- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) - Flamengo drew rival Vasco da Gama 1-1 in the first leg of the final of the Rio de Janeiro state championship on Sunday and is a draw away from winning its first state title in three years.

Defender Rodrigo put Vasco da Gama ahead with a header from a corner in the 11th minute and forward Paulinho equalized for Flamengo with a long-range right-footer in the 60th. Vasco, seeking its first state trophy since 2003, played a man down from the 55th at the Maracana Stadium.

In the Sao Paulo state championship, Ituano upset Santos 1-0 in the first leg of the final at the Pacaembu stadium. The minnow club will play for a draw next week to try to win a top title for the first time in its history.

Flamengo, focusing on the Copa Libertadores, didn’t play with all of its regular starters. But it took advantage of the sending off of striker Everton Costa after a second yellow card early in the second half to keep pressure on its rival and earn the equalizer.

Flamengo has won four Rio titles in the last seven years, the last in 2011. Vasco da Gama lost the last four finals it played against Flamengo, including in 2004, the last time it reached the decisive match.

Flamengo has the tiebreaker for next week’s finale at the Maracana because it had a better campaign during the competition.

Only about 27,000 fans were at the game on Sunday, in one of the worst attendances for a state final in the famed stadium.

In Sao Paulo, Ituano came away with a surprising 1-0 win over Santos thanks to a goal by midfielder Cristian in the 20th minute. Midfielder Cicero missed a 35th-minute penalty kick for Santos to the disappointment of its nearly 30,000 fans packing the Pacaembu.

“They pressured us in the end but we were able to hold on to the result,” said Ituano coach Doriva, a former Brazil midfielder. “But we know it’s not over yet. The final match is going to be very difficult.”

Santos is playing in its sixth straight state final, the first after Brazil star Neymar left for Barcelona. It won three titles in a row from 2010-12. Last year it lost to Corinthians, which didn’t advance past the first stage this time.

With the tournament’s best attack, the team from the coastal city of Santos had lost only once and had scored goals in all but one match.

Ituano hasn’t conceded a goal in five straight matches and has the competition’s best defense with 10 goals in 18 games. The team from the interior city of Itu had stunned Palmeiras 1-0 in the one-leg semifinal last weekend at the Pacaembu, which was also packed with the rival’s fans.

Ituano, whose general manager is former Brazil midfielder Juninho, escaped relegation in the last round of the regional tournament last year. It has been playing in the first division since 2002.

In the Minas Gerais state championship, rivals Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro drew 0-0 in the first leg of the final. Atletico played without former Brazil star Ronaldinho because of a right-foot injury.

In a friendly in the southern city of Porto Alegre, Argentine midfielder Andres D’Alessandro scored twice as Internacional defeated Penarol of Uruguay 2-1 in the first major test at the Beira-Rio stadium, which will host five World Cup matches in June.

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