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By ESPN Staff

Justice done as Sao Paulo win Brazil title

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Four years ago, Sao Paulo finished top of the Brazilian championship five points ahead of their nearest rivals.

In those days, however, the competition went into a knockout phase and Sao Paulo merely won the right to play a quarter-final against a Santos side who had finished 13 points below them.

The teams started from scratch and Santos won 5-2 on aggregate and went on to win the title.

On Sunday, Sao Paulo drew 1-1 at home to Atletico Paranaense to go eight points clear of second-placed Internacional with two games to spare.

This time, they were able to celebrate the title thanks to Brazil's decision to switch to the conventional league system used in most leading soccer nations.

The team coached by Muricy Ramalho had led the table for 25 rounds of matches.

The irony is that many commentators in Brazil have criticised the league system as boring and want to return to the old system of a qualifying competition followed by a knockout.

Detractors claim that the final two weekends of the competition will be dead, even though two relegation slots still have to be filled as well as four places in next year's South American Libertadores Cup.

The thousands of Sao Paulo fans were oblivious to the controversy over the competition's format as they filled one of the city's main avenues to celebrate on Sunday.

'Sao Paulo are a club which are light years ahead of the others, principally their great rivals Palmeiras and Corinthians,' wrote Benjamin Back in the sports daily Lance.

'Sao Paulo don't get involved in dubious partnerships or keep the same directors in power for ever. Sao Paulo plan ahead.... The best team won.'

Sunday's title has crowned a remarkable 18 months for Sao Paulo in which they also won the Libertadores Cup and the World Club championship.

Those titles were won under Paulo Autuori, who was lured to Japan at the end of last year and was replaced by Ramalho, who last year led Internacional to the runners-up spot.

Ramalho, who learned his craft as assistant to the late Tele Santana, discretely carried on Autuori's work, backed by an infrastructure widely regarded as the best in the Brazil.

The side pales when compared with Santana's team of the early 1990s which won successive Libertadores titles with flowing, attacking football. But times have changed since then.

In a country where the top talents are shipped off to Europe before their 20th birthday, it was hardly surprising that Sao Paulo's top players were a goalkeeper and a defensive midfielder.

Mineiro's work rate in midfield, coupled with his ability to get forward and score goals, made him one of the players of the tournament.

Goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, a free kick and penalty specialist, became the highest-scoring goalkeeper in football history when he scored his 63rd goal in a game against Cruzeiro in August.

The fact that he has spent 15 years at the club and made more than 700 appearances makes him even more of a rarity in the modern game.