Cruzeiro crushes Gremio
League leader Cruzeiro defeated Gremio 3-0 at a packed Mineirao Stadium on Sunday, but was denied a chance to seal the Brazilian title because second-place Atletico Paranaense also won.
Cruzeiro would have clinched its third league title by beating Gremio coupled with Atletico Paranaense either having a draw or loss to Sao Paulo at home. But Atletico kept the title race alive with a 3-0 victory.
Cruzeiro remains in command, however, taking a 13-point lead into the last five rounds. It needs one more victory to celebrate its first league title since 2003, regardless of other results. Its next match is at Vitoria on Wednesday.
If it had won the championship, Cruzeiro would have beaten the mark set by Sao Paulo, which lifted the trophy with four rounds to play in 2007. Last year, Fluminense won its second title in three years with three rounds to play.
However, Fluminense dropped into the relegation zone on Sunday after conceding a last-minute goal in a 1-0 loss to Corinthians. Fluminense was overtaken in the standings by Rio de Janeiro rival Vasco da Gama, which drew 2-2 with Santos, boosted by more than 50,000 fans at the Maracana Stadium.
"We are close, we are very close," Cruzeiro midfielder Nilton said. "Unfortunately we were not able to clinch the title today, but we did our part and we showed our strength when playing here in front of our crowd."
Although the title hasn't yet been won, the nearly 60,000 fans that packed the Mineirao celebrated throughout the match and stayed after the final whistle to salute the team, loudly chanting "Champion, Champion, Champion."
The team went around the field thanking the supporters, and some players even carried fake trophies thrown from the stands.
Fans were hopeful the title would come this weekend because the team won't play at home again for the next three rounds because of a suspension over fan violence. Cruzeiro's next home match is Dec. 1 against Bahia.
With the victory over Gremio, Cruzeiro can become the first team since 1971 to win the title by beating every team at least once. It has won 22 of its 33 matches, including 11 of 12 in a recent streak.
Cruzeiro has been cruising since it took the lead just before the halfway point of the tournament, outscoring opponents 69-29 and not facing any real challenge from its closest contenders.
The title will cap one of the most dominating performances in the league since it went to its current format in 2003, with every team playing each other twice. It won the trophy that year with a team coached by Vanderlei Luxemburgo and led by former Brazil and Fenerbahce playmaker Alex.
Cruzeiro's first title was in 1966, and the third this year will give Cruzeiro fans something to boast against fans of Atletico Mineiro, the Belo Horizonte rival which celebrated winning the Copa Libertadores title just a few months ago.
Striker Borges opened the scoring with a goal in the 34th minute. He mishit a half-bicycle kick inside the area but got just enough of the ball to send it into the far corner. Substitute striker Willian added to the lead with a left-footed shot from inside the area in the 73rd and midfielder Ricardo Goulart finished the scoring from a corner in the 86th.
Atletico Paranaense spoiled Cruzeiro's party with its victory over Sao Paulo, which played without some of its regular starters as the team has reached the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana. Atletico Paranaense's goals came from Marcelo in the 13th, Luiz Alberto in the 28th and Ederson in the 53rd.
Atletico's next match is Wednesday at Criciuma, which is in the relegation zone just ahead of Fluminense.
A controversial penalty that Corinthians striker Alexandre Pato converted in the 90th minute was the latest setback to hit Fluminense, which won the league in 2010 and 2012.
The team has lost four of its last five matches and hasn't won in nine rounds. A draw would have kept the team coached by Luxemburgo ahead of Criciuma and Vasco da Gama, which earned a draw with Santos after conceding two early goals.
Vasco da Gama lost World Cup veteran midfielder Juninho because of a muscle injury just minutes into the match at the packed Maracana.
Vasco has 37 points, one more than Criciuma and Fluminense. Ponte Preta, which lost 3-0 to Vitoria at home, has 34 points. Criciuma won 1-0 at already relegated Nautico. The bottom four clubs are relegated.