Brasileirão Week 31-32: Santos’ Late Show, Vasco Find Form and an Epic Night at Engenhão

It has been a season of romantic firsts in Brazil – after São Paulo secured their first ever Copa do Brasil at Morumbi in September, on Saturday the eyes of many in the world of football were on the Maracanâ, where John Kennedy’s sensational extra-time winner sealed Fluminense’s first ever Copa Libertadores title. The win over Boca Juniors was the crown jewel of Fernando Diniz’s legendary reign at Tricolor which has also seen him lift two Carioca titles, and the emotional significance of the result for the Flu support was evident for all to see. It was Brazilian and South American football at its chaotic, gripping and inspiring best – but it wasn’t even the best match involving a Brasileirão club this week.


The Libertadores trophy is the pinnacle for any club on the continent, but in a domestic title race potentially heading right to the wire, a mountainous six-pointer for surprise league-leaders Botafogo came against reigning champions Palmeiras in another hugely anticipated showdown in Rio.


Beginning on top as the home side, Fogao raced into the lead through a deflected finish from Eduardo, before a stunning hit from Tchê Tchê just six minutes later sent them into dreamland, sparking wild celebrations. Few expected such a comfortable start for Lucio Flávio’s men whose incredible form from earlier in the season has begun to fade, but they remarkably were not done there, heading into a 3-0 half-time lead when Junior Santos simply tapped home the rebound to Tiquinho Soares’ effort in a stunning first period.


Visiting manager Abel Ferreira surprisingly did not make any changes at the break, and his patience with his side was quickly rewarded through an excellent solo effort from teenage prodigy Endrick on minute 49. After being all over the place in the first half, the champions begun to dominate, but the break they needed would not come before a dubious red card for Botafogo defender Adryelson which left them a player down with fifteen to play.


Still two goals up, the hosts now had to defend their invaluable six-point lead over their opponents at the top with everything they had – and just minutes later, they had the chance to make it secure when league top-scorer Tiquinho Soares was brought down in the box by Murilo. The leaders’ talisman stepped up to take the golden opportunity on 84 minutes, but his side-footed effort was comfortably saved by Weverton, and what followed could haunt Soares for decades to come.



The visitors broke away with a Troy Deeney-style counter to win a free kick in the Fogão half, and when the ball broke to Endrick on the edge of the area, his accurate finish caused a seismic momentum shift at Estadio Nilton Santos. The hosts were visibly rattled, and as they desperately defended their box five minutes later, a fine delivery from Endrick led to substitute Flaco López’s very first touch being a huge equaliser with ten minutes of stoppage time still remaining.


It was an unbelievably rapid collapse from Botafogo who wasted all the time they could, making it to the final minute of the match – but Raphael Veiga’s world-class delivery would set up penalty offender Murilo to deliver the ultimate blow, making it 4-3 for a historic comeback in one of the best matches that will take place anywhere this year. Truly incredible!




It was a fourth successive victory for Palmeiras, who came back to Allianz Parque off the back of the indescribable boost to face Athletico Paranaense just a few days later. The continued absence of Vitor Roque prevented the encounter from being a face-off against his future El Clásico enemy Endrick, but the Madrid-bound 17-year-old made his presence felt once again with the only goal of the game, dinking Bento with a finish undoubtedly reminiscent of Ronaldo Nazário – something highly fitting given that Fernando Diniz has just made him the youngest player to be called up to the Seleção since R9 himself in 1994, a worthy reward for his long-awaited breakthrough as a regular starter for Verdão.


A fabulous solo goal from 23-year-old Argentine Luca Orellano was the highlight of an impressive 2-0 win at Cuiabá for Vasco da Gama, and despite being at the opposite end of the table, it was they who had the momentum as they met shaken Rio neighbours Botafogo on Monday. Despite still being on top of the table, Fogão were now level on points with Palmeiras, albeit with two games in hand over their title rivals – but when Paulo Henrique’s first goal of the season put Vasco ahead, the visitors looked like anything but title contenders.


Up against a much-improved Almirante under Ramón Díaz, the visitors failed to create chances worthy of equalising in the second period, falling to a third consecutive defeat. The evening was about Díaz and his team though, as they made it out of the relegation zone in a representation of their fine upturn in form – they won just two of their first fifteen Brasileirão games this season.




Red Bull Bragantino’s defeat to Atlético Mineiro in round 30 was their first league defeat in nine, but goals from Thiago Borbas and Talisson got them back on track with a routine 2-0 away win over Goias. A bigger test for Pedro Caixinha’s men would come in their home meeting with Corinthians, who made the short trip to Bragança Paulista with just one defeat in their last fifteen – only a high number of draws preventing them from competing for top six places.


