Cruzeiro closes in on Campeonato

Cruzeiro defeated Santos 1-0 on Sunday to open up a 13-point lead over second-place Atletico Paranaense with six rounds left in the Brazilian league, virtually securing its first title since 2003.

Striker Everton Ribeiro scored a 55th-minute winner at the Vila Belmiro Stadium in Santos, giving Cruzeiro its third victory in the last four matches, and 21st in 32 rounds. The Belo Horizonte team can lift the trophy as early as next Sunday, when it hosts third-place Gremio at its Mineirao Stadium.

Atletico Paranaense moved from fourth to second on the table thanks to a 1-0 win over Internacional in Curitiba, reaching 55 points.

Gremio, winless in three matches, saw its title chances diminish after a 0-0 home draw against Bahia in Porto Alegre. Fourth-place Botafogo also saw its hopes vanish after a conceding a late goal in a 1-0 loss to Goias, staying with 53 points, one behind Gremio.

Goias is the in-form team of the league with six straight wins. It is fifth on the table with 52 points, in contention for a Copa Libertadores spot next year. The top four in the 20-team standings qualify.

Also Sunday, defending champion Fluminense conceded a late goal to rival Flamengo, losing its second in a row and staying dangerously close to the relegation zone. The team led by former Brazil and Real Madrid coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo is winless in eight matches and just one spot away from demotion. Flamengo rested five regular starters ahead of the Brazilian Cup semifinals but still got the win at the Maracana Stadium with striker Hernane’s goal in the 90th minute.

On Saturday, Nautico became the first team relegated to the second division after losing 5-0 to Copa Libertadores champion Atletico Mineiro in Belo Horizonte.

Cruzeiro is possibly a victory away from its third national title thanks to its win over Santos on Sunday. It can lift the trophy next weekend if it beats Gremio and Atletico Paranaense draws or loses to Sao Paulo at home.

Cruzeiro outplayed Santos from the start and secured the win with Everton Ribeiro’s remarkable run early in the second half. The striker got past three defenders before firing a low shot from inside the area.

Cruzeiro has been dominant from the beginning of the season, outscoring its opponents 66-29, by far the best margin in the league. The team’s remarkable campaign is reminiscent of its run in 2003, when it also cruised to the title and lifted the trophy in advance.

Also Sunday, seventh-place Vitoria drew club world champion Corinthians 1-1 in Salvador. Corinthians has won only one of its last seven matches and is only 12th on the table.

On Saturday, Sao Paulo beat Portuguesa 2-1 at the Morumbi Stadium to win its fourth in a row and move to eighth in the standings. Vasco da Gama, debuting coach Adilson Batista, defeated Coritiba 2-1 at home for its first win in five matches, but it remains in relegation zone with 36 points, the same as Fluminense.

In the second-division, the match between Avai and Figueirense in Florianopolis had to be briefly stopped because of a confrontation between fans and police, according to Brazilian media. Fans reportedly threw objects onto the field, but no one was seriously injured.

Palmeiras, the Brazilian club with the most national titles, had already secured its return to the first division a week ago. It can clinch the title next week, four rounds in advance.

Traditional northeastern club Santa Cruz returned to the second division after six years in the lower tiers thanks to a 2-1 win over Betim in front of more than 60,000 fans at the Arruda Stadium in Recife.