The 2023 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A is just days from conclusion. Across a typically dramatic penultimate week, fates were sealed at both ends of the table, but the champions are yet to be officially crowned and one relegation spot remains undecided ahead of the final round this midweek. Even by the Brasileirão’s exceptional standards, it has been one of the most extraordinary campaigns in recent memory – and as the storylines continue to pour in, let’s savour what remains of this unforgettable season.
Though six sides remained in contention to lift the title going into this decisive week, only one had their fate fully in their own hands – defending champions Palmeiras. Already-relegated América Mineiro came to Allianz Parque in the first of two back-to-back home fixtures for a Verdão side who had dropped two precious points at Fortaleza in round 35, but the key player in their late title push was on hand to quickly settle the nerves as the amazing Endrick reached double figures for the league season with a typically deadly left-foot strike. An own goal from Éder Ferreira led to a 2-0 scoreline at the break.
Suspended from the touchline due to an accumulation of too many yellow cards, Abel Ferreira was watching from the stands as Vítor Castanheira led the Palmeiras dugout, and the reigning champions’ dominant performance showed no cause for concern. They left it late to add to their tally in the second half though, as exciting Argentine Flaco López came off the bench made it three after being teed up by Joaquín Piquerez before making it a brace by reacting quickest to a loose ball from a corner – a 4-0 victory was a job well done for the title favourites.
ENDRICK 👑 pic.twitter.com/Wuw1caxYgm
— TwitPalmeiras (@twitpalmeiras) November 30, 2023
It was to be a decisive matchday at the Maracanâ, as former Brazil bosses Tite and Luiz Felipe Scolari locked horns in a fixture of seismic importance for Palmeiras-chasing pair Flamengo and Atlético Mineiro. In front of an extremely invested crowd at the national stadium, the hosts were stunned by an early goal courtesy of an unsurprising source as sensational Brasileirão top-scorer Paulinho made no mistake after a dinked pass from strike partner Hulk, piercing the atmosphere like a knife. Despite responding with a few chances, Mengão were visibly affected by the uptight crowd in a must-win environment and went in behind at the break.
If Tite’s side’s start to the first half was disappointing, then their start to the second was disastrous – just two minutes after the break, a promising free kick for Flamengo led to a rapid Galo breakaway as Edenílson breached the the hosts’ fragile backline, before showing the required composure by sitting Agustín Rossi down with Atlético’s second goal of the night which sent the travelling support into delirium.
It was an awful goal to concede for the Rubo-Negro whose mountainous task became impossible when substitute Rubens secured a sensational 3-0 win for the visitors late on, drawing them level on points with their opponents, and crucially within three of leaders Palmeiras ahead of the final two rounds.
Sim, o contra-ataque perfeito existe!… pic.twitter.com/9asMNlmovQ
— Galo Análises (@galoanalises) November 29, 2023
Matches of seismic importance were in solid supply – Botafogo’s truly horrendous collapse has been the story of the season, and having been thirteen points clear at the top at the halfway point, they entered their meeting with relegated Coritiba searching for a first win in nine. Equally sensationally, a win would keep them within a point of new leaders Palmeiras – but in a dismal first half display, their misery was compounded by a red card to key man Eduardo, only for the match to go ten-versus-ten before the break when Jameson saw red for an equally reckless challenge at the end of a crazy first period which had everything but a goal.
Fogão improved after the interval, beginning to outplay their opponents and creating numerous chances, but the match was still goalless when the 90th minute arrived. Still giving absolutely everything, the visitors won a late penalty in dramatic fashion with just ten seconds of stoppage time remaining – and having missed a vital spot-kick against Palmeiras last month, Tiquinho Soares made no mistake with what seemed his shot at redemption.
In a truly unbelievable twist though, it was to be yet another ridiculous tail of ‘Bottlefogo’- as in the 99th minute, Edu popped up with an equaliser for Coritiba, inflicting even more suffering on a fanbase who have been tortured like no other in world football over recent months.
1 minuto e meio, sem cortes, do resumo do fracasso que é o Botafogo no Brasileirão 2023.
Será lembrado eternamente por isso. Algo surreal, nunca visto antes.
8 jogos sem vencer depois de liderar o campeonato por meses. Entregando o título. pic.twitter.com/G3Iy9dddXt
— ⚽ (@DoentesPFutebol) November 30, 2023
As both sides left the Maracanâ still in with a shout of winning the title along with Palmeiras and Botafogo, another side looking to keep hold of their outside chance was Grêmio, whose opponents Goiás just so happened to need a win to avoid being relegated. In a match of importance at both ends of the table, the visitors took a shock (but deserved) lead through Morelli in a first-half showing of defiance.
