SAO PAULO — Goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni scored from the penalty spot to help Sao Paulo salvage a 1-1 draw at Figueirense in the Brazilian league on Sunday, losing ground to leader Cruzeiro after the defending champion won its fourth match in a row over the weekend.
Ceni scored the equalizer in the 76th minute after Figueirense got on the board via playmaker Giovanni Augusto in the 47th, but the result in Florianopolis dropped Sao Paulo from second to third place in the standings, nine points behind Cruzeiro.
Cruzeiro went down a goal early in the first half against Chapecoense on Saturday, but rallied to win 4-2 with a pair of second-half goals by Bolivian striker Marcelo Moreno at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte. Moreno is the league's leading scorer with nine goals, along with teammate Ricardo Goulart.
Sao Paulo had playmaker Kaka at the Orlando Scarpelli stadium but was without midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso, striker Alexandre Pato and Uruguay defender Alvaro Pereira because of yellow card suspensions. The six-time national champion had won four in a row coming into the weekend.
Former Brazil left back Michel Bastos, recently signed by Sao Paulo, was sent off near the end of the match after apparently trying to kick an opponent in the face during a ball dispute.
With a round left before the competition's halfway point, Cruzeiro has an eight-point lead over Internacional, which jumped to second place by beating Palmeiras 1-0 in Sao Paulo to end a three-match losing streak. The victory came despite the absence of suspended Argentine playmaker Andres D'Alessandro.
Nearly 35,000 Palmeiras fans packed the Pacaembu Stadium but the team continues to struggle under Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca. The eight-time national champion has won only one of its last 12 league matches. Celebrating its centennial, the team is just one spot outside relegation zone.
On Sunday, fourth-place Corinthians drew fifth-place Fluminense 1-1 at a packed Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo. Former Brazil striker Fred converted a 43rd-minute penalty to give Fluminense the lead, but Romarinho netted the equalizer in the 74th. Corinthians nearly won when Paraguayan striker Angel Romero struck the crossbar just before the end of the game. Corinthians trails Cruzeiro by 10 points and Fluminense by 12.
Sixth-place Gremio moved closer by defeating struggling Bahia 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal by Argentine striker Hernan Barcos at the Arena Gremio in Porto Alegre. Barcos, who had scored twice in the match against Corinthians last weekend, reached eight goals in the championship, only one less than Moreno and Goulart.
It was the second consecutive win for Gremio, which may have to play some of its next matches away from its stadium because fans taunted Santos goalkeeper Aranha with racial insults during a Brazilian Cup game on Thursday. A sports tribunal next week will rule on a possible suspension for the team coached by former Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Flamengo, which was stuck in relegation zone until hiring former Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, edged Vitoria 2-1 at the Barradao Stadium in Salvador to keep alive a five-match winning streak. Brazil's most popular club jumped to ninth in the 20-team standings with 25 points from 18 matches.
In Goiania, striker Erik Lima scored a hat trick in Goias' 3-1 win over Atletico Paranaense, halting his team's five-match losing streak. At the Maracana Stadium, Botafogo beat Robinho's Santos 1-0.
In the second division, four-time national champion Vasco da Gama was trounced 5-0 by Avai at its Sao Januario Stadium on Saturday to drop to fifth place in the standings at the competition's halfway point. Only four teams will be promoted to the top flight. The humiliating result prompted coach Adilson Batista to resign after the match.
Follow Tales Azzoni at http://www.twitter.com/tazzoni