Brasileirão Week 22: Bruno Stuns Botafogo, Bustos Boosts América and Dimitri Debuts

Eight red cards set the tone for a fiery weekend of high-stakes football in Brazil, as the nation’s top-flight nears the business end of what has been a magnificent season so far. With the mid-season transfer window having slammed shut, there was still time for late movement such as Santos’ capture of former Lazio defender Bastos Quissanga and Andreas Samaris’ move to Coritiba, which sees him become the first Greek player to play in Brazil – departures were also confirmed, as Corinthians standout Murillo swapped Timão for Nottingham Forest and Athletico Paranaense mainstay Khellven joined CSKA Moscow in an impressive pickup for the Russian outfit.


A surprise sacking also made headlines, with newly-promoted Série B holders Cruzeiro dismissing Pepa after eight matches without a win, despite Cabuloso still sitting in 12th place in the league table. Three Brasileirão clubs will also be participating in the Copa Libertadores semi-finals, confirmed this week – Fluminense will face Internacional in a fascinating all-Brazilian encounter, whilst tournament favourites Palmeiras will meet Boca Juniors in a box-office tie. 


A surprise midweek elimination from the Copa Sudamericana left table-topping Botafogo with just their unlikely title push to focus on, as Bruno Lage tasted defeat for the first time since his appointment in July – they faced a tough challenge to continue their 100% home league record against Rio neighbours Flamengo on Saturday.


Despite being boosted by the return of league top-scorer Tiquinho Soares from the bench, Fogão made their task even harder after just three minutes, when a dangerous Wesley cross was met by Marlon Freitas whose calamitous clearance flew into the net for an early own goal. Responding well to going behind, the hosts found a quick equaliser thanks to an excellent finish from Victor Sá which flew past a stationary Matheus Cunha in the Flamengo net. A marginal VAR call denied Bruno Henrique an early second-half goal to vindicate Jorge Sampaoli’s decision to hand just a sixth start of the season to the 32-year-old, in one of few highlights in a highly cagey second period.


With very little separating the two sides, the game was there to be won by a moment of magic, which would arrive courtesy of Henrique – cutting in from the left wing on 73 minutes before curling an unstoppable shot beyond Lucas Perri, it was a goal which called back to the forward’s best years, and secured a seismic result for the Rubo-Negro who become the first team to take anything from Engenhão in this Brasileirão season. Fogão remain comfortably top, but their response to this setback will be fascinating. 



Fabian Bustos and Diego Aguirre faced off on Sunday as a pair of managers new to their roles, having arrived last month to América Mineiro and Santos respectively. Their tasks in their new roles are similar – to take their clubs out of the relegation zone – and in a match that felt like a significant six-pointer, it was the hosts who scored first in an end-to-end first half when 20-year-old loanee Rodrigo Varanda scored for the second match running by finishing off a quick counter-attack. Despite dominating possession, Peixe failed to convert any of their chances in the first period, a familiar symptom of their recent performances. 


Whilst Aguirre is new to Brazilian football, his opposite number Bustos’ only previous role in Brazil was a short spell at Santos – and early in the second half, he looked well on the way to getting the better of his former employers when Matheus Henrique’s fine delivery met the head of Coelhão captain Juninho to double his side’s lead. The visitors had a mountain to climb and continued to fashion opportunities, but the final result of 2-0 marked consecutive colossal victories for the new boss at Arena Independência as he seeks to guide his new club to an unlikely great escape. For Santos, the hope rests with their numerous new signings as they dance with the daunting possibility of a first-ever relegation. 


Grêmio‘s patchy form has held them back from a serious title push this season, and their meeting with a Cuiabá side whose sensational mid-season streak had been abruptly ended by three straight defeats was still never going to be an easy task. O Dourado hadn’t scored for three consecutive games either, something which contrasted damningly with the presence of one of the game’s greatest goalscorers in their opponent’s attack – Luis Suárez made it goals in back-to-back games with his well-taken opening goal on thirty minutes which handed Tricolor a half-time lead.


