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Portuguesa walks off field during game

SAO PAULO -- Brazilian club Portuguesa abandoned its second-division match against Joinville in the 16th minute on Friday, saying it had a court order allowing it to play in the top flight that begins on Saturday.

Portuguesa players left the field with the scored tied 0-0 after a court official showed up during its match and presented the ruling to team officials and referees. The match official said the team had to keep playing, but the club said it had to abide by the court order.

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Portuguesa and its fans have been filing lawsuits in civil courts trying to get reinstated to the top division of the Brazilian league. The club was relegated last year after a sports tribunal stripped it of four points for using a suspended player in the final round. Officials claim the Brazilian federation did not properly advise the club of the suspension.

The new court ruling gives the points back to Portuguesa and voids its relegation, putting in jeopardy the start of the first division on Saturday. The federation has reversed similar rulings recently, but it remains unclear how the weekend matches will be affected if it can't overturn this court order.

The league turmoil comes as Brazilian football is under increased scrutiny with the World Cup less than two months away. The country's image has already been tarnished by significant problems with its World Cup preparations.

Portuguesa already knew of the legal victory but had decided to play on Friday to avoid disrupting the tournament. However, officials said that they could not go against the court order after the official showed up at the stadium in the southern city of Joinville.

"I'm just an employee," Portuguesa coach Argel said. "I have to follow the club's orders. It's a decision by the president."

Joinville players remained on the pitch and the referee waited 30 minutes before officially ending the match.

"This is not our problem," Joinville president Nereu Martinelli told local media. "Now it's up to the federation to solve this."

The Brazilian football federation said the match official and the referees did not have to accept the court order because the judge who issued the ruling did not have jurisdiction. It said Portuguesa was clearly advised to continue playing and because it opted not to, it is in danger of losing points.

A day earlier, the federation had overturned a ruling from another club trying to play in the top flight. Icasa filed civil court lawsuits because one of the four teams promoted from the second division last year, Figueirense, used a player who was incorrectly registered. Icasa finished fifth and wanted to take Figueirense's spot, but a sports tribunal court dismissed its case because the club allegedly took too long to appeal.

The federation has already been warned by FIFA that the lawsuits could be a breach of the governing body's statutes and lead to sanctions for clubs and the federation itself. FIFA told the federation it is responsible for "prohibiting" members from going to civil courts over sports issues.

Portuguesa's demotion last year kept traditional Rio de Janeiro club Fluminense from becoming the first defending champion from being relegated in the Brazilian league.

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