Court disputes mar start of Brazilian league

TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer Published:

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Court disputes stemming from last year's controversial finish to the Brazil league threaten to disrupt the new season which starts on Saturday.

Two clubs have ongoing lawsuits claiming they deserve to be playing in the league.

Portuguesa is trying to reverse a sports tribunal decision that stripped the club of four points because it used a suspended player, causing its relegation and allowing defending champion Fluminense to avoid demotion. Icasa is seeking a place in the topflight because one of the four teams promoted from the second division last year, Figueirense, used a player who allegedly was incorrectly registered.

The championship is expected to start on schedule, but the civil court disputes could prompt an interruption at any time.

Only nine of the 38 rounds will be played before the World Cup break in June.

Here are five more things to know about the Brazilian league:

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TITLE CONTENDERS: Cruzeiro dominated last year and cruised to its third league title. With nearly all of its players back, it will try to become the first team to win consecutive championships since Sao Paulo won three straight from 2006-08. Gremio finished 11 points behind Cruzeiro and is back with an experienced squad hoping to win its first trophy since 1996. Atletico Mineiro, runner-up in 2012, should be strong coming off the Copa Libertadores title a year ago, while Internacional, playing at a Beira-Rio stadium renovated for the World Cup, is also expected to be contending in December.

ALSO FIGHTING: Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro teams, winners of nine straight titles before Cruzeiro's victory last year, are outside contenders again this time, with Santos' youngsters and coach Muricy Ramalho's Sao Paulo the best chances to surprise. Fluminense won two of the last four trophies but has been struggling, as is recent club world champion Corinthians, the 2011 national winner. Vasco da Gama will play in the second division for the second time in six years.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Former Brazil star Ronaldinho remains an attraction, and for the third year in a row the 34-year-old playmaker will try to lead Atletico Mineiro to its first league title since 1971. Teammate Jo is one of the few league players who will be playing in the World Cup, along with Fred, the Fluminense striker who is a starter for Brazil. Cruzeiro youngster Everton Ribeiro can become a hot transfer target if he repeats his performances from last year, and veteran teammate Julio Baptista, the former Real Madrid and Roma forward, is another to keep an eye on. Eight-time champion Palmeiras, coming off relegation, is counting on the leadership of 35-year-old veteran Brazil defender Lucio.

INTERNATIONAL FLAIR: There will be plenty of talented foreigners, with Gremio leading the way with Hernan Barcos of Argentina, Cristian Riveros of Paraguay, Eduardo Vargas of Chile and Maxi Rodriguez of Uruguay. International has Andres D'Alessandro of Argentina, while Palmeiras has Chile playmaker Jorge Valdivia and Fluminense has Argentine midfielder Dario Conca. Corinthians counts on Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, Botafogo has Uruguayan striker Nicolas Lodeiro, and Sao Paulo is relying on Dorlan Pabon of Colombia and Alvaro Pereira of Uruguay.

LAST DANCE: This year's league may be the last for a few top players. Sao Paulo's Rogerio Ceni, the world's most prolific scoring goalkeeper with more than 100 goals from penalties and free kicks, has already said he will retire at the end of year. Former Brazil midfielder Alex will also retire. The 36-year-old playmaker, who thrived with Fenerbahce in Turkey, will try to lead Coritiba to its first title since 1985. Others who could be leaving include 40-year-old Internacional goalkeeper Dida, who was Brazil's starter in the 2006 World Cup and had a successful career with AC Milan. Gremio midfielder Ze Roberto, 39, could also be playing his last season.

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