Soccer

Club world champ Corinthians struggling in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (AP)

A year ago, Corinthians was celebrating its first Copa Libertadores title and preparing to face Chelsea in the Club World Cup. Today, the popular Brazilian club is being jeered by fans and trying to avoid relegation in the Brazilian league.

Corinthians beat Chelsea to become club world champion last year. Now it's just trying to avert a disaster.

''The red alert is on,'' striker Romarinho said after the team's latest loss. ''We know we have to be careful.''

The team has won only one of its last 13 matches, scoring just three goals in those games despite an attack that includes Brazil striker Alexandre Pato and Peru forward Paolo Guerrero.

''We need to start playing like we were playing before,'' Corinthians president Mario Gobbi told Radio Capital/ESPN. ''We won eight titles in six years. It's normal to go through a letdown like this, but we have to find a way to get back on track.''

The series of disappointing results has left Corinthians only five points out of the relegation zone with nine rounds left, and the calls for the firing of coach Tite are increasing after every setback.

Club officials met with Tite for several hours on Thursday and decided to keep the coach for now, at least until the end of his contract in December. Some of the team's top players also participated in the meeting and made it clear they want Tite to stay despite the pressure from fans.

The calls for Tite's departure increased after the team's 1-0 loss to Gremio in Porto Alegre on Wednesday, a result that dropped the club to 13th in the 20-team standings with 37 points from 29 matches. When the team arrived in Sao Paulo, a few fans were at the airport to jeers players and Tite, who was escorted by security guards.

''We are in a difficult situation,'' midfielder Ralf said. ''We've had opportunities to improve on the table but we haven't been able to take advantage of them.''

Corinthians had the best year in its history in 2013, winning the Copa Libertadores unbeaten and then defeating Chelsea 1-0 in the Club World Cup final in Japan in December.

The second-most popular club in Brazil, behind Flamengo, Corinthians won the traditional Sao Paulo state championship in the beginning of this year, but since then things have gone downhill.

It was able to stay near the top of table early in the Brazilian league, but quickly dropped out of contention thanks to a series of draws and losses.

It has lost six of its last 13 matches, drawing six of them. Corinthians won only seven of the 30 points in play in the second half of the tournament, and some of the setbacks came against teams in relegation zone. It could've been even worse if goalkeeper Cassio didn't make a last-minute penalty save in the match against rival Sao Paulo last weekend.

To make things even more difficult, the team lost home-field advantage for four matches because of violence involving its supporters earlier this year. Corinthians' match against Criciuma on Saturday will be the second-to-last that it has to play away from Sao Paulo because of the punishment by Brazil's sports tribunal.

The attack has been mostly to blame for the struggles, with Alexandre Pato, Guerrero and the rest of the strikers unable to find the net in four straight matches. Alexandre Pato was added from AC Milan after the Club World Cup as the team's top signing of the year, but he has not been a regular starter.

The beginning of the team's struggles coincided with the departure of Brazil defensive midfielder Paulinho, who transferred to Tottenham in the middle of the year.

Corinthians is 12 points from the Copa Libertadores zone in the Brazilian league, but it has a chance to get back to the Latin American competition by winning the Brazilian Cup. It has reached the quarterfinals of the competition, drawing Gremio 0-0 at home in their first-leg matchup.

A victory in the return let next week may mean the team will keep a chance to salvage the year.

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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