Esmeraldino’s precious lead would last just minutes into the second half though, thanks to an excellent Ferreirinha equaliser, before the turnaround – and Goiás’ fate – was sealed by Cristaldo’s stunning finish on the hour-mark, the decisive goal in a 2-1 home win which made the visitors the third side confirmed to be relegated to Série B this year.
Belo gol do Ferreirinha, alvo do São Paulo para 2024, hein! Tem qualidade!
🎥 Premiere pic.twitter.com/ia5IQuu8PK
— Gestão Tricolor (@GestaoTricolor) November 30, 2023
Red Bull Bragantino also had to win to maintain their slim hopes of winning the title, as Fortaleza were their visitors – like Grêmio, Braga would also fall behind early on as Yago Pikachu continued his great form with a fine finish. After just 22 minutes though, it already looked like the end of the road for Pedro Caixinha’s team as 23-year-old Calebe netted for the second match running after a flash of brilliance, and despite Eduardo Sasha halving the deficit in first-half stoppage time, their title hopes would be extinguished in just their third home defeat of a highly commendable campaign.
Round 37 saw Atlético Mineiro tasked with keeping the pressure on Palmeiras, with Scolari’s men’s fixture against São Paulo providing an opportunity to draw level on points with the league-leaders before they faced Fluminense the following day. In a hugely anticipated occasion at Mineirão, Scolari’s side were searching for a 14th win in 18 league matches, coming closest through Hulk in a goalless first half – but the goal would not arrive until well into the second, when the veteran forward cut into his fearsome left foot to curl home a brilliant finish and spark huge celebrations in home crowd which maintained belief that the title could be theirs.
However, disaster had seemingly struck when fellow veteran Mariano conceded a penalty just after the 90-minute mark, and Luciano made no mistake in dispatching the late spot-kick to equalise and leave Galo out of the title race as it stood – but in a season of countless late twists and turns, there was time for yet another when the unstoppable Paulinho was played through minutes later to confidently win the match for Atlético with his 19th league goal of the season, a goal with potential to be more important than them all as his team kept the chase on Palmeiras well and truly alive with a dramatic 2-1 victory.
Outra vez. Nos contra-ataques e na competência da dupla Paulinho/Hulk, outra grande vitória do Atletico sobre o São Paulo pic.twitter.com/1JwwMtOMF2
— Chico Maia (@chicomaiablog) December 3, 2023
Despite the ecstatic scenes in Belo Horizonte, the ball remained firmly in Palmeiras’ court, as the champions of Brazil faced the champions of South America in an opportunity for Verdão to put themselves in prime position to seal a second consecutive title. Fluminense supporters had joked before the match that they would be supporting their opponents, for whom a victory would make a title win for Flamengo or Botafogo – both city rivals of Flu – all-but impossible, so perhaps everybody was happy when Breno Lopes gave the hosts a deserved lead after thirty minutes.
A red card for 20-year-old Fluminense debutant Lucas Justin was the worst possible start to the second half for Fernando Diniz’ men, and from this point on, the home side were on easy street – breaking with regularity as Tricolor unsuccessfully tried to keep building from the back in their typical style with a player disadvantage. The 1-0 result in the end leaves Palmeiras almost uncatchable, with an almighty goal-swing required to prevent the trophy from remaining at Allianz Parque – and as rumours continue to suggest that Abel Ferreira’s exit to Qatar is imminent, it could be the perfect goodbye for one of the most successful managers in the São Paulo-based club’s history.
& 𝐶𝑎𝑏𝑒𝑐̧𝑎 𝑓𝑟𝑖𝑎.
& 𝐶𝑜𝑟𝑎𝑐̧𝑎̃𝑜 𝑞𝑢𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑒.
& 𝑁𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟 𝑔𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑢𝑝! 😉
FALTAM 90 MINUTOS DECISIVOS E NÓS VAMOS BUSCAR JUNTOS, FAMÍLIA PALMEIRAS! 🐷💚
— SE Palmeiras (@Palmeiras) December 3, 2023
Goals from Luiz Araújo and Pedro meant that Flamengo did their bit to keep their fractional title hopes mathematically alive with a 2-1 win at Cuiabá, but a far inferior goal difference means that their chance is essentially zero – Botafogo’s nightmare winless run went on however as they could only manage a 0-0 draw at Cruzeiro, confirming that a first league win since 1997 which at one point seemed inevitable is now officially off. Luís Suarez waved goodbye to Arena do Grêmio with the only goal in Tricolor’s 1-0 win over Vasco, with the legendary striker departing following a stunning solitary season in Brazil, but a dream title win is now beyond El Pistolero after Palmeiras’ victory.
