News Live Scores
Atlético Mineiro

Diego Costa and Hulk roll back the years to fire Atletico Mineiro to first Brazilian title in five decades

12:00 GMT+3 09/12/2021
Diego Costa Hulk Atletico Mineiro
The two veterans have the chance to lift Atletico Mineiro's third title of 2021 in the upcoming Copa do Brasil final

When a club is looking for a player to spearhead its title challenge, it could do a lot worse than turn its attentions in the direction of Diego Costa.

The Brazil-born ex-Spain forward ended a run of 18 years without La Liga success for Atletico Madrid in 2013-14 and, upon moving to Chelsea the very next season, immediately delivered the club's fourth Premier League title after a wait of five years.

Number five followed soon after, as did another Liga medal for the veteran in Atletico colours in 2020-21. But his most recent achievement is the most impressive yet.

Just four months after moving back to his native Brazil, Costa is a Serie A champion with Atletico Mineiro, who are finally celebrating a second national title no less than five decades after their last triumph.

Costa actually missed the main celebrations on Thursday with injury as the Belo Horizonte side clinched the trophy in thrilling fashion, falling 2-0 behind against Bahia before roaring back to take a 3-2 win that put them beyond closest rivals Flamengo with two rounds of the Brasileirao still to play.

The forward, it must be said, played a limited, if still extremely useful, role for Mineiro, appearing in 14 league games and chipping in with a respectable haul of four goals after not playing for almost the entirety of 2021.

Mineiro's real hero was another veteran with vast experience of the European game: ex-Porto, Zenit and Brazil bruiser Hulk, who lived up to his name with a season that was little short of heroic.

Hulk's 19 goals were the key to title success for the club, as well as enough to crown him the Brasileirao's top scorer by a comfortable margin.

Not bad at all for a man who was in fact experiencing his first full season of Brazilian football, having left boyhood club Vitoria for Japan at the age of 19 and with just two Serie A games under his belt.

It was far from a one-man job, of course. Chile's Copa America expert Eduardo Vargas also enjoyed a fine campaign, while it could also be argued that Mineiro's Argentine midfield axis of Ignacio Fernandez and Matias Zaracho, who contributed five and seven goals respectively, and their formidable defence – the meanest in the entire league – were equally important.

But it must be said that in a team of stars, it was Hulk's that shined the brightest.

Only the Copa Libertadores, which saw Mineiro eliminated in a tense semi-final tie against eventual winners Palmeiras, proved somewhat of a disappointment in an otherwise perfect year for Hulk, who also marked his own impressive personal milestone in lifting the Brasileirao.

While Costa has won league titles in three countries, his 35-year-old strike partner has gone one better, with wins in Portugal, Russia, China and now Brazil to his name.

This one, judging by his reaction, is one of the sweetest yet for the workhorse, whose physical presence often unjustly masks his exquisite technique on the ball and ability to play in team-mates as well as score himself.

“I am so happy. 2021 was very gratifying for me, coming back to Brazil after more than 16 years,” Hulk beamed during Mineiro's Serie A celebrations.

“Finishing the year like this, winning the Brasileirao, we also have the Copa do Brasil still to try and win the Triple Crown (including the Mineirao state championship), it has been wonderful. We only ask that God bless us and all goes to plan.”

As their star suggests, there is still plenty to play for before 2021 comes to an end.

Next up for Mineiro are Gremio, in dire relegation straits and requiring victory in Thursday's season finale in Porto Alegre as well as defeats for rivals Juventude and Bahia to avoid a drop to Serie B.
The rest of Brazil's elite have more than a vested interest in sending a rival down into the wilderness.

Gremio managed to survive by the skin of their teeth in their last outing against Corinthians, against a backdrop of sky blue coffins and funeral wreaths prepared by the home team in a welcome bathed in ultimately frustrated schadenfreude.

Mineiro may not prepare quite such a spectacle at Arena Gremio, but nothing would please them more than securing relegation for the Tricolor as a perfect warm-up for the upcoming two legs of their Copa do Brasil final against Athletico Paranaense prior to the Christmas holidays.

It has been a gruelling slog for all involved. Hulk has racked up 66 appearances over the course of 2021, while even Costa has had to gird his aching joints for 25 matches in the space of just three months, an average of almost one game every days.

That these two veterans can not only take the strain but continue to roll back the years on the field is a testament both to their physical strength and the will to win that has made them such fearsome competitors over the years.

If all goes well, the deadly duo will be back for more again in 2022 – and few would dare to bet against further glory for Mineiro both at home and in the Libertadores.