Brasileirão Week 35: Bahia’s Brilliant Victory, Galo Leapfrog Grêmio and Double-Drama in Fortaleza

Brazil’s top flight is back after the final international break of the year – and that can only mean a return of the most dramatic, unpredictable title race you will find anywhere this season. As six clubs prepared to fight for the potentially title-winning twelve remaining points on offer, focus in the national media has been on a disastrous international break for the Seleção, who lost two consecutive qualifying matches for the first time ever over the break – but in a few weeks, one group of Brazilian fans will be celebrating a league championship. 


Might that group be the Botafogo supporters, who haven’t seen the trophy bright back to their corner of Rio since 1994? If they do, it will have been achieved with five different managers – the fifth of whom, Tiago Nunes, took charge of his first match as they travelled to Castelão to face a badly out-of-form Fortaleza on Wednesday. After just seven minutes, the task at hand was made even more difficult for Fogão as Yago Pikachu popped up with his sixth goal of the season, as the hosts searched for their first win in nine. 


If you can expect one thing when watching Botafogo at the moment, it is that there will be twists in the tale, and a calamitous own-goal from Emanuel Brítez proved that as the scores were levelled just twelve minutes later. The hosts hit back before the break though, re-taking the lead through a Guilherme Augusto header, and the lead would last until the later stages – but despite their remarkable seven-match wait for a win going on, Nunes would see another response from his side as Danilo Barbosa rescued a 2-2 draw with a bullet header with thirteen minutes to play. 



After gaining a point on some of their title rivals in their game in hand, Fogão’s next outing was against a Santos side still battling to avoid relegation, despite entering the encounter with far better form than their opponents. Danilo Barbosa entered the week with just one league goal all season, but he had that tally tripled after opening the scoring after just ten minutes, once again rising highest from a set piece. 


As the score-line remained at 1-0 deep into the second period, there was an increasingly tense atmosphere at Engenhão as the hosts desperately fought to end their long wait for a victory – but in a sensational continuation of their recent flurry of late collapses, it once again was not to be, as Yeferson Soteldo’s inviting delivery was headed home by Messias to deal yet another almighty blow to the side who were once clear title favourites. 



Rumours of an imminent departure for boss Abel Ferreira deflected from Palmeiras’ bid to claim a second-consecutive title win – his side were Fortaleza’s weekend opponents with a win guaranteeing them top spot. Fresh off the back of frustrating title-chasing Botafogo, o Leão quickly got to work on another contender as Thiago Galhardo opened the scoring, with the lead still intact on the hour mark when the visitors were reduced to ten men after Gustavo Gómez’s dismissal. 


The champions had a significant task on their hands for the final 30 minutes, but there is never any doubt about their star quality, exemplified by Raphael Veiga’s delightful equaliser which re-energised the visitors just minutes after the red card. In a chaotic few minutes, the tide turned again when 23-year-old midfielder Calebe’s first goal of the season put Juan Pablo Vojvoda’s men back in front. Their wait for a victory would be extended to ten matches in the end though, as they once again threw away their 2-1 lead when Zé Rafael acted fastest in the box to fire home an equaliser, with a point still being enough for Palmeiras to top the table at the end of the round. 



That is despite the presence of Flamengo and Red Bull Bragantino, both of whom have made an admirable late title push – only one could take the invaluable three points from their high-stakes midweek meeting at the Maracanã, though. It was an unsurprisingly cagey affair at the national stadium, with both goalkeepers making saves in a goalless first half, before a guilt-edged opportunity for on-form Bragantino forward Eduardo Sasha went horribly wide on 72 minutes. Just minutes later, the visitors’ agony was compounded when Giorgian De Arrascaeta’s glistening form under new boss Tite continued with the Uruguayan’s third goal in three, sealing a huge three points for the Rubo-Negro. 



