Santos, the team that consecrated Pelé and in whose ranks he played practically his entire career, suffered a sporting tragedy on Wednesday when it was relegated for the first time in its 111-year history. With a 2-1 defeat against Fortaleza, the hapless players put an end to that enviable resume and unleashed the wrath of their most radical supporters. Huge disappointment for the team's fans on the eve of the first anniversary of O Rei's death. Two other Brazilian clubs, Flamengo and São Paulo, still hold the honour of never having been relegated to the Second Division.
On Wednesday night, when Lucero scored the second goal for Fortaleza, the stands at the Vila Belmiro stadium began to roar. Immediately the first explosions were heard, and some Santos fans tried to invade the field. When the referee put the finishing touches on the team with his whistle, the Fortaleza players ran to the dressing room, while the Santos players spilled out onto the pitch in amazement. Some were crying out of sadness, rage or helplessness, but soon the tears were already flowing from the tear gas that the Military Police launched around the stadium to contain the enraged mass.
A pitched battle ensued that left six buses and four cars on fire. One of them (it seems that it was a coincidence) was from striker Steven Mendoza, who was on the bench in the fateful match. Only the chassis remained. Fans threw rocks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at the police, who mobilized helicopters and uniformed men on horseback. A total of 11 officers were injured, but no one was arrested.
The other side of the coin is Palmeiras, who won the Brasileirão title with a 1-1 draw against Cruzeiro. The goal for the champion team was scored by Endrick, the 17-year-old who has been shining brighter and brighter as the season has progressed. The people of Palma have little time left to enjoy it; when he reaches the age of majority, he will pack his bags to play for Real Madrid.
Santos woke up on Thursday with the surroundings of the stadium turned upside down, a huge graffiti in the training center ("Shameless Team") and an entire avenue without electricity, because some cables burned with the fires.
After the relegation, the foundation that now manages O Rei's legacy, published a motivational message on social networks. "Santos continues to be an unconditional love, an obsession, an indescribable passion. The club will come back stronger and more united, despite the difficulties they will overcome the challenges and win again. We will be Santistas forever," he said, alongside a photo of the player wearing the team's number 10 jersey going down to the tunnel of the dressing room.
The city of Santos, on the coast of the Brazilian state of São Paulo, has the largest port in South America, beautiful beaches and a glittering past linked to the coffee industry, but the city's greatest pride, its hallmark, is the team to which Pelé dedicated his life.
Less than a year ago, this stadium, Vila Belmiro, was the scene of another sad, but solemn event. The funeral chapel of Pelé, the player who took the name of Santos around the world. He passed away on December 29, and before he died, the player made sure that he was going to be buried in a vertical cemetery that overlooks the football field where he achieved glory.
Messages of encouragement such as the one from the Pelé Foundation do not seem to have calmed the spirits. On Thursday, a group of fans invaded the stadium, where the club's offices are also located, to confront the president, Andrés Rueda, who was not there.
To top off the day of strong emotions, on Thursday afternoon the Justice removed the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), Ednaldo Rodrigues, the highest entity of Brazilian soccer, for a muddle related to internal electoral rules. In his place, he appointed an auditor, José Perdiz
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