Of the visitors’ 19 shots during the match, just three were on target – a relief for stand-in Grêmio goalkeeper Caíque, who in the end would secure a clean sheet on his Tricolor debut and first top-flight appearance since 2018. As António Oliveira encouraged his side to throw more bodies forward in search of an equaliser, the additional space on the counter would be of benefit to the hosts who doubled their second-half lead after a nice move – but the goalscorer was the unfortunate Rikelme who could not react in time after Everton Galdino had his header saved, with the own-goal confirming a 2-0 home victory to keep the Porto Alegre side in third. Cuiabá now sit tenth, eight points adrift of the Libertadores places. 



Four of the players who started for Corinthians the last time they contested the Paulista derby against city rivals Palmeiras on matchday three have now left the club, an indication of the turbulent campaign Timão have endured – but up against the Brasileirão holders at home on this occasion, Vanderlei Luxemburgo’s performed encouragingly in a first half which finished goalless.


The visitors applied more pressure in the second half, with the chance of the game coming for Breno Lopes in the 94th minute, but an outstanding save from Cássio ensured that Verdão would be held to a goalless draw in a passage of play that also saw Maycon sent off for an appalling tackle on 17-year-old wonderkid Endrick. The result represented a missed opportunity for the champions to close the gap on league leaders Botafogo, but the point was undoubtedly a deserved one for the hosts. 



Juggling managerial duties at both Fluminense as well as his new role with the Brazilian national side, Fernando Diniz faced a tricky opponent in on-form Fortaleza in his last match before turning attention to the Seleção for the first time, and the early chances went the way of the visitors in a goalless first half.


Turning to his bench in the second period after a midweek win in Paraguay, Diniz faced a well-organised Leão defence in the latter stages, as the visitors reached injury time level – but in the dying embers, a late Flu winner would come from the most unlikely place as left back Diogo Barbosa stepped up with his first goal for the club, finding the bottom corner with a brilliant, first-time finish with his weaker right foot to seal the three points for a Tricolor side who remain uneaten at home in the league this season. 


The high-profile arrival of Dimitri Payet has been one of many mid-season reinforcements for Ramón Díaz’s new-look Vasco, as the prospect of falling straight back down to the second tier has forced significant movement in their squad. Against fellow promoted side Bahia on Sunday, Díaz’s side were dominated in the first half, deservedly falling behind to an Ademir opener on 45 minutes.


Payet was one of three half-time substitutes for O Almirante, marking his long-awaited debut in Brazilian football, but it was 19-year-old Marlon Gomes who was brought down by Gilberto to give the visitors a chance to equalise from the spot – Pablo Vegetti converted the spot-kick, grabbing a third Brasileirão goal since joining his new club as this relegation six-pointer finished 1–1.



Two sides still well in the hunt for a top-six finish are Athletico Paranaense and Atlético Mineiro, with both sides targeting an important three points from their meeting in Curitiba on Saturday. The deadlock was broken from an unsurprising source on six minutes, as red-hot Paulinho grabbed a fifth Brasileirão goal in six games with a close-range header to give his side an early away lead – but the hosts would quickly begin to dominate the momentum of the game, forcing Éverson into several vital saves to keep Atlético ahead.


The second half would continue in the same vein before Galo’s resistance was broken by another man on a devastating run of form as Barça-bound Vitor Roque added an eleventh league goal of his campaign to draw his team level. Furução continued to create chances despite a late red card to Fernandinho, but Luiz Felipe Scolari would be thankful to his goalkeeper in the end for protecting a 1-1 result.


Elsewhere, Internacional have now gone an incredible ten matches without victory following a heated but goalless draw away to Goías and managerless Cruzeiro also played out a goalless draw in their home encounter with Red Bull Bragantino on Sunday. 


Player of the Week: Bruno Henrique


Sometimes, the obvious candidate for Player of the Week is still the most deserving one. It has been a slow road back to full fitness for Bruno Henrique, whose horrific knee injury last season kept him out for almost a year, but the pace and power that makes him such a unique threat was there for all to see on Saturday, as well as his match-winning quality. Captaining the side away to the league leaders, his link-up play and driving forward of his side was exemplary, with his stunning match-winner as well as this brilliant disallowed finish providing the highlights of a vintage Henrique performance. 



With an international break upon us, BTL’s Brasileirão round-up will return in a fortnight for a round featuring another Rio clássico between Vasco and Fluminense, as well as Flamengo hosting Athletico Paranaense in a repeat of last year’s Copa Libertadores Final. 


By: Martin Crawford / @crawford7martin

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Ricardo Moreira / Getty Images