Already-relegated América Mineiro were next up for Flamengo as they looked to go second with a victory, and in truth, they made light work of their trip to Belo Horizonte with a dominant performance – opening with a header by Everton Cebolinha before decorating the performance with second-half strikes courtesy of Pedro and a typically flashy finish by Everton Ribeiro. Bragantino, on the other hand, were not able to respond with a victory – losing out in their away meeting with Internacional to a single goal from the spot by Enner Valencia, with a shock title triumph now looking improbable but not impossible for Pedro Caixinha’s men. 



The weekend’s headline fixture saw direct title rivals face off at Arena MRV, where Grêmio had the task of facing the strongest team in the league on form in Atlético Mineiro. The hotly anticipated face-off exploded into action after 24 minutes, when Galo captain Guilherme Arana scored for the second match running from left-back via an absolute beauty of a volley which flew past Gabriel Grando in the blink of an eye. 



Although they had slightly less of the ball in the first 45, Galo looked the more dangerous side going forward, causing Renato Gaúcho to roll the dice with a half-time change of shape coupled with two substitutes – but when Matías Zaracho slid home a second for Atlético just five minutes after the interval, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side looked at their unstoppable best. A rare right-footed strike from Hulk put the result beyond doubt ten minutes later, with the 2021 Brasileirão champions believing as they now sit three points from the summit. 


Despite having both been on a moderate run of form, Corinthians and Bahia still found themselves entering their match in São Paulo needing a point, with the competitive relegation battle regularly being swayed by surprise results. Six points adrift of their opponents heading into the encounter, Rógerio Ceni’s men got off to the perfect start with Rezende’s headed opener, before an outstanding second from Cauly had them in dreamland with just 15 minutes played. 



Gil’s concession of a penalty allowed Thaciano to make it three after half an hour, in a disastrous first half for Timão – and after Renato Augusto’s strike reduced the deficit in the second, the late show would instead be for the visitors who struck through Ademir and a second Thaciano penalty to secure a truly stunning 5-1 victory.


Another pivotal face-off at the summit came between Goiás and Cruzeiro in the Monday night fixture at Estádio da Serrinha, with a win seemingly essential for the hosts if they were to maintain realistic chances of survival, as they hosted a direct rival. 


A dreadful run of form had led to Esmeraldino sacking Armando Evangelista who had appeared very secure in his role earlier in the campaign – and as they hoped for a new manager bounce for interim boss Mario Henrique, they were instead second-best in a goalless first half, relying on an excellent goalkeeping performance from captain Tadeu. As the match entered the dying embers, the goal would finally come right at the death, with 18-year-old substitute Robert firing home a memorable first senior goal of huge significance to Cabuloso.



Elsewhere, Fluminense secured their first victories since their famous Copa Libertadores triumph by beating São Paulo and Coritiba 1-0 and 2-1 respectively, Vasco sit just one point above the relegation zone after their goalless draw at Athletico Paranaense and São Paulo’s meeting with Cuiabá at Morumbi also ended goalless. 


Player of the Weekend: Guilherme Arana


A stunning upturn in form saw Guilherme Arana recalled to the Brazilian national team (for whom he already had 5 caps) in October, but after being omitted for the Seleção’s unsuccessful recent outings against Colombia and Argentina, he well and truly showed Fernando Diniz what he was missing out on in Atlético Mineiro’s huge win against Grêmio.


Opening the scoring with a vicious volley, the 26-year-old went on to dominate both Everton Galdino and Fábio on his side of the pitch, whilst regularly playing an instrumental role in Galo’s frequent breakaways. Arana – regularly labelled the best left-back in Brazil – went on to say that he “believes” that Atlético can win the title, and if they do, he is one of several players whose exceptional performances have been pivotal to their late-season turnaround.



Next up for Galo is Flamengo in one of several mouth-watering fixtures over a remaining schedule of fixtures guaranteed to provide incredible drama. Just one matchday will remain after next week’s Brasileirão round-up – don’t miss it!


By: Martin Crawford / @crawford7martin

Featured Image:@GabFoligno / Marcelo Endelli / Getty Images