Fluminense needed a late goal by Argentine playmaker Dario Conca to salvage a disappointing 1-1 draw with unheralded Goias at home on Sunday, losing the Brazilian league lead to Ronaldo’s Corinthians with three rounds to go.
Corinthians moved to the top of the standings by defeating third-place Cruzeiro 1-0 on Saturday after a controversial late penalty kick was converted by Ronaldo. The four-time champion has 63 points, one more than Fluminense and three more than Cruzeiro.
Fluminense, seeking its first title since 1984, would have kept sole possession of first place with a victory against Goias, which is second-to-last in the standings and is almost certain to be relegated to the second division.
Goias opened the scoring with a header by striker Rafael Moura in the 20th minute, then defended for the rest of the match, trying to withstand Fluminense’s pressure in front of nearly 40,000 fans at the packed Engenhao stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Fluminense was unable to capitalize on its chances until midfielder Rodriguinho was brought down by defender Ernando inside the area in the 84th, prompting the penalty kick converted by Conca with a low shot that went in just underneath goalkeeper Harlei.
Fluminense wasn’t able to win despite the return of former Chelsea playmaker Deco and ex-Lyon striker Fred, who had been nursing injuries.
Corinthians won at home in a match marked by heavy protesting by Cruzeiro players and coaches unhappy with the 87th-minute penalty kick given against their team.
The controversial call came from a ball crossed into Corinthians’ area at a Pacaembu stadium packed with nearly 40,000 fans. Ronaldo was trying to chest the ball near the penalty spot when Cruzeiro defender Gil came from behind and touched the striker, who immediately dropped to the ground.
Referee Sandro Ricci immediately pointed to the penalty spot, and dismayed Cruzeiro players quickly swarmed to complain, saying the hit was not hard enough to deserve a foul. Gil was sent off in the incident after receiving his second yellow card.
Cruzeiro also complained of other refereeing errors throughout the match, and team president Zeze Perrela said Corinthians benefited because it is celebrating its centenary and is yet win anything this year.
"I’m sure that people watching this at home are ashamed of what they just saw," Cruzeiro coach Cuca said in a news conference, punching the table and with his voice cracking. "We have the entire team crying in the changing room but nothing is going to happen to this referee, maybe he will get a one-match suspension, that’s it."
Ronaldo vehemently defended Ricci.
"Without a doubt it was a penalty, I was hit hard from behind," he said. "The referee was right."
Ronaldo scored easily, sending a firm shot into the right corner as goalkeeper Fabio jumped the other way. It was his sixth goal in the competition this year.
In other results Sunday, Copa Libertadores champion Internacional fell 3-2 to Avai in Porto Alegre, while Palmeiras’ second-stringers lost 3-0 to Atletico Goianiense in Goiania. Palmeiras coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is resting the team’s starters for the match against Goias in the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana on Wednesday.
Six-time champion Sao Paulo – ninth in the standings – drew 1-1 with Vasco in Rio de Janeiro, while Atletico Paranaense jumped to fourth place by beating 10-men Prudente 2-1 thanks to an injury-time header by veteran playmaker Paulo Baier in a match stopped for nearly 10 minutes after a shoulder injury to the referee. The result relegated Prudente to the second division.
On Saturday, Atletico Mineiro routed defending champion Flamengo 4-1 in Minas Gerais to move farther from relegation zone. Flamengo, under the command of former Atletico Mineiro coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, dropped to 14th in the standings.
Without young striker Neymar, seventh-place Santos drew 0-0 with sixth-place Gremio at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos.
On Wednesday, Botafogo was held to a 2-2 draw by Ceara in Fortaleza. Uruguay striker Sebastian "El Loco" Abreu scored both goals for Botafogo, which dropped to fifth in the standings.
The top three teams will secure a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores, and the fourth-place team will earn a berth if a Brazilian team does not win the Copa Sudamericana, which also qualifies team for the top Latin American tournament next season.
Three teams have already secured their return to the top flight next year, Coritiba, Figueirense and 1988 national champion Bahia, one of the most popular clubs in the northeast region and which hadn’t been in the first division in seven years.