BUENOS AIRES - Twice South American
champions Santos reached the Libertadores Cup final on Wednesday
after holding on for a thrilling 3-3 draw at Paraguay's Cerro
Porteno in Asuncion.
The Brazilian side won the semi-final tie 4-3 on aggregate
having beaten Cerro 1-0 at home in last week's first leg.
However, captain Edu Dracena will miss the final after being
sent off in added-time.
Santos, champions in 1962 and 1963 during Pele's heyday,
face either Velez Sarsfield of Argentina or Penarol of Uruguay,
who meet in the second leg of their tie in Buenos Aires on
Thursday. Penarol won the first leg 1-0.
"They played the better football, we put in the fighting
spirit. They are a very good side and they have Neymar, who
makes the difference," Cerro's Juan Manuel Lucero told Fox
Santos, improving with each match since coach Muricy Ramalho
took charge eight weeks ago, went ahead in the third minute.
Brazil midfielder Elano hit a right-footed free kick from
the left, following a foul on Neymar, to the near post where Ze
Eduardo's glancing header beat goalkeeper Diego Barreto.
Close to the half hour, Barreto's bizarre mistake handed
Santos their second via an own goal by the Paraguay keeper.
Neymar ran for a high ball out of defence from Edu Dracena,
scorer of the only goal in the first leg, deep into Cerro
territory with two defenders chasing.
As the trio entered the box, centre back Pedro Benitez rose
above Neymar to head the ball towards the advancing Barreto who
seemed to be surprised by the flight of the ball and his
attempted punch merely helped it over his head into the net.
Cerro, who have never reached the final, reacted quickly and
pulled a goal back less than four minutes later, left back Cesar
Benitez heading home Argentine youth international Juan Iturbe's
However, Neymar added a third for the visitors in first-half
injury time when he took a pass from midfielder Arouca, stepped
inside a defender and deceived Barreto with a low shot inside
the near post.
Battling Cerro pulled another goal back after an hour when
striker Fredy Bareiro headed down a cross from the right and
substitute midfielder Lucero volleyed past Rafael.
The home side pinned Santos back in the final quarter of an
hour and midfielder Jonathan Fabbro struck a superb equaliser
from 25 metres into the top corner nine minutes from time.
Cerro, who hit the bar in added-time, salvaged some pride
after a disappointing start but were left still needing two
goals to win the tie with Santos holding the insurance of their
Santos last reached the final in 2003 when they lost to Boca
Juniors of Argentina.
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