SAO PAULO -- Fluminense could avoid relegation in the Brazilian league because another team may have used a suspended player in the final round.
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Brazil's sports tribunal will analyse a complaint that Portuguesa breached rules, which could cost the team four points and allow Fluminense to stay in the first division.
Fluminense ended the tournament in the relegation zone, but would surpass Portuguesa in the 20-team standings if the points are docked.
Fluminense won its last match on Sunday but that was not enough to avoid becoming the first defending Brazilian champion to be demoted to the second division. Four-time Brazilian champions Vasco da Gama was also relegated, but it would not benefit from Portuguesa's punishment.
The Brazilian football federation said Portuguesa should not have used midfielder Heverton in the match against Gremio on Sunday. The player had been suspended for two matches, but apparently Portuguesa was mistakenly advised by one of its lawyers that it was a one-game suspension.
The club admits the lawyer might have made a mistake, but says it has legal grounds to avoid losing the points. It claims that, according to current legislation, Heverton's suspension couldn't have taken effect against Gremio because the trial happened too close to the match.
"He could play," said Orlando Cordeiro de Barros, the head of Portuguesa's legal department. "The trial was on Friday, so the suspension would only be valid the next business day."
The official document announcing the suspension was published on Monday, a day after the match.
Heverton received a two-match suspension for cursing at the referee after the final whistle in a Nov. 24 match against Bahia. Usually a reserve, Heverton entered Sunday's match in the 78th minute.
"These types of maneuvres to change what happened on the field should not be taking place in Brazil anymore," Barros said. "It's a bad example and an embarrassment to Brazil, a country that will be hosting the World Cup."
It would not be the first time Fluminense benefitted from an off-the-field ruling to avoid relegation. The Rio de Janeiro club was relegated for the first time in 1996 but remained in the top flight because of supposed irregularities with refereeing at the time. Fluminense was relegated again in 1997 and then dropped to the third flight the following year, but a change in the competition's format allowed Fluminense to move straight into the first division in 2000.
The tribunal also said Brazilian Cup holders Flamengo may also lose points because of an alleged irregular use of left back Andre Santos. That could drop the country's most popular club to the first spot outside of relegation zone. That punishment could be significant because Vasco da Gama is trying to annul its 5-1 loss against Atletico Paranaense. The referee stopped the game after 73 minutes due to fan violence.
The tribunal has said it is unlikely the result will be overturned. But if it is, Vasco will have enough points to avoid relegation, sending Flamengo down.