Corinthians recovered from an early shock to defeat Vasco da Gama 2-1 on Wednesday, holding on to their three-point lead in Brazil Serie A.Veteran midfielder Juninho Pernambucano turned back the clock in his first appearance for Vasco in 10 years, scoring from a free-kick in the second minute to the delight of the away fans.
But their joy would be short-lived as Corinthians midfielder Ralf found the net in the 22nd minute, blasting a long-range effort from a rebound for his first goal since May 2010.
Corinthians were in no mood to take an evenly balanced game into the break and kept pressing for a second goal, which they eventually found in the 42nd minute off the boot of Paulinho.
The midfielder gathered the ball at the edge of the area, dribbled around a defender and shot inside the far post to put the hosts ahead.
They were lucky to hold that margin at half-time, though, as Corinthians goalkeeper Julio Cesar pulled out a magnificent save to deny another trademark free kick from former Lyon and Brazil midfielder Juninho.
In spite of their best efforts, the Copa do Brasil winners could not find an equaliser and slumped to back-to-back losses for the first time this campaign.
They fall to 10th on the Serie A table with 11 points from eight matches. Corinthians, meanwhile, have a new challenger to their throne as Sao Paulo fell 1-0 at Flamengo.
Dario Bottinelli was the hero, with the Flamengo midfielder finding the net in the 71st minute to ensure his club would replace Sao Paulo in second.
Flamengo have taken full points in their last three matches and are yet to lose this campaign, a feat only seconded by Corinthians.
After a promising start, Sao Paulo have now lost their past three to fall four points behind Corinthians in third place.
Fourth-placed Internacional have drawn level on points with Sao Paulo following their third win in a row, this time with a 1-0 result over bottom-placed Atletico Paranaense.
Continuing their winning run, 19-year-old midfielder Oscar scored for his third-straight game to hand Inter the win over Paranaense, who are anchored to the bottom of the table with seven losses from eight games.
Second-bottom Avai continued their slow crawl towards safety with a 2-2 draw at home to Bahia, while Gremio’s up-and-down fortunes continued with a 2-0 loss at Cruzeiro and Ceara toppled Atletico Mineiro 3-0.