Breno Lopes, From Humble Beginnings, Overcoming Challenges to Eternal Glory.
Childhood and Early Football Career of Breno Lopes
Born on January 24, 1996, Breno Lopes hails from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, and spent his childhood in the São Bernardo neighborhood, a traditional and humble residential area in the state capital.
Breno started his football journey at a young age. At the age of 11, he was already part of the youth teams of the renowned Cruzeiro, with his father, Wellington Lopes, being his biggest supporter. Both of them were passionate supporters of Atlético Mineiro, the main rival of Cruzeiro. However, this did not deter young Breno from receiving full support from his family in his early days at Cruzeiro.
The young boy, however, didn’t make it to the professional ranks at Cruzeiro. At the age of 16, he was released from the club’s youth academy. From there, things became tough for Breno, but he didn’t give up. He began playing in the amateur football scene in Minas Gerais, and his strong performances caught the attention of Cerâmica from Rio Grande do Sul, where he was brought into the club’s youth teams.
From Cerâmica, Breno moved on to Joinville in Santa Catarina in 2015, where he had more opportunities in the youth setup and made his professional debut. However, his journey at the club in Santa Catarina was not without challenges. Nonetheless, it became possible, largely thanks to the support and trust of coach Fabinho Santos, who approved him in the youth ranks and later promoted him to the first team.
After two years of playing as a professional at Joinville, Breno Lopes transferred to Juventude in Rio Grande do Sul. In 2019, he played in the Série C of the Brazilian Championship for the club and part of the Série B for Figueirense, where he was loaned.
In early 2020, he was loaned to Athletico Paranaense, but he soon returned to Juventude, where he had an excellent performance in the Série B, with 9 goals in 19 matches. At that time, he was the second-highest goal scorer in the highly competitive Série B of the Brazilian Championship.
Arrival at Palmeiras
Palmeiras was in a phase of restructuring, and Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira had just arrived at the Palestra Itália, already putting his mark on the São Paulo-based club. However, the team desperately needed a fast winger, especially after the serious injury suffered by the young Wesley.
The club’s management and coaching staff acted swiftly and saw Breno Lopes as the best option to meet Palmeiras’ needs for the rest of the season. On November 10, 2020, the transfer of Breno Lopes from Juventude to Palmeiras was sealed for 7.5 million Brazilian reais for 50% of the player’s rights.
Despite being the second-highest scorer in Serie B, part of the press and Palmeiras’ fan base questioned the arrival of the talented young player at Palestra Itália, which made Breno’s start at the club challenging.
Nevertheless, he dedicated himself in training and gradually gained the trust of Abel Ferreira, mainly due to his determination and effort on the field, as well as his ability to execute the tactical instructions given by the Portuguese coach.
As a result, he began to play regularly, although it was clear that the young player was nervous and sometimes made simple mistakes like passes and open-goal finishes. Breno went 15 games without finding the back of the net since his arrival.
Even without scoring in 15 games, Abel saw great potential in Breno Lopes. Proof of this was that Breno played in 11 consecutive matches in the 2020 Brasileirão, a record for Palmeiras that year. Then, on January 26, 2021, one week before the Libertadores final against Santos at the Maracanã, Breno finally broke his goal drought with a beautiful strike against Vasco at the Allianz Parque. The Mineiro received the ball at the edge of the box and fired a powerful shot, finding the back of the net.
Libertadores Final and Eternal Glory
The match against Vasco ended in a 1-1 draw. Palmeiras was no longer concerned with the Brasileirão, but the game was of utmost importance, especially for Breno Lopes, who had scored his first goal in the alviverde jersey.
On January 30, 2021, the day of the grand final of the 2020 Libertadores, it was also a Clássico da Saudade, Palmeiras vs. Santos.
The Verdão had reached the final after an excellent group stage, finishing in first place with 16 points and no losses. In the round of 16, they eliminated Delfín with an aggregate score of 8-1, and in the quarter-finals, they left Libertad behind with an aggregate score of 4-1.
In the semi-finals, they faced a tough challenge: the current vice-champion and one of the most feared teams in South America, River Plate. After an impressive first-leg win in Argentina at the Monumental de Núñez with a score of 3-0, Palmeiras took a commanding lead. However, the second leg was tense, with River dominating Palmeiras for the full 90 minutes at the Allianz Parque. Still, River only won 2-0, sending Palmeiras to the final on the path to Eternal Glory.
Santos also had an impressive journey to the final of the 2020 Libertadores. Like Palmeiras, they earned 16 points in the group stage without suffering any defeats. In the round of 16, they had a tough match against LDU Quito, advancing with an aggregate score of 2-2 thanks to the away goals rule. In the quarter-finals, it seemed they might have a difficult time, but they comfortably defeated Grêmio with an aggregate score of 5-2.
In the semi-final, Peixão (Santos) held the powerful and traditional Boca Juniors at La Bombonera and played a historic match at Vila Belmiro, defeating the Xeneizes 3-0 to secure their well-deserved spot in the final of the 2020 Libertadores.
A Classic Match, Outstanding Players, and Exuberant Campaigns: the Perfect Formula for a Libertadores Super Final. But we all know that football isn’t mathematics; it’s not exact, and it’s perfect because of its imperfections.
It was a tense and hard-fought game, with both midfields disrupting plays at any cost. It wasn’t the final we expected, especially given the football displayed by both teams.
As the game neared its conclusion, at the 85th minute, Abel Ferreira brought on Breno Lopes, causing astonishment among fans and the press. After all, Palmeiras had more renowned players to bring on, such as the 12th man Willian Bigode, Gustavo Scarpa, and Lucas Lima. But the Portuguese coach had a plan.
Following the introduction of the quiet Breno Lopes, Verdão gained more width, and the game became increasingly tense. An example of this was Santos coach Cuca getting sent off for preventing Marcos Rocha from taking a throw-in at the 96th minute.
Three minutes after that incident, the unexpected took over in the Marvelous City. Danilo won the ball in midfield and delivered a beautiful pass to the tireless Rony on the right-wing. The forward controlled the ball, glanced at the area, and crossed it with pinpoint accuracy to the far post, where Breno, rising above Santos’ full-back Pará, headed it precisely, lobbing the motionless goalkeeper Jhon. The ball found the net perfectly.
Breno Lopes, the shy boy from a humble childhood, with his header, made the Palmeiras family scattered around the world raise their voices—the cry of euphoria after the goal followed by “Champion.”
He, who just days before the final had been questioned by many, achieved Eternal Glory and etched his name in Palmeiras’ history and in the most fiercely contested club competition in the world, the Copa Libertadores. Pleasure, Breno Lopes, from a shy and doubted boy to an unlikely hero.
Written by João Felipe Miller.