefly threatened to boycott the final unless Mauricinho was reinstated, but eventually the game went ahead. The player, incidentally, could be banned from soccer for six months or more when the case is forwarded to FIFA, world soccer's ruling body in Switzerland.
Rosario Central, still celebrating its fourth Argentine national championship in 98 years of existence, attacked from the start, but Vasco da Gama's defense, which had allowed only one goal in its previous three games, held firm. Then, in the 16th minute, the Brazilians struck back.
A momentary lapse by the Argentine defenders when they failed to clear the ball gave Vivinho a chance, and the tall forward powered a shot into the lower left-hand corner of the net to make it 1-0. It was not the goal that decided the match, but it did determine its course.
The goal not only silenced the raucous group of several dozen chanting, flag-waving Rosario Central supporters around Tunnel 24, it also forced the Argentines to alter their game plan. Now, instead of all-out attack, they had to pay a bit more attention to defense in order to avoid falling further behind.
Unlike Saturday's semifinal when their play had a ragged look, the Brazilians Sunday were a cohesive, confident team, their passes crisper, their build-ups more inventive. Rosario Central's players, meanwhile, appeared more drained by their semifinal win the day before and many of their shots went astray, prompting cries of "burro" from the largely Latino crowd.
In the 58th minute, a flurry in front of the Argentine goalmouth almost resulted in Vasco da Gama increasing its lead. A shot by captain Roberto Dinamite was blocked by Rosario Central goalkeeper Sergio Protti. The rebound was fired back by Tita and blocked by defender Jorge Balbis. This time the rebound went to Vivinho lurking on the right, but his shot swerved wide of the post and the danger was over.
Only momentarily, however.
In the 63rd minute, Vivinho fired another wicked looking shot from the right that caromed off the crossbar. A few inches lower and the Argentines would have been sunk.
Instead, they tied it up with a remarkable goal by Osvaldo Escudero who had just been brought on as a substitute a few minutes before.
Counterattacking down the right flank, Escudero found himself free with only Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Acacio to beat. He lofted the ball over the onrushing Acacio seconds before being knocked to the ground by the goalkeeper. The ball described a high arc and, as it entered the net, was hooked out with an astonishing bicycle kick by a Vasco da Gama defender.
The ball had not touched the ground but it had crossed the line and, suddenly, it was 1-1. But not for long.
Two minutes later, in the 66th minute, a Vasco da Gama corner kick was headed out by a Rosario Central defender only to fall at the feet of Geovani, whose rising shot found the roof of the net to restore the Brazilians' lead.
The Argentines threw everything they had at Vasco da Gama in the final 20 minutes but in vain. The sailing club had enough wind left to stave them off.
Gold Cup Notes
In the game for third place, Guadalajara of Mexico defeated A.S. Roma of Italy, 4-2, in a farce of a match that saw five players ejected by Costa Rican referee Berny Morera Ulloa. One of those tossed out was Roma's Polish national team forward Zbigniew Boniek, who finished as the tournament's leading goal scorer with four. . . . Total attendance for the Gold Cup came to 94,070, or an average of 18,816 per day. . . . The national teams of Argentina and Mexico will meet at the Coliseum on July 31 en route to the Pan American Games at Indianapolis.