Juninho bows out on winning note

RIO DE JANEIRO - Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos were unable to prevent Corinthians from missing out on the Paulista championship semi-finals while their former Brazil team mate Juninho retired on a winning note.

Former Middlesbrough and Atletico Madrid playmaker Juninho took his bow as a player helping Ituano, the club of which he is chairman, escape relegation by recovering from a two-goal deficit to beat Portuguesa 3-2 on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old scored his second goal of the season early in the second half to set up his team's recovery.

"That was my objective. I had stopped playing but I hadn't quit (the game). That's why I wanted to say goodbye at the club where I started out," Juninho, who with Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup, told reporters.

"From Thursday I'm going to dedicate myself only to running Ituano."

Paulista (Sao Paulo state) title holders Corinthians, with Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos scoring, crushed relegated Rio Claro 5-1 but ended up a point behind Sao Paulo in fifth place.

Leaders Santos, who had already secured their semi-final berth before their 4-2 win over Sertaozinho with a reserve team, will meet Sao Paulo, who beat Santo Andre 3-1.

Santo Andre meet Gremio Prudente in the other semi-final after the two teams from the interior of the state finished higher than big-name sides Corinthians and Palmeiras from the state capital.

Corinthians, in their centenary year, have their aim firmly set on the South American Libertadores Cup which they have never won.

"Clearly, we are frustrated and sad but Corinthians' project continues, it is well founded and we now hope to have a lot of success in the Libertadores," club president Andres Sanchez told reporters.

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