Brasileirão Week 38: Palmeiras Paraded and Bahia Soar to Safety… at Sorry Santos’ Expense

After eight months, 380 matches, 948 goals and a frankly ridiculous number of dramatic twists and turns, the 2023 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A has reached its conclusion.  Even with the Brasileirão’s exceptional standards, this season is bound to go down as one of the most memorable in the league’s modern history. We’ve seen the legendary Luís Suárez grace Grêmio with a stunning solitary season which saw them fighting for the title despite being newly promoted, Dimitri Payet become the first French player to play in Brazil with his part in Vasco’s incredible escape and teenage prodigies Endrick and Vitor Roque star for their clubs ahead of their respective El Clásico moves – but two standout storylines will be talked about long into the future. 


We witnessed a season more suitable for a Netflix film than a brief summary for Botafogo, as they stunned the continent with a truly phenomenal start to the campaign before unbelievably suffering one of the greatest mid-season collapses in football history, slumping in a scintillating six-way title race  – and just as the nation caught their breath, this week, Brazil’s most famous club saw their darkest hour.


More on that later, though – Palmeiras came into round 38 knowing that a point away to Cruzeiro would clinch the club’s first back-to-back Brasileirão titles in 29 years. Verdão have been on fine form in the season’s run-in, losing just once since matchday 27 – and with just 21 minutes played at Mineirão, their star performer in the second-half of the season was decisive again as the prodigious Endrick scored for the sixth time in his last eight, dealing a cruel blow to a Cabuloso team who had performed impressively in an end-to-end first half. 


As the teenage superstar Endrick made the headlines again, the second half saw highly-rated 16-year-old Estevão enter the field for his first senior Palmeiras appearance, with the Brazil U17 star widely being tipped as the club’s next academy sensation – but they wouldn’t secure their title with a win in the end, as Nikão’s late equaliser secured a deserved point for Cruzeiro. The day was about the Brazilian champions though, as Abel Ferreira lifted the Brasileirão trophy for the second time in a glistening spell at Allianz Parque amid rumours that this season could be his last. Whatever the future holds, the green corner of São Paulo will look back on Ferreira’s reign as some of the very best years in the club’s history – for the 12th time, the national title is theirs. 



At the other end of the table, Bahia, Vasco and Santos sat on 41, 42 and 43 points respectively going into the season’s final matchday, with the former the clear favourites to end up in the one remaining relegation spot as they faced an Atlético Mineiro still mathematically capable of winning the title. But the only predictable thing about this season has been that events will be unpredictable – and after just ten minutes on their day of destiny at Fonte Nova, Bahia’s star man seized the initiative as marvellous midfielder Cauly’s fine finish had the nation hearing the news that they had taken the lead. 


Despite the hosts’ stunning start, the presence of the Brasileirão’s top-scorer was bound to be felt at some point, and Paulinho’s 36th minute equaliser for Galo made him the only player to hit 20 goals in the league this season. The blow wasn’t enough to derail a colossal Baêa performance though, as Luciano Juba’s first goal of the season had them ahead at half time before further second-half strikes from Thaciano and Ademir ensured that Rogério Ceni had steered the Salvador club to safety with an outstanding 4-1 victory. 



This wasn’t the news that Vasco wanted filtering through as they hosted a Red Bull Bragantino side chasing a top-four finish, but when Paulinho Paula entered the field on 25 minutes to replace the injured Marlon Gomes, he quickly got around to making his mark by embarking on a brilliant solo run before scoring his side’s all-important opener with the aid of a deflection. Having played in almost every game since joining the club from Al-Shabab in July, it was the midfielder’s first goal for the club – its significance made it worth the wait. 


Just as the Ramón Díaz’ side were starting to look comfortable in the second half, they too were pegged back when a defensive scramble led to Bragantino captain Léo Ortiz equalising against the run of play to leave the hosts in danger with half an hour to play. They needed an almighty push – and aided by a late red-card for visiting defender Leonardo Realpe, they found their golden moment on 82 minutes through Serginho’s header following excellent play from right-back Paulo Henrique. Regardless of other results, a 2-1 win meant that Vasco were safe, a remarkable achievement remembering that they won just one of their first eleven matches of the campaign. 


Vasco’s win may have guaranteed their survival, but Bahia’s result would not be enough if Santos could make it a clean-sweep of victories for the endangered trio as they hosted top-half chasing Fortaleza. Defeated 4-0 when they faced the Ceará side in August, disaster struck again for Peixe when Marinho raced in behind to give the visitors the lead, finishing under no pressure at all having breached a disjointed opposing backline. The panicked hosts had serious work to do at the break, but 13 minutes after the restart, a bullet header from Messias would spark some of the wildest celebrations that will be seen anywhere this year at Vila Belmiro. 


