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Ronaldo scores first goal since return

RONALDO scored his first goal since returning to football more than a year after knee surgery, heading a late equalizer for Corinthians in a 1-1 draw against rival Palmeiras in the Sao Paulo state championship yesterday.

Ronaldo, on as a substitute, headed home from a corner three minutes into injury time, beating his marker at the far post to give Corinthians a point in Presidente Prudente.

Ronaldo ran toward Corinthians' fans behind the goal and jumped onto a fence to celebrate and was mobbed by teammates and surrounded by reporters and photographers. Fans joined Ronaldo on the other side of the fence, partially bringing it down.

The match was stopped for a couple of minutes as police cleared the area, but nobody appeared to be injured.

"I couldn't contain my emotions, it was a unique moment," Ronaldo said. "I feel I own perfection in these moments. When I'm in front of goal, this is what I know how to do best."

The 32-year-old Ronaldo had already struck the crossbar with a powerful shot from the edge of the area in the 78th minute.

Ronaldo, who was sent on in the 63rd minute, had already played 28 minutes against Itumbiara in the Brazilian Cup on Wednesday, his first match in more than a year after the third serious knee injury of his career, playing with AC Milan in February 2008.

The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year made a nice move to clear a defender less than five minutes after coming on against Palmeiras, but his pass to a teammate was intercepted. He went down after a heavy tackle in the 70th minute, but no foul was awarded.

Ronaldo, the greatest World Cup scorer with 15 goals, nearly set up an equalizer in the 87th minute, beating a defender on the flank before crossing into the area for defender Andre Santos, whose header missed the target.

Midfielder Diego Souza put Palmeiras ahead in the 49th with a shot from close range after a mistake by goalkeeper Felipe, who misplayed a long ball into the area and let it bounce over him.

The match was played with temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), and the game was stopped by the referee in the middle of the first half so players could take a break to cool off on the sidelines.

The result in front of nearly 45,000 fans keeps both teams without a loss in this year's Sao Paulo state tournament. It also keeps alive Palmeiras' five-match unbeaten streak against Corinthians.

Ronaldo's goal was the first for Corinthians in four matches against Palmeiras.

It was the first match between the fierce rivals in more than a year because Corinthians was in the second division in 2008. The teams last faced each other in February 2008, when Palmeiras won 1-0.

Palmeiras, which played without injured World Cup veterans Marcos and Edmilson, played a man down for the final six minutes after right back Fabinho Capixaba was sent off for a foul that brought a second yellow card.

Palmeiras, the defending champion, remained atop the 20-team standings, three points ahead of second-place Corinthians but with a game in hand.

Santos stayed closer to the leaders by beating Oeste 2-1 at Pacaembu stadium on Saturday, keeping alive the team's six-match unbeaten streak since coach Vagner Mancini took over. The 2006 and 2007 champion is fourth, six points from Palmeiras. The top four clubs will advance to the semifinals.

Oeste abdicated the right to play at home in Itapolis because it would earn more money with the game in Sao Paulo, where Santos has a large fan base. Nearly 25,000 people were at Pacaembu on Saturday, more than half the population of 40,000 in Itapolis.

The match marked the debut of 17-year-old sensation Neymar, who already has a $40 million (€31.6 million) buyout clause on his contract.

Third-place Sao Paulo will play against last-place Mogi Mirim later on Sunday in Mogi Mirim.

In the Rio Cup, the second stage of the Rio de Janeiro state championship, Vasco debuted with a 3-0 win over Friburguense. Former Werder Bremen midfielder Carlos Alberto scored one of the goals for the four-time national champion.

Later on Sunday, Fluminense will play at Mesquita in its first match since signing coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led Brazil to its fourth World Cup title in 1994 in the United States and to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Botafogo, the Guanabara Cup champion, will host Tigres, also later Sunday. Botafogo will face the winner of the Rio Cup for the state title.

On Saturday, defending Rio state champion Flamengo beat Cabofriense 3-1 at Maracana, while Bangu defeated host Madureira 2-1 and Boavista routed visiting Duque de Caxias 3-1.


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