SAO PAULO (AP) – Cruzeiro scored early in each half to defeat Internacional 2-1 on Sunday, opening an 11-point lead in the Brazilian league.
Midfielder Nilton and striker Willian scored for Cruzeiro, which has won nine of its last 10 matches to move into good position to win its first championship since 2003.
Clarence Seedorf's Botafogo lost ground after a 1-0 home loss to next-to-last Ponte Preta at the Maracana Stadium on Saturday, while Hernan Barcos' Gremio moved to second place by beating Sao Paulo 1-0 at the Morumbi Stadium on Sunday.
Club World Cup champion Corinthians lost 4-0 to Portuguesa, extending its winless streak to eight matches and dropping to 13th place in the 20-team standings.
Defending champion Fluminense came from behind to defeat Goias 2-1 on Saturday, moving to eighth place.
Despite playing without injured star Ronaldinho, Atletico Mineiro defeated Santos 3-1 to reach fifth place. Ronaldinho ruptured a muscle in his left leg during training with Atletico Mineiro last week and is out for the rest of the championship. It's unknown if he will recover in time for the team's participation in the Club World Cup in December in Morocco.
Cruzeiro's win against Internacional gave the Minas Gerais team its biggest lead so far in the championship. With 14 rounds left, Cruzeiro has 53 points, while Gremio and Botafogo have 42. Cruzeiro's next three opponents are near the bottom of the table - Portuguesa, Nautico and Sao Paulo.
Nilton opened the scoring on Sunday just four minutes into the match in Novo Hamburgo. Otavio quickly equalized for Internacional in the fifth, but Willian gave Cruzeiro the win with a well-placed low shot from the top of the area in the 53rd.
Cruzeiro scored 50 goals and conceded only 20 in its first 24 league matches so far.
Internacional, led by former Brazil coach Dunga, lost for the third straight time, dropping to seventh in the standings.
Botafogo was upset by Ponte Preta, failing to overcome a 43rd-minute penalty scored by Ponte Preta forward Elias at the Maracana. It was the third straight loss by Botafogo, including two at home.
Gremio was outplayed by Sao Paulo but Eduardo Vargas' goal in the 69th was enough to secure the victory in front of nearly 40,000 Sao Paulo fans at the Morumbi. World Cup veteran goalkeeper Dida had an outstanding game for Gremio, making several crucial saves.
Sao Paulo has lost two in a row and again is near the bottom of the standings with 27 points, just two clear of the relegation zone.
Also Sunday, striker Gilberto scored three first-half goals as Portuguesa stunned five-time national champion Corinthians in Campo Grande, extending the struggles of the popular club which dominated Brazilian football last year. Corinthians has lost five of its last seven league matches.
Fluminense increased its unbeaten streak to six matches by rallying in the second half against Goias in Goiania on Saturday with goals by Jean and Rafael Sobis.
Flamengo moved five points above the relegation zone by routing Criciuma 4-1 at the Maracana on Sunday, while Rio de Janeiro rival Vasco da Gama remained in danger of demotion after a 0-0 draw against Bahia in Salvador. Vasco, which lost four of its last five matches, is only 18th in the standings, with 25 points.
Also Sunday, fourth-place Atletico Paranaense erased a 3-0 deficit but ended losing 5-3 against Vitoria in Curitiba.