The Arena do Grêmio pays homage to Luis Suárez.
A beautiful chapter in Lucho’s career comes to an end.pic.twitter.com/Qc3ASLeiVC
— Warriors of Uruguay (@UruguayanHeroes) December 4, 2023
At the other end of the table, Bahia’s round 36 fixture at home to São Paulo was seemingly the perfect opportunity to climb out of the relegation zone, with a stunning 5-1 win at Corinthians still fresh in the memory and SPFC unbelievably without an away league victory in over a year – but a tight first half ended goalless.
Dominating possession, the visitors continued to keep Baêa at bay after the interval as chances continued to come and go at both ends, before a special moment in the dying embers. Caio Paulista’s first goal of the season was the goal which sealed an away win his side had waited far too long for, leaving the hosts stunned, and crucially still in the drop zone.
GOOOOOOLLLLLL CAIO PAULISTA pic.twitter.com/DP6mmJLCEl
— Somos São Paulinos (@somosaopaulinos) November 30, 2023
Vasco da Gama were the side closest to Bahia in the relegation scrap, twice taking the lead in an eventful first half as they looked to open a gap with a result against Corinthians. Entering the second half tied at 2-2, a stunning hit from PSG-linked wonderkid Gabriel Moscardo – the 18-year-old’s first senior goal – gave the visitors the lead for the first time in the thriller, before a fourth from fellow youngster Giovane confirmed that Almirante would remain just a point above the drop. Fellow strugglers Santos also failed to steer clear with a 3-0 home loss to Fluminense, but a late goal from former West Brom star Matheus Pereira gave Cruzeiro a valuable point against Athletico Paranaense as they took a significant step towards safety.
Round 37 saw Bahia go from hosting the team with the worst away record in the league to travelling to the worst home side in the division in relegated América Mineiro – but this time, they could open the scoring as their top-scorer Everaldo converted a first-half penalty. Things quickly looked much more bleak though, as a quick-fire double from Ricardo Silva and teenager Renato Marques turned the game on its head before the break.
Soon-to-be 20 striker Marques wasn’t done there, quickly making it a first senior brace early in the second period, and despite América right-back Matheus Henrique being sent off, the visitors could only half the deficit in a damning 3-2 defeat which leaves them in need of a result against high-flying Atlético Mineiro if they are to avoid the drop on the final day.
Vasco da Gama’s aforementioned defeat to Grêmio leaves them still threatened by the drop going into the final round, whilst Santos slumped to another poor 3-0 defeat in their fixture against Athletico Paranaense, for whom Willian Gomes scored a wonderful late volley and seemingly Barça-bound wonderkid Vitor Roque said his goodbyes to the Ligga Arena. Cruzeiro confirmed their safety in their goalless draw with Botafogo.
Foi assim que Vitor Roque se despediu da Ligga Arena!
— Athletico Paranaense (@AthleticoPR) December 3, 2023
Elsewhere, Internacional can secure a top-half finish with a final-day victory against Botafogo following 2-0 and 2-1 victories at Cuiabá and Corinthians respectively, Fortaleza also made it back-to-back wins in with a 1-0 defeat of Goiás and Red Bull Bragantino returned to winning ways as Léo Ortiz grabbed the match’s only goal against Coritiba.
Player of the Week: Paulinho
It may be highly unlikely that Atlético Mineiro’s two victories this week will be enough to win them the title, but that takes nothing away from the incredible performance levels of their phenomenal number ten. 23-year-old Paulinho’s special partnership with Hulk in the Galo attack has been a joy to watch in the second half of this Brasileirão season, and this week, the league’s top scorer added two absolutely vital goals to his tally in a couple of priceless victories for the Belo Horizonte club. With his form recently recognised with a cap for the Seleção, Atlético could be braced for some serious January for the man they brought back from an unsuccessful spell at Bayer Leverkusen on a free transfer.
Temos um torcedor em campo.
Obrigado por acreditar como nós, Paulinho. pic.twitter.com/mxl2Kype5Z
— Versos do Galo (@VersosdoGalo) December 3, 2023
The season’s final Brasileirão round-up will cover every matter concluded on the final day, as Palmeiras prepare to confirm their title against Cruzeiro and Bahia, Santos and Vasco fight to avoid a heartbreaking final-day drop. What a season it has been, and we get to do it all one more time!
By: Martin Crawford / @Crawford7Martin
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Ricardo Moreira / Getty Images