SAO PAULO - Former Brazil midfielder Julio Baptista scored twice in the second half to help Cruzeiro defeat Botafogo 3-0 on Wednesday in a match-up between the top two teams in the Brazilian league standings.
Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf missed a penalty kick that could have levelled the match at one goal apiece before Baptista netted his goals in the final minutes. With its eighth straight win, Cruzeiro opened up a seven-point lead over Botafogo in the standings.
Third-place Gremio drew 1-1 with 11th-place Santos at home, falling 11 points behind Cruzeiro, while club world champion Corinthians lost to Ponte Preta 2-0 — its third consecutive defeat.
Defending champion Fluminense came from behind to beat Criciuma 2-1 to remain near the middle of the table, while six-time champion Sao Paulo won its third in a row since the return of coach Muricy Ramalho to move away from the relegation zone.
Cruzeiro is seeking its first Brazilian league title since 2003, while Botafogo hasn't won the tournament since 1995.
Cruzeiro defensive midfielder Nilton opened the scoring just before halftime with a remarkable side-volley from near the penalty spot. Nilton, who left the match in the 64th after an apparent ankle injury, had scored the winner in the team's 1-0 victory over Atletico Paranaense on Saturday.
Baptista, recently signed by Cruzeiro after playing for several years in Spain, converted a penalty kick in the 81st after striker Everton Ribeiro was brought down by defender Bolivar inside the area. He added his second goal in the 87th.
"There are still a lot of matches left and we know we are going to face a lot of difficulties until the end," Baptista said. "We have to keep playing like this, though. We know we have a great chance of winning this title."
Seedorf, a former Real Madrid and AC Milan star, had a golden opportunity to get the equalizer in the 54th, but sent his penalty kick wide.
In other matches, Fluminense got two goals by defender Bruno to beat Criciuma and move to 10th in the 20-team standings with 29 points.
Corinthians, meanwhile, lost for the fourth time in five matches, dropping to seventh in the standings, 19 points behind Cruzeiro.
Sao Paulo edged Copa Libertadores champion Atletico Mineiro 1-0 to move to 13th place in the standings, four points clear from demotion.
In Rio de Janeiro, Vasco da Gama conceded two late goals in a 2-1 loss to Vitoria to remain in the relegation zone. It was the third straight defeat for the four-time national champions, who sit in 17th place with 24 points. Vitoria moved to sixth place with 30 points.
Also Wednesday, Coritiba drew Goias 2-2 in Curitiba.
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