Corinthians suffer fourth defeat

Defending champion Corinthians continued its struggles in the Brazilian league on Sunday, losing 1-0 to Ponte Preta to remain last in the 20-team standings after four defeats in its first five matches.

Corinthians is in the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores so it rested its regular starters in Sunday’s loss, which left the club 12 points behind leader Vasco da Gama, the runner-up in last year’s Brazilian championship.

Vasco remained atop the standings after a 1-1 draw with eight-time champion Palmeiras, while Cruzeiro moved to second place – two points behind Vasco – by defeating Figueirense 1-0 on Saturday for its third win in a row.

Flamengo beat Santos’ second-stringers 1-0 with a goal by Argentine playmaker Dario Bottinelli, while Sao Paulo beat Ronaldinho’s Atletico Mineiro by the same margin with a winner by Luis Fabiano, who later was sent off for arguing with the referee.

Corinthians went down after Ponte Preta forward Andre Luis scored a 42nd-minute winner at the Moises Lucarelli stadium in Campinas.

Corinthians’ only point of the season so far came after a 1-1 home draw with Figueirense two rounds ago, when coach Tite played with most of the team’s top players.

Corinthians is focusing on the Copa Libertadores, the only significant competition the club is yet to win. It beat defending Copa Libertadores champion Santos 1-0 in the first leg of the semifinals of the Latin American competition last week. A draw at home on Wednesday will be enough for the team to reach the tournament’s final for the first time.

Santos – without Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and the rest of its top players because of the Copa Libertadores – lost to eighth-place Flamengo after Bottinelli converted a late penalty kick for the popular Brazilian club at the Engenhao stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Santos is only 17th in the standings with three points, one point ahead of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Palmeiras, which was en route to its first win until Vasco equalized with an 84th-minute free kick by World Cup veteran playmaker Juninho at the Arena Barueri. The result kept Palmeiras winless and ended Vasco’s four-match winning streak.

Ronaldinho played his second match with Atletico Mineiro since leaving Flamengo and suing the club for nearly $20 million in unpaid wages, but it was former Brazil striker Luis Fabiano who attracted most of the attention after scoring Sao Paulo’s 41st-minute winner and then being sent off near the end of the match at the Morumbi stadium.

On Saturday, Fluminense routed recently promoted Portuguesa 4-1 after a great performance by former Chelsea playmaker Deco and a goal each by striker Fred and Argentine midfielder Manuel Lanzini.

Botafogo rallied to beat Internacional 2-1 on the same day at the Beira-Rio stadium in the southern city of Porto Alegre.