However, once it was apparent that a point would not be enough, that mood quickly returned to being excruciatingly tense – and as Santos threw absolutely everything they could in search of an injury-time winner, a combination of a dreadful pass from Lucas Lima and an irrational decision by goalkeeper João Paulo to try joining the attack left Juan Martín Lucero with the opportunity to win the game by finding an empty net, and that he did. A stunned silence around the stadium quickly turned to a poisonous atmosphere of anger and violence, with a number of shameful incidents compounding a truly dark day as the iconic Santos Futebol Clube were relegated for the very first time. 



Two sides who have played some of the most exciting football in the Brasileirão this season are Fluminense and Grêmio, so their final-day meeting at the Maracanâ seemed like fertile ground for a goal-fest. It took a while to get going, but a handball by Rodrigo Ely led to Jhon Arias’ penalty opening the scoring after half an hour. Just ten minutes later, a bursting run in behind by Luís Suárez gave him the perfect opportunity to score on his final appearance in Brazil, and truthfully he was never going to miss it – the equaliser was his 28th goal of his year-long spell with Tricolor. 


There was time for a third goal before the break, as Everton Galdino put the visitors ahead with an excellent finish after cutting in on his left foot. Fernando Diniz made two changes ahead of the second period as the Copa Libertadores holders seeked a win to end the season, but when Guga conceded a penalty on the hour mark, it was instead all about Luís Suárez going out with a brace at the Maracanâ as El Pistolero brought out a fabulous ‘panenka’ penalty – a nice late goal by John Kennedy couldn’t prevent a 3-2 Grêmio victory, enough to leave Renato Gaúcho’s men in second place in the final league table. 



Botafogo entered the final game of their season severely bruised by their season’s significant downturn – they were facing an in-form Internacional at Beira-Rio, where Enner Valencia added a ninth league goal of his debut campaign to open the scoring. Starting just his second league match of the year, Janderson headed in his first Brasileirão goal to equalise for Fogão after the break, but they were quickly behind again after a Alan Patrick re-established the hosts’ lead following lovely footwork before Pedro Henrique made it a quick-fire double for Inter, who capped off a great end to the season (and a dismal one for the visitors) with a 3-1 win. 


In a rematch of this year’s historic Copa do Brazil final between São Paulo and Flamengo which saw the former lift the trophy for the first time in their history, there was much less at stake on this occasion at Morumbi, but it was once again a tale of SPFC boss Dorival Júnior getting the better of his former employers when captain Luciano’s ninth goal of the season put the home side in front. The second half saw Everton Ribeiro and Bruno Henrique both come off the bench for potentially their final appearances for the Rubo-Negro, but they failed to make it an impact as a 1-0 result was confirmed to give São Paulo a 13th home win of the campaign, whilst Flamengo missed out on the top three for the second season running. 



Elsewhere, relegated pair Goiás and América Mineiro’s top-flight fairwell ended in a 1-0 win for the hosts, Cuiabá sealed a highly impressive 12th-place finish with an emphatic 3-0 defeat of Athletico Paranaense and a disappointing campaign for Corinthians was concluded with a 2-0 away win at relegated Coritiba. 



Player of the Week: Cauly


Bahia saved the best for last in their heroic 4-1 triumph over Atlético Mineiro, and one man whose performances this campaign definitely haven’t warranted relegation is 28-year-old midfielder Cauly. Given a free role in attack by new manager Rógerio Ceni, the Baêa number 8 moved to Germany at the age of 11, spending his entire playing career in Europe prior to his arrival at Fonte Nova following their promotion last year. A series of stunning performances, such as his talismanic leading of his side’s attack on Wednesday, have led to links with Brazil’s strongest clubs – he easily goes down as one of the signings of the 2023 Brasileirão campaign. 



Player of the Year: Paulinho


Picking a standout player for every week has been difficult, but deciding a player of the year has been the hardest decision yet – Tiquinho Soares and Lucas Perri were neck-and-neck at the halfway point of the campaign before they and Botafogo fell off a cliff, whilst Raphael Veiga has probably enjoyed his best ever season for back-to-back champions Palmeiras – but for me, no one has been as impactful this year as Paulinho. 


The 23-year-old has been an absolute sensation for Atlético Mineiro, scoring 20 goals despite not really being an out-and-out number nine. Forming a formidable strike partnership alongside Hulk (another honourable mention), he has impressively managed the tally without any penalties, with plenty of his goals coming in significant moments during Galo’s late title-push. The fact that it took the recently capped Brazil forward until the midway point of the season to really kick into his best form is the only reason he isn’t the clear favourite, but in my opinion at least, he thoroughly deserves it regardless. 



Lastly, a massive thank you to anyone who has given any of these weekly articles a read this year – the opportunity to write them regularly for a platform as great as BTL has been massively valuable and enjoyable. The Brasileirão round-ups sadly won’t be returning next year – but I still hope to continue contributing more writing on football in Brazil and beyond. 


Until then, adeus!


By: Martin Crawford / @Crawford7martin

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Marcelo Endelli / Getty Images