By Louis Smith.
This weekend sees the first legs of the Copa do Nordeste final take place in Salvador. The trophy is the most prestigious prize for Brazil’s Northeastern clubs.
The final sees Ceará take on Bahia in a repeat of the 2015 edition when Fortaleza-based Ceará emerged victorious, winning both matches to give them a 3-1 aggregate victory.
At the Castelão on the evening Ceará lifted the trophy was one of their supporters, Alexandre Blee, who remembers the atmosphere prior to kick-off.
“I had already bought the tickets 15 days before the match,” he recalls. “I arrived at the Castelão stadium at 5 pm and it was already crowded outside.
“The game only started at 9.30 pm, but there was no better place to be on that day than the Castelão to watch the final.”
Ceará had a one-goal advantage going into the game thanks to a Ricardinho goal in the first leg, but Blee was a little nervous going into the game. At the final whistle, those nerves turned into joy.
“At the beginning, I was a little apprehensive because Bahia came in danger of scoring twice at the beginning of the game,” said Blee.
“But moments into the game, Ricardinho sends the ball in the area and defender Charles makes a beautiful header. The Castelão was crazy. Already in the second half, Ceará came back with everything and soon scored the second goal from defender Gilvan. From that moment on, it was just a party atmosphere.
“For us to win the Copa do Nordeste meant a lot, because in 2014 we lost the final to Sport Recife.”
The win meant Ceará claimed their first-ever Copa do Nordeste — a competition which has been taking place on and off since 1994. The closest they have come to winning the tournament again was in 2018 when they reached the semi-final stage.
This season Ceará are not only in the final, but they’re also there without losing a game, which is especially difficult given the tournament kicks off with an eight-game group stage. If they manage to avoid defeat in the next two games they will win the cup with an undefeated record.
“For Ceará to win in 2020 this would be our greatest achievement, especially to do so undefeated,” added Blee.
Ceará secured their path to another final after finishing second in the group stage. They achieved a narrow victory over Vitória in the quarterfinals and saw of bitter local rivals Fortaleza in the semis.
On the Bahia side of the fence, fan and journalist Marcus Alves spoke to WFi about his experience of 2015 Nordeste from a Bahiaço point of view. Bahia went into the 2015 final having won the competition twice previously, which might have caused the Tricolor to become overconfident.
“At the time, Bahia were going through a rebuilding process after years of disastrous administrations that almost led to the end of the club,” says Alves.
“Just a few months before that final, the team had been relegated to the Brazilian second tier but, in a way, that already felt like a distant memory back then.
“Sergio Soares, the newly appointed coach, had somehow managed to shake things up and bring the confidence back in the dressing room.
“Bahia were playing very well — offensive-minded — so there was this whole excitement in the stands, to the extent that some fans joked that Bahia’s KGB trio (Kieza, [Léo] Gamalho, and [Maxi] Biancucchi — Lionel Messi’s cousin — was better than Barcelona’s MSN and Real Madrid’s BBC.
“But then came those games and brought everyone back to reality. More than 100,000 fans combined watched those two games in Salvador and Fortaleza.
“The Copa do Nordeste was drawing more and more attention across the country, being dubbed the ‘Lampions League’.
“In the first game, Bahia had been tipped to make home advantage count having gone unbeaten in the previous 16 matches. Though no one was expecting the team’s young goalkeeper, Jean, probably the best around at this age, to concede a howler in the second half.
“Maybe Bahia had underestimated Ceará — they had some great players, among them, Uillian Correia, who has been dubbed ‘the Kroos of the Northeast’.
“Ricardinho, who dictated their rhythm, and Magno Alves, one of Brazil’s most prolific strikers of all-time. They didn’t give Bahia a chance to fight back in Fortaleza. I can’t say that loss still hurts because Ceara winning the title was hugely deserved, there’s no way someone can even argue that.
“Besides that, since then, Bahia has developed into one of the most well-run sides in the country. The future couldn’t be brighter.”
Two years later Bahia put the ghost of 2017 to rest by defeating Sport Recife in a close 2-1 aggregate victory.
“Unlike 2015, when I attended those games as a journalist, two years later I was there as a fan,” Alves recalls.
“I travelled from São Paulo to Salvador in the morning, watched the game at night, and flew back to São Paulo the following morning. I still don’t know how I managed to do that — I don’t even remember sleeping that day.
“In the end, it was worth all that effort. We had a great side, with Jean still in goal; a strong centre-back, Tiago Pagnussat, in front of him; Rene Junior ruling the midfield; and then, in attack, Regis, Ze Rafael, Allione and Edigar Junior, who were in great form.”
A year later Bahia suffered a shock defeat to Sampaio Corrêa, and they haven’t featured in a final since that day.
It will be also the first time Ceará have featured in a Copa Do Nordeste final since victory in 2015. Bahia will be keen to get one over Ceará following the disappointment of that day.
“Bahia have outgrown the Copa do Nordeste,” states Alves. “Obviously the competition is still important, but I can’t say its reputation remains the same. It’s not as prestigious as it used to be.
“Ahead of the finals, there’s now the coronavirus factor, we don’t know much of what to expect, but I would consider Bahia largely favourites, even though the team have been playing in consecutive days since football returned in Brazil. I recommend keeping an eye on Juninho Capixaba, Gregore and Elber in those two games.
“There’s more to lose than to gain, I think. Everyone expect Bahia to win the title, so any outcome that is different from that will certainly bring a lot of pressure to the team ahead of the Brazilian league, which starts next week.
“Lifting the Copa do Nordeste would also be important to give the fans a reason to smile during these tough times.”
The two legs of the final are expected to be an exciting occasion and as it is being streamed live on the tournament’s YouTube channel, will be available to a global audience.
Can Ceará lift their first Copa do Nordeste since 2015? Or will Bahia equal Vitória’s record and become champions for the fourth time?
Update: August 4, 2018
On Saturday night, Fernandão gave Bahia an early lead in the tie which turned out to be the only positive for the club as Ceará instantly fought back with a quick equaliser through Fernando Sobral.
Ceará managed to take advantage in the second half with goals from Cleber and Mateus giving them a 3-1 win putting them in the driving seat for silverware.
Bahia have it all to do in Tuesday second leg if they are going to lift the Copa do Nordeste and equal Vitória’s record of four.
Ceará will be confident they can hold on to their two-goal advantage and be crowned champions of Northeast Brazil for only a second time.
Ceará vs Bahia Copa do Nordeste final Live Stream