SAO PAULO (AP) – Fluminense scored two late goals in a 2-1 win over Ponte Preta on Sunday to retain a nine-point lead over Atletico Mineiro atop the Brazilian league.
Fluminense allowed a first-minute goal at the Sao Januario stadium in Rio de Janeiro, but striker Fred converted a penalty kick in the 80th and defender Gum netted the winner in the 88th to help the team maintain its comfortable advantage with eight matches remaining.
Fluminense has 68 points, while Atletico Mineiro has 59 and Gremio 57.
Ronaldinho's Atletico earned a late 2-1 win over Sport in Belo Horizonte, while Gremio allowed a last-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Botafogo in Porto Alegre.
Fluminense, the 2010 champion, will host Gremio on Wednesday and travel to face Atletico Mineiro the following Sunday. It will virtually secure its fourth national title if it wins both matches, and it can still keep the lead despite consecutive losses.
''It was difficult after allowing the early goal, but we fought hard and it paid off in the end,'' Gum said. ''It was important to get the victory because it gives us some cushion going into the next two matches.''
The victory - the team's fifth in a row - didn't come without controversy, as Ponte Preta complained of a missed red card and irregularities in the plays that led to both Fluminense goals.
Striker Luan opened the scoring for 14th-place Ponte Preta with a well-placed right-footed shot just a minute into the match, but Fluminense began its rally after midfielder Wendel Santos was sent off with a second yellow card in the 74th.
Fluminense's first goal came after a controversial hand ball by Luan inside the penalty area, and Gum's winning header just before the final whistle happened came after a disputed foul call just outside the box.
As Ponte Preta complained after the match, Fluminense players celebrated with the fans.
Atletico Mineiro stayed within range after a late come-from-behind win over Sport at the Independencia stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Sport opened the scoring with midfielder Hugo in the 15th, but substitute striker Leonardo led Atletico's rally with goals in the 76th and injury time.
Atletico had the return of Ronaldinho, who was suspended in the team's 3-0 loss to Internacional in the previous round. The former two-time player of the year set up his team's first goal, and his free-kick shot late in the game hit the crossbar.
It was the fourth loss in a row for Sport, which remains in relegation zone.
Third-place Gremio was poised to stay even in points with Atletico Mineiro but it allowed a 90th-minute equalizer to Clarence Seedorf's Botafogo at the Olimpico stadium.
Sao Paulo jumped to fourth in the 20-team standings - with 52 points - by beating second-to-last-place Figueirense 2-0 at the Morumbi stadium, winning its third in a row. Striker Luis Fabiano scored once for Sao Paulo, becoming the tournament's leading scorer with 15 goals, along with Fred.
Vasco da Gama dropped to fifth after a 2-0 loss at Santos, which played without top star Neymar, who was with Brazil's national team in Poland for a friendly against Japan on Tuesday.
Palmeiras fell 1-0 to Nautico in Recife, losing its third in a row - and 18th overall - to stay nine points away from safety in relegation zone. Coritiba moved further from demotion by beating Bahia 2-1 in Curitiba, while last-place Atletico Goianiense remained in difficult position despite coming from behind to defeat Internacional 3-1 in Goiania on Saturday, snapping a four-match losing streak.
Also Saturday, defending champion Corinthians was held to a 1-1 draw with Portuguesa at the Caninde stadium in Sao Paulo, while popular club Flamengo drew Cruzeiro by the same score at the Engenhao stadium in Rio de Janeiro.