Rio de Janeiro - Trailing in the polls for Brazil's polarizing presidential election, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro went on the attack against front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in their final debate Thursday, calling him a 'liar, ex-inmate and traitor.'
Seeking to deliver a knockout punch and win the election in the first round, Lula, the charismatic but tarnished leftist who led Brazil from 2003-10, responded in kind to his far-right rival.
'It's ugly for the president of the republic to blatantly lie all the time,' the ex-metalworker said in his trademark gravelly voice.
He told Bolsonaro to 'look in the mirror' if he wanted to see corruption, notably citing graft allegations against his senator son Flavio and his ex-education minister, accused of demanding kickbacks for influential evangelical churches.
The heated exchange came at the beginning of the final presidential debate before Brazil holds elections Sunday, with the latest polls reaffirming Lula's status as the heavy favorite.
Earlier Thursday, a poll by Datafolha showed Lula maintaining a 14-point lead over Bolsonaro with the stated support of 50% of respondents who said they intended to cast a valid ballot and not a blank or spoiled one.
To avoid a runoff round Oct. 30 and win outright Sunday, a candidate must garner 50% of valid votes, plus one.
Bolsonaro's stated support remained in a distant second place with 36%, Datafolha found.
The 67-year-old incumbent is counting on his evangelical and business-centric support base.
Lula -- who served two consecutive terms from 2003, leaving office with an unprecedented approval rating of 87% -- is appealing to poor, minority and anti-Bolsonaro voters.
The 76-year-old is seeking a remarkable political comeback only four years after being jailed for 18 months on controversial corruption convictions stemming from a massive scandal centered on state-run oil giant Petrobras.
Freed pending appeal in 2019, Lula regained his eligibility to run for office when the Supreme Court annulled his convictions last year, finding the lead judge in the case was biased.
'Can change the picture'
The late-night debate on TV Globo, the most-watched broadcaster in Brazil, is the last chance for candidates to sway undecided voters - 14% of the electorate, according to Datafolha's poll.
Bolsonaro's camp had said he would come out swinging, attacking Lula on the corruption scandals that have damaged the leftist and his Workers' Party, and pressing home his conservative values on issues of religion and abortion.
The pair were joined on stage by five other candidates polling in the single digits.
'This is the debate that can change the picture,' a Bolsonaro campaign member told AFP on condition of anonymity.
After the first debate, a month ago, Lula was criticized for seemingly evading the corruption question. He opted not to take part in another debate, last Saturday.
Lula has urged Brazilians loyal to any of the minority candidates to rather cast a 'tactical' vote for him, and against Bolsonaro.
The incumbent president got a celebrity boost Thursday for his reelection bid from football superstar Neymar, who posted a video on TikTok of himself dancing to a pro-Bolsonaro campaign song.
Grinning, the Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil striker, arguably Brazil's most famous celebrity, flashed the number 22 -- Bolsonaro's candidate number -- with his fingers as he rocked out to the electronic dance jingle.
The broadcast election campaign in Brazil ended at midnight Thursday, although in-person events and distribution of election material will be allowed until Saturday night.
Datafolha will bring out another, final poll on Saturday, the eve of the first round.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly rejected the accuracy of polls and hinted he would challenge any result in which Lula is the winner, saying last weekend: 'We are the majority. We will win in the first round.'