Are Botafogo the Kingmakers of Brazil?

With 12 wins in a row, Atletico Mineiro have equalled the record for the highest number of consecutive home victories after their 3-0 demolition of Figueirense. Although eight points behind leaders Palmeiras with just six games to go, Atletico Mineiro will surely still be hoping to charge up the inside and pip them to the league.

The Brasileiro is really heating up as we come into the final straight. In a seemingly one horse race, Palmeiras top the league on 67 points, six above nearest rivals Flamengo and eight above the attractive Atletico Mineiro. Looks, though, could though be deceptive.

Botafogo, only promoted to the top flight this year and losing their acclaimed manager to the great Sao Paulo in the process, have pulled off a master stroke in hiring Jairzinho’s son, Jair Ventura. Ventura has harnessed the swagger of the great Botafogo and Brazil teams of yesteryear and dragged Botafogo up from relegation fighters to possible continental qualifiers. It is Botafogo who could hold the key to the championship.

Having won five games on the trot and nine of their last 12, they are a team in form. A mixture of hunger, skill and great management has turned their season around, and neither Palmeiras nor Flamengo will be looking forward to facing them.

Although you would think a six point gap largely insurmountable, Palmeiras do not have an easy run in. Add to Botafogo away games to Santos and Atletico Mineiro and there are plenty of banana skins on which to slip.

Atletico Mineiro’s next game against Flamengo will be crucial. Win that and they’re still in with a chance of pulling off one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus; lose and it’s hard to see anything other than a two horse race between Flamengo and Palmeiras.

Flamengo are themselves a shock. Brazil’s most supported and probably most famous club have found themselves in the dulldrums in recent years, more often than not bobbing around in mid-table, unable to live up to their expectations. There was truly nothing to show that 2016 would be any different. They started the season well but unspectacularly, playing anti-tiki-taka football whilst bombing down the wings. It’s the settling in of 2015 signing Paulo Guerrero that really made the difference though; the big Peruvian centre forward is a handful, and they’re a totally different team when he’s on the pitch. He’s quickly made himself indispensable and, if kept fit, he could really make the difference.

Palmeiras are clearly in the driving seat and have their destiny in their hands, but with points likely to be pinched off its shaping up to be a surprisingly close finale.