2000 Year in Review: Corinthians goes from top to bottom

The story of Corinthians is symbolic of the state of Brazilian soccer.

It also sums up the topsy-turvy year that was 2000.

Brazil continues to produce more good players than any other country in the world, but it's plagued by disorganization.

The Sao Paulo club was crowned champion of the inaugural FIFA Club World Championship in January, but by the fall it had hit bottom.

Corinthians lost 10 straight games in the controversial Joao Havelange Cup to finish 24th out of 25 teams in the new Brazilian championship.

Its top players all left, one after being confronted by angry Corinthians fans.

And it fired three coaches.

Corinthians is the most popular club in Sao Paulo - it's named after Corinthians, the famous touring English team of the early 1900s - and the second-most popular club in Brazil after Rio's Flamengo.

It holds a special place in the hearts of many Brazilians because of the pro-democracy stance its players took in the '80s. To protest Brazil's military dictatorship, players, led by the great Socrates, agreed to decide all team matters by majority vote.

Corinthians' fall is all the more remarkable given its recent record of success.

It won back-to-back Brazilian titles in 1998 and 1999, attracting the attention of Dallas investment firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, which acquired a 49-percent interest in the club in 1999.

If Hicks, Muse hoped for more restraint from Corinthians management than is typically shown at most Brazilian clubs, it would be sadly disappointed.

Four months after Corinthians beat Vasco da Gama at Maracana Stadium on penalty kicks in the final of the Club World Championship in January, it faced another tiebreaker.

This time, it fell to Sao Paulo neighbor Palmeiras in the semifinals of the Libertadores Cup, and chaos ensued.

Oswaldo de Oliveira, who guided Corinthians to the world title, was fired.

By the summer, most of the heroes of the Club World Championship run - goalie Dida, midfielders Freddy Rincon and Vampeta, and striker Edilson - were gone.

Edilson left after members of the notorious "Gavioes da Fiel" ("Hawks of the Faithful") fan club invaded the club's headquarters to protest the team's performances and he had to be saved by security guards.

Corinthians was paying the price, in part, for its heavy schedule.

By the time it began the Joao Havelange Cup in July, Corinthians had already played in three domestic competitions - the Sao Paulo state championship, the Sao Paulo-Rio tournament and the Copa Brasil - and two international tournaments.

In 1999, it played 89 official matches.

The Joao Havelange Cup was a complete disaster.

Oswaldo Alvarez, de Oliveira's replacement, was fired in October, as was Alvarez's successor, Candinho, 10 games later.

Things got so bad that Corinthians fans halted play during a match with Flamengo to protest their team's downfall.

About the only good news for Corinthians was that it wouldn't face relegation.

The promotion-relegation rules implemented by the Brazilian federation had been ruled illegal by the Brazilian courts.

For once, the chaos worked in Corinthians' favor.

by Soccer America managing editor Paul Kennedy

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