Four-horse race goes down to the wire

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After eight months of breathtaking competition, the Brazilian champion will finally be crowned this Sunday.

And, for the first time in the decade, four teams arrive in the last round fighting for the title: Flamengo, Internacional, Palmeiras and São Paulo.

Flamengo top the table – peaking just at the right time after 37 rounds – with 64 points.

Internacional, Palmeiras and São Paulo are just behind with 62, with Inter holding the advantage on number of wins.

Since Internacional play against almost-relegated Santo André at home, Palmeiras and São Paulo need to pray for a miracle.

Actually, most of their fans have already thrown in the towel.

In fact, they’re more than upset with the inability of their teams to hold on to the lead – first it was Palmeiras who blew a five-point advantage, then São Paulo lost it to Flamengo last Sunday.

So apparently it’s a two-horse race between Flamengo and Internacional – a situation no one imagined two or three weeks ago when both squads were aiming for a Copa Libertadores spot at best.

And for the last matchday of the tournament, destiny reserved a surprise.

Flamengo’s last match is a home clash against Grêmio – Internacional's cross-town arch-enemy.

Immediately after their game last Sunday, Grêmio fans started campaigning for the team to hand over the victory to Flamengo to prevent Inter from winning their first championship since 1979.

“Field Gremio U12s against Flamengo!” and “Hand it over” signs were seen all over Porto Alegre.

Some Grêmio players – like Souza – openly admitted that they wouldn’t like to see their squad helping out rivals.

Coach Marcelo Rospide hinted early in the week that he would put out a reserve squad in Sunday’s game, which enraged Internacional's players and board.

Grêmio fans remember that, last year, when their team was fighting against São Paulo for the title, Inter played their reserves against São Paulo – with the excuse that they were resting their starters for the Copa Sudamericana.

“Internacional can never trust in Grêmio, the same way Grêmio can never trust Internacional,” exclaimed Grêmio president Duda Kroeff last Sunday.

Later, on Tuesday, he changed his mind. “Internacional can trust Grêmio to win the game – not to help Internacional, but to honour Grêmio colors.”

Hmm… too late. Reasonable doubt was already there.

No one knows which team Grêmio will field against Adriano’s Flamengo on Sunday; be it the starters or the reserves.

However, they’ll have a tough mission. More than 90,000 fans will jam pack Maracanã hoping to celebrate the Rubro-Negro's sixth national crown – their first since 1992.

Additionaly, Grêmio’s away record this season is ridiculous: only one win in 18 matches.

So, if they are defeated, it’s going to be hard to measure whether the players actually handed it over, or if it was simply an 'honest' loss.

Anyway, The Noise from Brazil will tune in on Sunday to check it out – and report back, of course, here next week.

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