Fluminense, Vasco seek loopholes to avoid drop

TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer Published:

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Fluminense could avoid relegation in the Brazilian league after a rival team used a suspended player in the final round last weekend, marking the latest chaos to hit football in the country hosting next year's World Cup.

The news that an off-field ruling could alter the competition's result comes days after images of fan violence were broadcast across the world. It also comes just weeks after a crane collapse killed two workers and damaged part of the stadium being built for the World Cup opener in Sao Paulo.

Brazil's sports tribunal this week will analyze a complaint that Portuguesa breached rules, which could cost the team four points and allow Fluminense to stay in the first division. Fluminense ended the tournament in the relegation zone, but would surpass Portuguesa in the 20-team standings if the points are docked.

Fluminense won its last match on Sunday but that was not enough to avoid becoming the first defending Brazilian champion to be relegated. Four-time Brazilian champion Vasco da Gama also dropped down to the second division, but it would not benefit from Portuguesa's punishment.

Vasco is trying to remain in the top flight through a different loophole. It wants to annul its 5-1 loss against Atletico Paranaense because of the fan violence that forced the referee to stop the game and then re-start it 73 minutes later -- 13 minutes more than rules allow.

The tribunal will also analyze if Brazilian Cup champion Flamengo should lose points because of an alleged irregular use of left back Andre Santos in the last round. That ruling could relegate the country's most popular club if Vasco is successful with its own attempt.

The Brazilian football federation said Portuguesa should not have used midfielder Heverton in the match against Gremio on Sunday. The player had been suspended for two matches, but Portuguesa said it was mistakenly advised by one of its lawyers that it was a one-game suspension.

"I never said it was a one-game suspension," the lawyer Osvaldo Sestario said. "I have nearly 10 years of experience in these cases, I wouldn't do that. I don't know what happened, I don't know what was the mistake. I like Portuguesa a lot and I hope the club can prove that it was not at fault and that it can remain in the first division."

Portuguesa fired Sestario later Wednesday, according to GloboEsporte.com.

The club said it has legal grounds to avoid losing the points. It claims that, according to current legislation, Heverton's suspension couldn't have taken effect against Gremio because the trial happened too close to the match.

"He could play," said Orlando Cordeiro de Barros, the head of Portuguesa's legal department. "The trial was on Friday, so the suspension would only be valid the next business day."

The official document announcing the suspension was published on Monday, a day after the match.

Heverton received a two-match suspension for cursing at the referee after the final whistle in a Nov. 24 match against Bahia. Usually a reserve, Heverton entered Sunday's match in the 78th minute.

"These types of maneuvers to change what happened on the field should not be taking place in Brazil anymore," Barros said. "It's a bad example and an embarrassment to Brazil, a country that will be hosting the World Cup."

It would not be the first time Fluminense benefited from an off-the-field ruling to avoid relegation. The Rio de Janeiro club was relegated for the first time in 1996 but remained in the top flight because of supposed irregularities with refereeing at the time. Fluminense was relegated again in 1997 and then dropped to the third flight the following year, but a change in the competition's format allowed Fluminense to move straight into the first division in 2000.

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