Fluminense looking to seal Brazilian league title


SAO PAULO (AP) -A draw on Sunday against relegation-threatened Palmeiras may be enough to give Fluminense its second Brazilian league title in three years.

Fluminense has a nine-point lead over Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro with four rounds left, and another point against Palmeiras will be enough if Atletico loses at Vasco da Gama. If Fluminense wins, Atletico will also need a victory to keep alive its hopes of its first league title since 1971.

Palmeiras needs at least a draw to retain any chance of remaining in the top flight next season. The club with the most Brazilian titles, Palmeiras is seven points from safety and players have been threatened by fans because of the team's struggles.

Fluminense is looking for a fourth national title, adding to its last triumph in 2010.

The Rio de Janeiro club will play against Palmeiras without playmaker Deco, who has a right thigh muscle injury. But coach Abel Braga will be able to count on former Brazil striker Fred, the tournament's leading scorer with 17 goals.

Despite Palmeiras' disappointing campaign, Fluminense players are expecting a difficult match in Presidente Prudente because of the opponent's need to win at all costs.

"It's going to be tough, we have to be careful because of their situation," right back Bruno said. "But we will go for the victory, we can't afford a letdown now. The goal should be to secure this title as soon as possible."

Police will double the usual number of officers at the stadium because of the potential for violence. After Palmeiras' 2-2 draw against Botafogo last Sunday, fans tried to invade the field and two officers were injured, prompting the local football federation to ban Palmeiras' biggest fan group from Sunday's game.

There have been serious threats to players and club directors this week, including menacing messages on the club's walls and anonymous phone calls. Palmeiras also will increase player security for the match.

The club is 18th in the 20-team standings with only 33 points from 34 matches. It trails 17th-place Sport by three points and 16th-place Bahia by seven. The bottom four clubs will be demoted.

The defending Brazilian Cup winner will be relegated for the second time in 10 years if it loses to Fluminense and Bahia beats host Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte.

"We still have a chance, we have to keep believing," Palmeiras goalkeeper Bruno said.

Sport will play at 19th-place Figueirense, which will also be demoted if it doesn't win the match in Florianopolis.

Atletico Mineiro will be backing Palmeiras but it will have to do its part against Vasco da Gama, which has lost six matches in a row.

Former two-time world player of the year Ronaldinho was listed as doubtful because of lingering flu, but was expected to play on Sunday.

"It's a concern, he is our main player and makes a difference when he is playing," Atletico Mineiro striker Bernard said.

Atletico also won't have suspended forward Jo.

Also Sunday, third-place Gremio - 10 points behind Fluminense - will host fourth-place Sao Paulo, with the winner securing a spot in next year's Copa Libertadores, Latin America's most important club competition.

Fifth-place Botafogo and sixth-place Internacional remain with a small chance of finishing in the top four and guaranteeing a Copa Libertadores berth. The teams trail Sao Paulo by eight points.

Botafogo, likely to play without injured Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, will host Portuguesa on Saturday at the Engenhao in Rio de Janeiro. Internacional - with Uruguay striker Diego Forlan, Argentine midfielder Andres D'Alessandro and Brazil striker Leandro Damiao - will play at Ponte Preta on Sunday.

Defending champion Corinthians, eighth in the standings and focused on the Club World Cup in December, will host Coritiba on Saturday.


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