SAO PAULO (AP) — A tiny Brazilian soccer team from the Sao Paulo state countryside that was nearly bankrupt several years ago has reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana, the second most prestigious tournament in South America.
Red Bull Bragantino beat Paraguay’s Libertad 3-1 on Wednesday, adding to its 2-0 home victory in the first leg. Its rival in the Nov. 20 decider at the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo will be known on Thursday when Brazil’s Athletico hosts Uruguay’s Peñarol.
The historic night for Red Bull Bragantino saw two goals scored by Argentinian Tomás Cuello; the first in the ninth minute and the second in the 57th. Arthur, one of the top goal scorers of the team, netted the third in the 82nd minute.
Lorenzo Melgarejo’s goal for Libertad was not enough to stop celebrations in Bragança Paulista, a city of 170,000 residents that is more famous for its home-made sausages — sold everywhere in Brazil — than for soccer.
Red Bull Bragantino goalkeeper Cleiton stopped a penalty taken by Diego Viera in the first half.
Cleiton and striker Arthur, the team’s hero in the semifinal, often say they joined the club because of its business-like mindset.
“We frequently say this is an international project, with an European mindset,” Arthur told media last week. “Things don’t change here because of two bad performances. We are all going the same way, with the same perspective.”
Bragantino is a 93-year-old club with some tradition. It was the runner-up in the 1991 Brazilian championship, one year after it won the then prestigious Sao Paulo state league.
It once counted on top players like midfielder Mauro Silva, who was a starter for Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning team. That Seleção’s coach was Carlos Alberto Parreira. But those were the last years of glory for the countryside club until 2019, when energy drink maker Red Bull arrived as a sponsor.
The company took over in 2020, and the club rose to Brazil’s top-tier division. Bragantino was renamed and had its traditional black and white colors changed to red and white.
Red Bull’s soccer strategy for its other teams, including Germany’s Leipzig, seems to be settling in at Bragantino. The Brazilian club focuses on bringing younger players who know how to keep ball possession.
One of the team’s main players is 19-year-old playmaker Bruno Praxedes, whose transfer from Internacional cost 6 million euros ($6.96 million). That is the same amount it paid for 21-year-old Arthur, who came from Palmeiras. Few Brazilian clubs can afford signing players for that amount.
This year Bragantino had its first big outgoing transfer. Brazil national team midfielder Claudinho, chosen by many as the best player of last year’s Brazilian championship, moved to Zenit St. Petersburg for about 15 million euros ($17.4 million).
Red Bull Bragantino is in fifth position in the Brazilian championship with 33 points after 21 matches.
Red Bull arrived in Brazilian soccer through another team, RB Brasil, which was based in the city of Campinas and in 2019 played in the Sao Paulo state league. The partnership looked promising, but then Bragantino appeared with a more interesting feature; a place in the Brazilian second division.
Nearly all players of RB Brasil and its coaching staff moved to Bragantino once the energy drink company chose to focus its efforts in the team that would become Red Bull Bragantino on Jan. 1, 2020.
The infrastructure for players also changed. Instead of training in the old Bragantino training ground, they moved to a modern training facility rented by the company outside Sao Paulo. Similar plans could make the club’s modest Nabi Abi Chedid Stadium, which has already had its pitch and lighting improved this year, into an arena.
Club chief executive Thiago Scuro compares Red Bull Bragantino’s ambitions to those of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Chelsea.
“Within three years Bragantino will be fighting on the top of the table. That is for many reasons, because of all the things we are doing now,” Scuro told GloboEsporte in early 2020.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.