SAO PAULO: Santos have been relegated for the first time in the Brazilian Championship after losing their last game at home by 2-1 against Fortaleza, a defeat which sparked fan riots and the burning of vehicles around the stadium.

In their first year without the support of Pelé, who died on December 29, 2022, Santos lost the status being among a select group who had never been relegated, a privilege now only held by Flamengo, São Paulo and Cuiabá, which stepped up only in 2021.

On a dramatic final matchday, in which Santos, Bahía and Vasco da Gama alternated in the relegation slot during the 90 minutes of their games, the team from the port of São Paulo ended up with the worst outcome.

Vasco da Gama, led by Argentinian coach Ramón Ángel Díaz, beat the surprising Bragantino, led by Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha, 2-1 in Rio de Janeiro, Bragantino had been in title contention at one stage but faded in the closing stages and finished sixth.

Bahía beat title-chasing Atlético Mineiro 4-1 in Salvador to prolong their stay in the first division.

Marinho, a former Santos player, opened the scoring for Fortaleza with Messias equalising for the hosts. In stoppage time, after goalkeeper João Ricardo had joined the attack in desperation, Argentinian Juan Martín Lucero scored Fortaleza’s winning goal almost from halfway.

Santos will compete next year in the second division alongside Goiás, Cortiba and América, who give up their places to the promoted Vitória, Juventude, Criciúma and Atlético Goianiense.

Riots erupted around the Vila Belmiro stadium. Angry fans vandalised commercial premises and set fire to at least two buses and several cars.

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