SAO PAULO — One of the most exciting seasons of the Brazilian league ended Wednesday with the most stable team of the year defending its title and the club that was home to the late Pelé relegated for the first time.
Palmeiras drew 1-1 at Cruzeiro to be crowned Brazilian champion for the 12th time. The 18-year-old Endrick scored his 11th goal of the season to give Palmeiras an early lead and Nikao equalized in the 80th minute at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Santos’ relegation following a 2-1 home loss to Fortaleza was another setback for the club at the stadium where Pelé’s funeral took place in January.
This year's title went to Palmeiras after striker Endrick, set to join Real Madrid, scored several key goals and rival Botafogo squandered a 13-point lead in the standings.
“People said I won this, but I wouldn't be able to do this by myself,” Endrick told journalists after his second Brazilian league title with Palmeiras. “At the beginning of the year I cared too much about what people said, I was angry. Later I noticed I shouldn't do that. I aged a little.”
Endrick is expected to join Real Madrid for the next season.
Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira won his 9th title for the Sao Paulo-based club. His contract is due in the end of next year, but Brazilian media has reported he is likely to accept an offer by Qatar’s Al-Sadd.
Atlético Mineiro and Flamengo, which had slim chances of winning the trophy in the last round, lost their matches. Those defeats allowed Luis Suárez' Gremio to finish runner-up after a 3-2 win at Fluminense, with the Uruguayan striker, who will soon decide where to play next year, scoring two goals.
Palmeiras finished with 70 points, two more than Gremio. Botafogo, which led for 31 of 38 rounds, finished in fifth with 64 points. The Rio club lost 3-1 at Internacional, ending the season on an 11-game winless streak.
Santos finished with 43 points, one behind Bahia, which beat Atletico Mineiro 4-1, and two less than Vasco da Gama, the winners of another tense clash against Bragantino.
Mario Sergio opened the scoring for the visitors in the 39th minute. Messias equalized in the 58th minute to give Santos hope it could put Vasco da Gama, which is part of the 777 fund, or Bahia, a club in the Manchester City Group, in a relegation position.
But Juan Martin Lucero gave Fortaleza a win with a shot from near halfway.
The match was ended as soon as Santos fans tried to invade the pitch, forcing players to run to the locker rooms. Police and supporters later clashed outside and several cars and buses were set on fire in the beachfront city outside Sao Paulo.
Neymar, who rose from Santos' academy, posted pictures of himself watching the match as he recovers from a knee injury.
“We will smile once again,” a striker for Brazil and Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal, wrote after his boyhood club's relegation.
Only three years ago Palmeiras beat Santos in the Copa Libertadores final.
Atlético Mineiro's Paulinho finished the league as the top scorer with 20 goals. Suárez and Botafogo's Tiquinho Soares were with 17 goals each.