Paulinho emerges from Vinicius Junior shadow to strike Brazilian record
The odds were on Vinicius Junior winning the race to become the first player born in 2000 to score a goal in the Brazilian Championship. The much-hyped Flamengo forward, on his way to Real Madrid for around €45 million when he turns 18 next year, looked the most likely. He made his first-team debut in the opening round, more than two months ago, and seemed to have the field to himself.
But he has been beaten to the punch. The first player to achieve the feat was Paulinho of Flamengo's Rio de Janeiro rivals, Vasco da Gama. And to prove it was no fluke, he did it twice. Paulinho, who turned 17 less than two weeks ago, scored both goals in Vasco's 2-1 win away to Atletico Mineiro on Sunday.
The pair will be international teammates in India in October for the Under-17 World Cup and were together in Chile earlier this year for the South American Championships, when Brazil breezed through the field in highly impressive style: winning seven and drawing two -- both against the ever-resilient Paraguay -- of their nine games.
Finishing as the tournament's top scorer with seven goals, Vinicius attracted most of the headlines, but he also had a fine supporting cast, of whom Paulinho was a leading member.
However, as they returned to opposite sides of their Rio rivalry, their paths diverged. Vinicius found himself in the global spotlight as Real Madrid stumped up an extraordinary sum to land his signature -- a decision that may have as much to do with football politics as it does with the youngster's undoubted talent.
"Real Madrid can take a risk. They have enough money to do it. And they have taken very badly their failure to land Neymar or Gabriel Jesus," Brazilian journalist Carlos Alberto Vieira told ESPN FC. "Flamengo have been able to row well in the perfect wave that appeared -- Real Madrid's fear of losing to the competition another young Brazilian with superstar potential."
The question, of course, is this: Might all the premature hype have a negative effect on that potential? Vinicius was blooded in the early stages of the Brazilian Championship and clearly possesses skill and strength of personality, since he has not been afraid to run through his repertoire of tricks, even when most of the time it results in a loss of possession.
He came close to a goal when he rattled the bar against Botafogo, but for a few games was not even named on the bench and only returned there at the weekend to make a second-half impact against Coritiba.
And he still does not have his goal, while Paulinho now has two. As Vinicius has been attracting the world's attention, Paulinho has been flying under the radar -- and there is much to be said for avoiding the hype at this stage in a career.
The spotlight will be on now, though, after the match-winning performance away to Atletico Mineiro. Paulinho's two goals were a frighteningly precocious demonstration of some of the arts of the attacking midfielder.
The first was the result of ghosting behind the defensive line; the second an immaculately curled shot from the edge of the area to round off a counter attack. And so now, the paths of Vinicius Junior and Paulinho will come back together, and not just because they will be teaming up for Brazil in the World Under-17 Cup.
The secret is now out: Flamengo may have something special on their hands -- at least until Vinicius makes the move to Madrid -- but so do Vasco da Gama. As long as they can hold on to Paulinho.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.