Corinthians fans are now cheering for a second division team.
The 97-year-old team, which won its fourth Brazilian championship in 2005 and the world club title in 2000, looked like a pale shadow of its former self on Sunday when it managed only to draw Gremio 1-1, relegating Corinthians at the end of a long lackluster first-division campaign.
The demotion left the team's estimated 30 million fans feeling like orphans.
"It was the saddest day in my life," Corinthians fan Joao Paulo Tonidandel told the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. "It (relegation) made me even sadder than when my mother died."
Relegation was the end of a "chronicle of a tragedy foretold," Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil's most respected sports analysts and an ardent Corinthians fan, said in his column in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.
"Corrupt (team) directors associated with unscrupulous adventurers" are to blame for the fall, Kfouri said in an apparent reference to former Corinthians president Alberto Dualib, who in 2004 signed a 10-year partnership with Kia Joorabchian, an agent of London-based Media Sports Investments. The deal gave MSI 51 percent of the team's future profits.
MSI invested heavily. Corinthians went on to win the league title in 2005, but top players were then sold without being replaced and plans for a new stadium never materialized.
Cash flow began to dry up amid charges Corinthians was being used as a money laundering front by Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, said to be MSI's secret financier.
Earlier this year, the Foreign Ministry issued international arrest warrants for Joorabchian and Berezovsky, both of whom now live in London. The ministry said British authorities received the warrants in September.
The ministry's press office said it did not know if London had served the warrants to the two men, who have denied the charges.
"Corinthians was relegated to the second division because of a series of errors committed by Dualib during the 14 years he headed Corinthians," said the team's current president Andres Sanchez.
He said his predecessor left a debt of nearly 100 million reals (US$56 million ;38 million EUR), adding that details of Dualib's legacy "will soon be known."
Corinthians coach Nelson Baptista said he was confident the team will be back in the first division in 2009.
"Life continues. Corinthians is a a club with strong traditions and will recover form this setback," Baptista said. "Corinthians is not the first important team to be relegated. Other teams have gone through the same experience and returned to the first division stronger than before."
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