Brasileirão Week 23: Flu Hold Four, Furacão Stun Flamengo and Inter Find Their Feet

Following a positive international break for Brazil’s national side, the most competitive top-flight in the world is back as the business end of the 2023 season draws closer. With the battles to avoid relegation, seal continental qualification and potentially even win the title bound to excite, drama is guaranteed, and this weekend we were treated to plenty of goals in a round of fixtures headlined by a Rio clássico. The managerial merry-go-round is also still in full flow, as Renato Paiva was sacked by Bahia in a fairly harsh but unsurprising decision, with Rogério Ceni now returning to the Brasileirão in charge of the club from Salvador.  


Playing in an earlier kick-off slot due to their Copa do Brasil clash with São Paulo, Flamengo had Athletico Paranaense to deal with first as Jorge Sampaoli stuck with a full-strength side in a rematch of last year’s Copa Libertadores final. The Rubo-Negro started the first half brightly, but it would be the visitors who opened the scoring out of nothing as a hopeful long-range effort from Vitor Bueno was sloppily parried by Matheus Cunha into the path of Cacá, and all the centre-back had to do was simply find the net for a second goal in just six league appearances since joining the Curitiba side on loan in July. 


Mengão found Athletico to be stern opponents as they chased an equaliser in the second half, and their task was made even harder when a lashed arm by Gabriel Barbosa was deemed a red card offence by VAR, forcing the hosts to play the final quarter of the match with ten men. Despite the numerical advantage, Wesley Carvalho’s side still had to soak up pressure in the later stages, before a devastating finish by Alex Santana killed Flamengo off on 84 minutes – a late Vitor Bruno penalty polished a highly impressive 3-0 away victory for the visitors to take them within a point of the Copa Libertadores places. 



Two other clubs from Rio faced off at Estádio Nilton Santos on Saturday, as Fernando Diniz served a touchline suspension on return from his first international break in charge of the Selećão against a struggling but much-improved Vasco side. Underdogs but up against a team with a notably poor away record, O Almirante defied early pressure to take a 22nd-minute lead through a fine Bruno Paredes header, the 21-year-old’s first of the season after moving on loan from Red Bull Bragantino.


The visitors dominated with their typical possession-based approach but went into the break behind, and will be seriously concerned by a worrying injury to star man Jhon Arias which occurred late in the first period. The second 45 exploded into action with a brilliant finish by Marcelo, the legendary left/back’s first Brasileirão goal for over 16 years, but a quick-fire response was delivered just minutes later by a Pablo Vegetti header to put the hosts back in front.


Remarkably, Tricolor equalised again on 55 minutes through Lima in an incredible start to the second period, but this thriller was not finished there as Ramon Diaz introduced Dimitri Payet from the bench on the hour-mark – as the encounter neared its later stages, a horror mix-up in the Flu defence allowed another of Diaz’s substitutes, Gabriel Pec, onto a gift-wrapped opportunity which he didn’t pass up to give his side a 3-2 lead.


A nervy finish was in the offing, but the home support at Engenhão were soon in party mode as Pec struck again in another effective breakaway to seal a seismic 4-2 win for Vasco, their first over city rivals Fluminense for over four years. 



Also playing early due to their Copa do Brasil final place, São Paulo had a trip to face an Internacional side sensationally without a league win in ten – but with SPFC themselves without an away win all season, something surely had to give. Dorival Júnior would have been delighted with his side’s first-half performance as they dominated possession and pinned the off-form hosts back against their goal, but all that was missing was a goal – until an extraordinary howler from Inter goalkeeper Keiller gifted the visitors exactly that with a penalty which Jonathan Calleri made absolutely no mistake converting. 


Eduardo Coudet’s long search for a league victory following his appointment at Internacional has been somewhat forgiven by his simultaneous guiding of the Porto Alegre club into the Copa Libertadores semi-finals, but whatever he said in his half time team talk, it seemed to bring through their form from the continental competition into the league at long last.


Equalising on the hour-mark through Fabricio Bustos, Coudet’s men completely turned the tide in the later stages, and in the end a winner seemed inevitable – but the source definitely was not, as Renê became the second full-back to strike for Inter with an absolutely stunning long-range hit which gave Rafael no chance and in the end gave the hosts that long-awaited league victory, bound to be a significant boost with their semi-final showdown with Fluminense on the horizon. 



