Tue, Dec 21, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Santos beats Vasco to win Brazilian Championship

AP , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Santos striker Robinho kisses the Brazilian Championship trophy after beating Vasco da Gama, 2-1 at the Teixeirao in Sao Jose do Rio Preto, Brazil on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Midfielders Ricardinho and Elano scored a goal each Sunday as Santos defeated Vasco 2-1 to win its second Brazilian championship in three years.

Fans poured to the streets and beaches of Santos minutes after the final whistle to celebrate the team's second national title since the Pele era.

Santos ended with 89 points from 46 matches.

Atletico Paranaense, which drew Botafogo 1-1 at home, finished three points behind.

Criciuma and Vitoria will join Gremio and Guarani in the second division in 2005, while Santos, Atletico, Sao Paulo and Palmeiras earned a spot in next year's Copa Libertadores.

Ricardinho put Santos ahead with a perfectly struck free kick from about 23m in the fourth minute. The playmaker hit the left upper corner of Vasco goalkeeper Everton.

Elano added to the lead in the 29th with a header from about seven meters, and striker Marco Brito scored Vasco's lone goal in the 60th.

Santos, which finished with a league-best 103 goals, saw the return of Robinho, whose mother was released unharmed Friday 40 days after being kidnapped.

The game was played in Sao Jose do Rio Preto because Santos' Vila Belmiro stadium was suspended after fans threw objects onto the field during a match against Vitoria on Sept. 9.

Nearly 40,000 fans packed Benedito Teixeira stadium after making a 400km trip from Santos to Sao Jose do Rio Preto.

"We worked hard all year for this, now it's time to celebrate," defender Leo said after the match. "I imagine people are going crazy in Santos right now."

Several streets in downtown Santos had to be closed to accommodate the throngs of fans, local media reported. Tens of thousands were expected to take part in the celebration throughout the night.

The title restores Santos as one of Brazil's most successful powerhouses. After enduring an 18-year title drought from 1984-2002, the club made famous by Pele in the late 1960s returned to its glory days after winning the 2002 championship and finishing second in 2003.

En route to the title, Santos had to overcome obstacles all year, both on and off the field.

In addition to missing Robinho for seven consecutive rounds in the final stretch, Santos also lost some of its top players in midseason transfers.

The team sold all-star playmaker Diego -- a leader of the 2002 championship -- to Portuguese champion Porto, and midfielder Renato -- a regular in Brazil's national squad -- to Spain's Sevilla.

The team also was plagued by injuries and only rarely fielded its first-choice 11.

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