By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the popular Rio 2016 Paralympics nearing its conclusion, Brazilian sports fans turned their attention momentarily Wednesday (September 14th) night to the showdown in the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brasileirão) Série A between the leagues top two teams, as number one Palmeiras faced off against number two, Flamengo FC.
The crucial round 25 matchup, forecasted as the “match of the year” by sports commentators, ended with both sides breathing a sigh of relief in a 1-1 draw that left Palmeiras holding on to its razor-thin one point lead in the standings.
In front of the boisterous fans at Allianz Parque in São Paulo, the first forty minutes of the match saw both teams miss several scoring chances with neither club able to seize control.
The game’s critical moment came minutes before the end of the scoreless first half when Flamengo’s Márcio Araujo was ejected with a red card for a foul on Gabriel Jesús, leaving Flamengo a man down for the remainder of the game.
Despite playing the best team in the league with the player disadvantage, the Rubro Negra would draw first blood at the 62nd minute. Alan Patrick, literally seconds after subbing into the game, snuck behind the napping Palmeiras defense to receive a perfect pass from Éverton and score the game’s first goal.
Flamengo would hold the lead until the game’s closing minutes, when Palmeiras’ leading scorer, Gabriel Jesús, known simply as Gabriel, would rise to the occasion. At the 83rd minute, the nineteen-year-old scored the equalizer on a beautiful shot from just outside Flamengo’s goal area to save his team and seal the 1-1 draw.
Gabriel’s eleventh goal of the 2016 Brasileirão was made all the more impressive considering the Manchester City-bound phenom had been questionable for Wednesday’s game due to a left groin injury coupled with his recent brutal schedule, which included splitting time with the Brazilian national team (Seleção) in several different time zones.
With 48 points, Palmeiras will look to hold on to the top of the table on Saturday, September 17th, as the club faces off against the Corinthians. The Rubro Negra, with 47 points, will again try to ascend to the top spot on Sunday, September 18th, as the club meets Figueirense at Pacaembu.