Iconic Brazilian club Santos, cradle of late football legend Pele, were relegated to the second division Wednesday for the first time in their history, just shy of the first anniversary of his death.
Santos suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Fortaleza in their final league match of the season, sealing their fate as the last of the four teams condemned to the “B Series” league next year.
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The home of Pele and Neymar finished their lackluster season in 17th place, on 43 points — one shy of Bahia, who dodged relegation with a 4-1 win over Atletico Mineiro, and 27 short of Sao Paulo giants Palmeiras, who claimed their second straight league title.
Luis Suarez-led Gremio finished in a surprisingly strong second place on 68 points, thanks to a brace from the Uruguayan striker in their 3-2 win against Fluminense.
Santos’s relegation comes less then a year after three-time World Cup-winner Pele’s death on December 29, 2022, at age 82.
The embarrassment follows years of economic and athletic troubles at Santos, and leaves Flamengo and Sao Paulo as the only clubs in Brazil never to have been relegated.
America Mineiro, Coritiba and Goias had already been assured of relegation from the 20-team division.
City Football Group-owned Bahia secured its top-flight status with a resounding 4-1 win over Atletico Mineiro, while Vasco da Gama stayed out of the drop zone with a 2-1 win over Bragantino.
Santos had looked set to stave off relegation when it stood level at 1-1 with Fortaleza in the second half and with Vasco being held 1-1 by Bragantino.
However, Serginho’s goal for Vasco in the 82nd minute and a stoppage-time goal from Fortaleza’s Lucero condemned the three-times Copa Libertadores champion to relegation in front of its frustrated home fans.
At the other end of the table, Endrick, who is set to join Real Madrid in July, scored in the 21st minute to help Palmeiras to a 1-1 draw at Cruzeiro that secured back-to back championships and a record-extending 12th title.
Late Brazilian great Pele helped Santos become one of the most famous clubs in world football, the side enjoying a golden era in the 1950s and 1960s that saw it win 10 state and six Brazilian league titles.