RIO DE JANEIRO, May 22 (Reuters) - Reigning Brazilian champions Corinthians gave new coach Geninho a winning start on Sunday with a thrilling 4-2 win at Vasco da Gama.
The win lifted Corinthians into ninth place in the title race, on nine points, but the tally of five red cards and ample goalmouth controversy gave the match a melodramatic flavour.
Vasco moved into a two-goal lead after 52 minutes but the Rio de Janeiro club were eventually undone by the penetrating runs of Carlos Alberto and Nilmar, and sharp finishing by Rafael Moura.
Elsewhere in the Brazilian championship race, Cruzeiro beat Flamengo 2-1 and moved into top spot on 13 points, ahead of three other clubs on goal difference.
Second-placed Santos lost 1-0 at fourth-placed Fluminense, thanks to a spectacular own-goal by defender Luiz Alberto.
The clash between Vasco and Corinthians was full-blooded rather than nasty, despite the long list of dismissals.
Corinthians played most of the first half with 10 men after Xavier was sent off for a clumsy challenge in the 17th minute.
Vasco did not make their numerical advantage count and it was wiped out when sweeper Jorge Luiz was given his marching orders on the stroke of half-time.
Ramon and Valdiram shot Vasco into a two-goal lead within seven minutes of the resumption as the home team suddenly found a way through the heart of the Corinthians defence.
Moura wiped out the Vasco lead with a brace of goals from right-wing raids by Carlos Alberto in the 62nd and 65th minutes.
Moura was later given his marching orders, together with Vasco's Fabio Braz, following an altercation between the two players.
Vasco goalkeeper Cassio conceded a penalty by upending Corinthians' livewire striker Nilmar.
Cassio saved Carlos Alberto's spot kick but referee Clever Assunao Goncalves ordered the penalty to be retaken due to encroachment. Vasco players protested furiously when Carlos Alberto scored with his second attempt.
The protests intensified when Vasco's Edilson was adjudged to have handled the ball before scoring a disallowed equaliser.
Cassio was then sent off for another penalty area challenge on Nilmar, and Marcelo Mattos scored from the spot.
'There were two refereeing incidents in that game that lost it for us. We feel very hard done by,' said Vasco coach Renato Gaucho.
Cruzeiro's climb to the top of the Brazilian table was achieved against a Flamengo team who are yet to earn a point away from home in the current championship race.
The visitors took the lead on 32 minutes with a Diego Souza header but Cruzeiro defender Luizao equalised with a similar effort on 37 minutes and Wagner scored a late winner.
Fluminense were barely deserving of their win against a previously unbeaten Santos outfit.
The home team grabbed the points when Luiz Alberto's attempt at a long-distance headed back-pass looped over goalkeeper Fabio Costa into his own net.
Palmeiras ended a poor run of form with a 2-1 home win over Santa Cruz.