Top-of-the-table Fluminense went into last Sunday’s game in the knowledge that a win would put them within touching distance of a fourth Brasileirão title with only three matches remaining; however the combination of a win and second-placed Atlético-MG simultaneously dropping points to Vasco, would be enough to confirm them as champions.
Fluminense’s opponents on the day, Palmeiras, had plenty to contend with themselves.
One of Brazilian football’s best supported clubs, a catastrophic championship had left the São Paulo giants dicing with relegation to Brazil’s second division, Série B.
And so it continued on Sunday. With Fred-inspired Fluminense enjoying a two goal lead, Argentine striker Barcos – one of the few positives to be found in Palmeiras’ Brasileirão campaign – pulled a goal back before, three minutes later, Patrick Viera (no, not that one) found himself unchallenged to equalise. It would be a valuable point for Palmeiras or so it seemed. With Vasco favourably pegging Atlético-MG back level in their match, Fluminense were now only goal away from securing the title. And fittingly, with two minutes remaining, it was Fred who had the final say as the Flu captain was allowed space in the Palmeiras area to side-foot the Tricolor back in front, sealing the championship in the process.
Whilst Abel Braga’s Fluminense rejoiced having gotten their hands on a second Brasileirão title in three years, Palmeiras had a foot firmly lodged in the relegation zone, with Série B increasingly looming.
With boardroom mismanagement and political infighting becoming the norm at Palmeiras, the weary climate of destability and uncertainty, which has long gripped the club, has evidently taken its toll on the squad.
Even the capture in July of their first national title in 14 years – the Brazilian Cup – the Copa do Brasil – seems a faded and distant memory. And after the exit of their experienced head-strong coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in late September, Palmeiras plunged further into crisis as results worsened under his replacement Gilson Kleina.
With time running out, this forthcoming weekend could be conclusive of Palmeiras’ fate. A defeat in Rio to Flamengo on Sunday would confirm their demotion, whilst a draw would leave Palmeiras reliant on fellow relegation candidates Bahia and Portuguesa losing.
With up to ten players already reported unavailable for their match against Flamengo, optimism amongst Palmeiras’ patience-worn supporters is understandably diluted.
Fluminense and Palmeiras are two clubs on an equal footing in terms of their stature and history within Brazilian football but their Campeonato Brasileiro campaigns in 2012 will be remembered for very different reasons.