Neymar delivers Copa Libertadores triumph to Santos

Santos 2 Peñarol 1 (Santos win 2-1 on aggregate)
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The Independent Football

It took a blast of Brazilian brilliance from Neymar to nudge the 2011 Copa Libertadores into Santos’ grasp.

At full-time Neymar hugged Pelé in the middle of the Pacaembu pitch he had played on alongside Ronaldo earlier in the month

Now Neymar has followed Pelé by bringing the Copa Libertadores to Santos there is no doubt the starlet is ready to re-enact Ronaldo’s achievements on the European stage.

However, no player has ever won South America’s most prestigious club competition single-handed. For his goal Neymar was ably assisted by a combination of brains and brawn from team-mates Paulo Henrique Ganso and Arouca.

When the ball was released to Neymar he jinked in from his perch on the left-hand angle of the Peñarol box and beat Sebastián Sosa at the near post.

Neymar put Santos in front shortly after the restart and their lead was doubled midway through the second period by another member of Brazil’s South American under-20 championship winning team. Right-back Danilo galloped into the opposition’s penalty area, wrong footed his marker and squeezed off a low finish with his left peg.

With Peñarol looking toothless in attack throughout the second leg it looked unlikely they would produce a sting in the tail. When they did get a goal ten minutes from time it had more than a hint of fortune about it as Santos defender Durval spooned the ball into his own net.

A grandstand finish was in the offing but despite plenty of huff and puff from the Uruguayans it remained the hosts who looked most likely to grab another. The fault for Santos not finding a third must be levelled at Zé Eduardo. The striker spurned a string of chances that were created by the axis of Neymar, Ganso and Elano.

Neymar was booked during the first leg in Montevideo and back home in Brazil he once again found his way into the referee’s notepad. Not for diving this time but rather for going in with a foot up on Alejandro González. The tackle may have been retribution for González nibbling on Neymar’s shins earlier in the match but the challenge put the Uruguayan out of the final. Evidence that there remains a few creases yet to be ironed out of the youngster’s game.

One player who did manage to get through the game unscathed was Ganso and that will be a massive relief to Brazil’s boss Mano Menezes. It was the playmaker’s first game back after another lengthy lay-off in what has been an injury plagued year.

Amid the inevitable scuffle that greeted the full-time whistle walked the dejected figure of Peñarol boss Diego Aguirre. During his playing days Aguirre scored a dramatic late winner for the Uruguayan giants in the Copa Libertadores final.

Aguirre had nobody on the pitch to step into his shoes the way Neymar had emulated Pelé. As for Neymar matching Pelé and Ronaldo’s exploits with the national team, as good a place as any to get started will be next month’s Copa America.

Santos (4-4-2): Rafael; Léo (Alex Sandro, 68), Edu Dracena, Durval, Danilo; Adriano, Arouca, Ganso (Pará, 86), Elano; Neymar, Zé Eduardo.

Yellow cards: Neymar, Zé Eduardo.

Goals: Neymar 47, Danilo 69.

Peñarol (4-4-2): Sosa; González (Albín, 38 - Estoyanoff, 79), Valdez, G. Rodriguez, D. Rodriguez; Corujo, Freitas, Aguiar, Meir (Urretaviscaya, 63); Martinuccio, Olivera.

Yellow cards: González, Corujo, Freitas.

Goals: Durval o.g. 80.

Referee: Sergio Pezzota (Argentina)

For more South American football and Copa America 2011 coverage, listen to The South American Football Show.