By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the 2016 season of the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (Brasileirão) enters the home stretch, the top four teams in the league battled it out this weekend in a pair of pivotal games for table positioning. After going unbeaten for an impressive fifteen games, league leader Palmeiras lost 1×0 to fourth-place Santos, while second-place Flamengo dueled to a 2×2 draw with third-place team, Atlético Mineiro.
In the first game, on Saturday, October 29th, Flamengo midfielder, Diego, opened the game’s scoring at the 32nd minute. The Rubro-Negra would carry the 1×0 lead well into the second period, but a penalty on Réver led to Diego’s one-time Brazilian national team teammate, Robinho, calmly scoring the equalizing penalty shot for Atlético at the 81-minute mark.
When Atlético striker Lucas Pratto netted a goal in the 88th minute after a perfect pass from Robinho, Atletico appeared poised for the upset victory. But, in stoppage time, Flamengo striker, Paolo Guerrero launched a close-range shot that bounded off the right post and into the net to tie the game at 2×2, saving Flamengo from a disastrous loss.
In the nightcap, Palmeiras entered its game against Santos having not lost in the Brasileirão since way back in round seventeen, when the team suffered a 3×1 loss to Botafogo on July 31st.
Scoring chances were few and far between in a tight defensive battle that was scoreless going into the second half. A rare misstep from Palmeiras’ defense finally saw Santos breakthrough at the 21st minute.
The scoring play began when Santos’ Lucas Lima launched a right cross that was deflected by Palmeiras keeper Vinicius, who came out of the net to make the block. The deflected ball ricocheted off Santos’ Victor Hugo and into the waiting foot of Copete who easily knocked the ball into the vacant net.
Despite a furious onrush in the game’s final minutes as Palmeiras attempted to tie the game, Santos was able to hold them off to secure the 1×0 victory, ending Palmeiras’ fifteen game unbeaten streak.
When the dust settled on Saturday’s battle of the top four, Palmeiras was still sitting at the head of the table with 67 points, while Flamengo retained second position with 62 points. With their win, Santos was able to leapfrog Atlético Mineiro to take over the third spot with 61 points, dropping Atlético to fourth with 60 points.