SAO PAULO (AP) — Fluminense will remain in the Brazilian league despite being relegated on the field, Brazil's sports tribunal ruled on Friday.
The tribunal unanimously rejected an appeal by Portuguesa, which lost four points for using a suspended player in the last round.
Without the points, Portuguesa dropped below Fluminense in the 20-team standings and has to replace the traditional Rio de Janeiro club in the second division next year.
A four-time national champion, Fluminense became the first defending champ to be relegated in the Brazilian league. But it was saved by a technicality.
The ordeal, however, further embarrassed football in Brazil, which has recently made headlines for fan violence and the deaths of workers at World Cup stadiums.
Portuguesa's suspended player, reserve midfielder Heverton, was on the field for about 15 minutes.
"Portuguesa made a mistake," tribunal member Decio Neuhaus said. "We need to apply the rules."
Portuguesa finished with 48 points and advanced to play in next year's Copa Sudamericana, but with Friday's ruling if fell to 44 points, two behind Fluminense.
The club said it was still considering whether to take the case outside the sports tribunals.
"The tournament isn't over yet," Portuguesa President Manuel da Lupa said. "We did our part on the field. It's absurd what is happening to Portuguesa."
The tribunal session was broadcast by nearly all sports channels in Brazil and dozens of fans were cheering outside the courtroom in Rio de Janeiro.