Fluminense, Vasco da Gama relegated

Fluminense became the first defending Brazilian league champion to be relegated to the second division on Sunday, and traditional Rio de Janeiro rival Vasco da Gama also was demoted.

Fluminense, which also won the league in 2010, scored late to beat Bahia 2-1 in Salvador, but the result wasn’t enough to keep the team in the top flight. Vasco da Gama, a four-time Brazilian champion like Fluminense, lost 5-1 to Atletico Paranaense in a match marked by fan violence.

Four fans were hospitalized after fighting in the stands in the southern city of Joinville, including one with a serious head injury, but doctors said their lives were not at risk. The match was stopped for more than an hour and a police helicopter landed on the field to airlift one of the injured.

Fluminense finished with the same 46 points as Criciuma outside the relegation zone, but with one less victory. Vasco da Gama ended with 44 points. Nautico and Ponte Preta had already been demoted heading into the final round.

The Brazilian league has been extremely competitive in the last decade and eight of the country’s most traditional clubs were relegated in the last 10 years, including Palmeiras last year. Vasco da Gama played in the second division in 2009, and a year earlier it was popular club Corinthians which was away from the main league.

Fluminense had to beat Bahia and hope that other results went its way. But the relegation was confirmed when Coritiba defeated Sao Paulo 1-0 in the city of Itu, ending Fluminense’s hopes. Coritiba was among the six clubs in danger of relegation on Sunday.

Bahia opened the scoring at the Arena Fonte Nova through William in the 42nd minute, and Fluminense rallied with goals by Wagner in the 56th and Samuel in the 83rd.

”We are all extremely sad right now,” Fluminense goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri said. ”We know that it won’t be easy to play in the second division next year but we will have to work hard to make sure we return.”

Fluminense had almost been relegated in 2009, but it won six of its last seven matches to just remain in the first division. It was relegated to the second division for the first time in the late 1990s and it actually dropped to the third division in 1999, but the club went straight to the first division the following year because the competition changed formats.

Just five rounds ago Fluminense was being coached by former Brazil and Real Madrid coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who was fired after a series of setbacks that included nine straight matches without a win.

The team’s top star this year was Brazil striker Fred, who was out of the team since September because of a muscle injury. Former Chelsea and Portugal playmaker Deco was with the club before retiring earlier this year.

Vasco da Gama, the 1998 Copa Libertadores champion, needed a victory at Atletico Paranaense after Criciuma lost 3-0 to Botafogo in Rio de Janeiro, but it was already losing 1-0 when the match was stopped in the 17th because of the fan violence in the stands. It equalized in the 40th minute but conceded another goal less than five minutes later and never recovered.

”The other results went our way but it was an unfortunate afternoon for us today,” Vasco da Gama defender Renato Silva said.

Atop the standings, Cruzeiro had already clinched the title, but second-place Gremio and third-place Atletico Paranaense secured a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores.

Botafogo, which had Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf scoring one of the goals in the win against Criciuma, finished fourth and will also play in the Latin American tournament for the first time since 1996 if Ponte Preta doesn’t win the Copa Sudamericana on Wednesday. Ponte Preta will earn the fourth Brazilian spot if it wins the title against Lanus of Argentina. The teams drew 1-1 in Sao Paulo last week.

Ronaldinho returned to action after several weeks out with a muscle injury, scoring both goals in Atletico Mineiro’s 2-2 draw against Vitoria in Belo Horizonte. It was the team’s last match before traveling to Morocco to play in FIFA’s Club World Cup.