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Latin American Round-up

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Brian Homewood

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Titleholders Vasco da Gama, sulking over the fixture list, began with a goaless draw as the Brazilian championship started on an off-day for veteran striker Romario. Favourites Nacional and Penarol both won as the championship proper began in Uruguay.

Defending champions Vasco da Gama, wearing all black in protest at a fixture list which they deemed was unfair, were held to a goaless draw away to Gama as the Brazilian championship began with a flurry of draws on Wednesday.

Vasco were furious because they were forced to play their opening game away from home, claiming that as defending champions they had the right to start with a home match.

At one stage, Vasco president Eurico Miranda threatened to take court action and halt the competition over the seemingly trivial matter but he backed down on Tuesday at the request of his players.

Veteran Vasco striker Romario, who on Tuesday was left out of Brazil's squad for this month's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay, had a dismal game as he missed two easy chances and then asked to be substituted, claiming he felt unwell.

Last year, the Brazilian championship was not held due to a legal dispute and was replaced by a 116-team tournament called the Joao Havelange Cup. This was won by Vasco, who were subsequently recognised as Brazilian champions.

Six of the 12 games played on Wednesday ended in draws while Bahia produced the best result as they thrashed Sao Caetano 5-0.

This year, 28 teams are playing in the division. They meet each other once with the top eight qualifying for the knockout stages.

Traditional rivals Nacional and Penarol both began with wins as the championship proper got under way.

Defending champions Nacional struggled to a 2-1 victory over promoted Fenix in a game played on Tuesday. Penarol had little trouble disposing of Juventud, scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes through Roberto Lima and Fabian Canobbio in a 2-0 win.

Defensor Sporting, who look the best-equipped team to upset the status quo, came from behind to win 2-1 away to Bella Vista with two goals from Brazilian Eliomar.

The first half of the year was devoted to a bewilderingly complex qualifying tournament which whittled the 18 starters down to ten. The tournament proper is divided into two stages with the winners of each meeting in the final.

Fabian Cubero scored a hat-trick as Espoli, a team belonging to the police force, began the second stage of the championship with a 4-1 win over Liga de Portoviejo.

Francisco Luzuriaga scored the other goal for Espoli.

Champions Olmedo also began the second stage with a 2-1 win over Emelec.

Sport Boys completed the opening round of matches in the Clausura, the second stage of the championship, by beating Coopsol 2-1.

South American champions Boca Juniors were held to a goaless draw at home to Paraguay's Cerro Porteno in the made-for-television competition in which 20 of the biggest clubs from southern South America take part by invitation only.

Only 8,000 people watched the match as befits a contest where television dictates everything from who takes part to the times of the fixtures. Boca have two points from two games in group A, which is led by Chile's Universidad Catolica.

Argentine champions San Lorenzo picked up their first points in group B by beating Olimpia 2-0 in Paraguay thanks to second half goals from Bernardo Romeo - top scorer in the last Argentine championship - and Alberto Acosta.

The Merscosur's northern equivalent, which this year features teams from the United States for the first time, began with Peru's Sporting Cristal surprisingly winning 2-1 away to Kansas City Wizards in group C.

Ecuador's Aucas drew 1-1 with Mexico's Necaxa and Peruvians Alianza Lima draw away to Colombia's America by the same score in group A.

The two U.S. representatives have replaced teams from Costa Rica, who have been kicked out.

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