Like lots of Brasileirão games this week, it would be another match decided by a single goal, but it was certainly a strike worthy of three points for the hosts. Drifting after a short corner routine, Helinho curled a wonderful left-footed effort in the first half which left Cássio with no chance, re-establishing Bragantino as shock genuine title candidates in an incredible tussle at the top of the table.


Grêmio also looked like contenders earlier in the campaign, before a run of just one win in seven caused the newly-promoted Porto Alegre giants to lose significant ground. In a favourable fixture against all-but relegated Coritiba in round 31, an early opener was cancelled out by Robson’s penalty for the hosts, and Renato Gaúcho’s men had to wait until the last ten minutes when excellent work from Luís Suárez set up Ferreira to net the winner.


The win was a boost going into their weekend meeting with also-struggling Bahia, for whom all points are hugely valuable – but in another tight affair, this time Suárez was the goalscorer as his finish in the second half was enough to make it four wins on the bounce for Tricolor. They are now back within just three points of the summit, with Botafogo’s collapse catalysing an incredibly open title race.




Flamengo’s meeting with Santos was another clash with consequences at both ends of the table, as the Rubo-Negro looked to stake a late title claim of their own following defeat to Grêmio in a thriller. In just their second home match under new boss Tite, a man capped by his manager for the Seleção opened the scoring as Pedro grabbed his first open-play league goal since June.


The scores were quickly levelled through a brilliant hit from Nonato, before Gerson was sent off in a controversial VAR call which gave Peixe the player advantage in the second half. Chances would be few and far between after the break – but it was to be worth the wait for the visitors, as an explosive drive from centre back Joaquim caught Agustín Rossi out from more than 30 yards, and gave Marcelo Fernandes’ side a huge boost in a tight relegation battle.




Atlético Mineiro’s outstanding recent form has come from nowhere, and a man who has been integral to their resurgence had his say again in their meeting with Fortaleza in round 31 as Paulinho broke the deadlock after confidently finishing from a Rubens delivery. Juan Martín Lucero equalised before the break with a goal against the run of play, but shortly after the interval, it was that man again for Galo – this time after a great run by Hulk, Paulinho was in the right place at the right time to continue his incredible form, before a 3-1 win was confirmed when the veteran powerhouse made no mistake finding the net with a late penalty. 


A meeting with local rivals América Mineiro followed for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men, as they entered the Clássico das Multidões as overwhelming favourites against their neighbours who look destined for relegation. A late brace from Gonzalo Mastriani helped Coelhão to a surprise draw in the reverse fixture, and after a goalless first half, Mastriani was the man again as he took advantage of a poor clearance by Jemerson to give his side a shock lead.


A second booking for Alé saw Fabricio Bustos’ team reduced to ten with fifteen to play, providing the perfect platform for Paulinho to pop up once again – equalising late on with his sixteenth goal of the campaign – an outrageous return from the former Bayer Leverkusen winger, for whom European clubs will soon be knocking on the door once again. Galo complete the group of six clubs with plausible title hopes, level on points with Flamengo and six off the summit.



A huge 3-0 victory over Bahia was a badly-needed boost for Cruzeiro who have been dragged into the relegation battle having previously been comfortable in midtable – they travelled to face São Paulo at Morumbi in round 31, and after competing for most of the match, were cruelly undone after 86 minutes when Luciano headed home the only goal of the match in a 1-0 win for SPFC.


Cabuloso’s next outing was at home to Internacional, where despite a late goal by Bruno Rodrigues to halve the deficit, they were truthfully defeated in sound fashion by Inter who struck through Maurício and Wanderson to take the three points. The two defeats take Zé Ricardo’s men into the bottom four, as their worst form of the season arrives at the worst possible time.


Elsewhere, a 1-0 away win for Goías against Coritiba was a statement of defiance but they remain two points from safety, Bahia claimed another win under Rogério Ceni with a 1-0 win over a Fluminense side pre-occupied by their Libertadores final and Flamengo kept their outside chance of winning the title alive with an impressive 2-0 away win on the long trip to Fortaleza.


Player of the Week: Endrick


Having both scored three goals this week, Endrick and Paulinho are both part of Fernando Diniz’ upcoming Brazil squad – and whilst the Atlético star is the most in-form player in the country, the teenage superstar is currently demonstrating his potential more than ever. His heroic one-man mission to get Palmeiras back into their thrilling encounter with Botafogo was what you would expect of a forward more than a decade his senior, and his two goals were a glowing representation of the bull-like power and devastating left foot that Real Madrid invested more than 60 million euros in when he was just 16.


His finish against Athletico Paranaense showed more flair, a sign of the level of confidence he now has having been finally trusted by Abel Ferreira with a run of starts, and one suspects that the youngster will not look back between now and his move to Madrid next summer, with his prodigious talents needed more than ever with his club headed for an epic title race.



By: Martin Crawford / @crawford7martin

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alexandre Schneider / Getty Images