Fluminense pulls clear of drop zone

Defending Brazilian champion Fluminense scored a last-minute goal to defeat Sao Paulo 2-1 Sunday and move away from the relegation zone in the Brazilian league.

Defender Gum netted the winning goal with a header from a 90th-minute corner to give Fluminense the crucial win at the Maracana Stadium, moving the titleholders two spots away from the drop with three rounds to play.

Fluminense, which also won the title in 2010, is trying to avoid becoming the first defending champion to be demoted in the Brazilian league.

Vasco da Gama remained in serious danger of relegation after a 0-0 draw at Corinthians, a result that kept the four-time Brazilian champion 18th in the 20-team standings. The bottom four clubs are demoted.

Cruzeiro, which clinched its third Brazilian title on Wednesday, drew Ponte Preta 2-2 with its second-stringers.

Some Fluminense players kneeled in relief after the final whistle at the Maracana as nearly 40,000 fans chanted frantically on the stands.

Gum sent his header into the far corner to give Fluminense its second consecutive victory after a streak of nine winless matches had left the champion in danger of relegation. Midfielder Welliton had put Sao Paulo ahead in the 18th and right back Jean scored Fluminense’s first goal in the 25th.

”This was a special victory,” Gum said. ”We are still in a difficult situation, but things are starting to improve, things are returning back to normal, we are winning again.”

The victory moved Fluminense to 15th place with 42 points, one more than 16th-place Bahia and two more than 17th-place Coritiba. Bahia beat already relegated Nautico 1-0 in Recife, while Coritiba lost 2-1 to Criciuma in Curitiba on Saturday.

Fluminense’s turnaround coincides with the hiring of Dorival Jr., who replaced former Brazil and Real Madrid coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo two rounds ago.

”Dorival is making all the difference,” Fluminense midfielder Vagner said. ”He boosted the team’s morale.”

A four-time national champion, Fluminense almost was relegated in 2009, but it won six of its last seven matches to remain in the first division. The Rio de Janeiro club was relegated to the second division for the first time in the late 1990s.

Before the match, Fluminense announced that next year it will count on Argentine playmaker Dario Conca, who played with the team in 2011.

Sao Paulo, a six-time Brazilian champion, rested some regular starters because it’s in the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana, a competition it won last year. The team is only eighth in the Brazilian league.

Vasco da Gama needed a victory to have a chance to leave the relegation zone, but it couldn’t manage more than a scoreless draw against club world champion Corinthians at the Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo.

Vasco, which made a coaching change just four rounds ago, hasn’t won in three matches and is four points away from Bahia, the first team outside relegation zone.

Corinthians, which announced this week that will not keep coach Tite next year, has drawn 16 of its 35 matches in this year’s league. It is ninth on the table with 49 points.

Cruzeiro played without most of its starters against Ponte Preta in Uberlandia, conceding an injury-time equalizer in the match in which it was awarded the league trophy. It has 75 points from 35 matches, 15 points more than second-place Gremio, which beat Flamengo 2-1 with two goals by Argentine forward Maxi Rodriguez.

Also Sunday, third-place Goias defeated Internacional 3-1 in Goiania for its eighth win in nine matches, while sixth-place Vitoria defeated Santos 2-0 in Salvador with a goal by Argentine forward Maxi Biancucchi.

On Saturday, Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf scored a goal as Botafogo beat fourth-place Atletico Paranaense 4-0 at the Maracana, allowing the team to stay fifth in the standings, just outside the top four which will qualify for next year’s Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s most important club competition.

Botafogo, the 1995 Brazilian champion, had lost two of its last three matches.