Outstanding league-leaders Botafogo’s defeat to Flamengo in the last Brasileirão round was just their third of the season, a rare set-back for the surprise package who have shown absurd consistency throughout the campaign so far. It didn’t get any easier for Bruno Lage’s side as they faced on-form Atlético Mineiro in Belo Horizonte on Saturday, and if Lage wanted an instant response from his side, he instead got the opposite in a timid first half which finished goalless. 


A significant blow saw Fogão lose outstanding goalkeeper Lucas Perri to injury at halftime, and an excellent Galo performance saw his replacement Gatito Fernández called into action immediately in the second period – but on 81 minutes, he became the latest goalkeeper to be beaten by Brazil’s best player on current form as Paulinho was the hero once again for Atlético, squeezing in the winner with his left foot for a sixth league goal in seven and dealing another shock blow to the table-toppers. 



Rogério Ceni’s first match in charge of Bahia was a fairly favourable one away to bottom side Coritiba, but an opening goal for the hosts from Sebastian Gomez reminded the visitors that there are no easy matches in the Brasileirão. Coxa’s leaky defence was quickly breached though, as Rafael Ratão found a quick equaliser before a horrible error from goalkeeper Luan Polli allowed Thaciano to complete an early turnaround. 


Things quickly went from bad to worse for Thiago Kosloski’s hosts as Ademir added a third, and in a quiet second half, more poor goalkeeping led to a fourth being added by exciting winger Biel to put the visitors out of sight. A late consolation from Andrey confirmed a 2-4 result, and having only scored four away league goals all season before this match, Ceni will be a hero in Salvador already with his side having enjoyed a rare rout on the road – a perfect start, if you ever saw one. 


Red Bull Bragantino have proved a real nuisance to the Brasileirão’s top clubs this season, so they would have been an undesirable away trip for a Grêmio side newly weakened by the loss of key man Bitello to Dynamo Moscow. In a dominant start from the hosts, Tricolor seemed unable to get out of their own half before the opening goal arrived – a comically unfortunate own goal from João Pedro, who could not get out of the way of Vitinho’s cut-back. 



Things didn’t get much better for the visitors for the rest of the evening, and before the break they were two behind after Vitinho got a goal of his own by reacting quickest to a cross parried away by Gabriel Grando. Braga’s home record this season has been formidable this season with just one defeat in eleven, and Pedro Caixinha’s men survived sporadic late attacks from their opponents who were soundly defeated in the end to leave the sides level on points in third and fifth place respectively.  


Another dugout debut was at Villa Belmiro where Zé Ricardo took charge of his first Cruzeiro match since taking over from Pepa after the last round of fixtures. Hosts Santos came into the encounter seriously struggling, with a first-ever relegation a daunting possibility – and in a fairly even first half, they eventually found themselves behind when Matheus Jussa rose highest to divert Lucas Silva’s corner towards goal. 


Peixe huffed and puffed in the second half, cheered on by an increasingly nervy home crowd – but a simple counter-attack led to the devastating sucker punch from Bruno Rodrigues to double the deficit. A brilliantly taken late winner from Nikão made the scoreline even more damning for the hosts, sealing a fabulous away victory for Cabuloso and – incredibly – causing Santos to relieve Diego Aguirre of his duties after just five matches, their third sacking of a season which still has 15 matches remaining. 


Elsewhere, struggling América blew an early two-goal lead at Cuiabá but will still be happy with a 2-2 draw, A last-gasp winner from Yago Pikachu gave Fortaleza a significant 2-1 win over Corinthians and Palmeiras reduced the gap at the top of the table with the only goal of the game from Brent Lopes in the 96th minute to break the hearts of Goiás. 

Player of the Week: Pedrinho


A creative, exciting player who won the Brasileirão title as a teenager at Corinthians, Pedrinho’s return from injury has been like a new signing for an Atlético Mineiro side that badly missed his creative spark. Diminutive, intelligent and difficult to dispossess, he was a joy to watch in Galo’s hugely impressive victory over Botafogo on Saturday, providing the assist for the also outstanding Paulinho’s winner to cap it off. Aged 25, he is one of many hugely talented Brazilians to struggle to meet expectations in a big-money European move – his being to Benfica in 2020 – but performances like this prove that in Pedrinho’s case, it is not an issue of ability. 



By: Martin Crawford / @crawford7martin

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Marcelo Endelli / Getty Images