Thursday, 16 June 2011

Goalless Draw in Montevideo Puts Santos in Libertadores Driving Seat

And so, with history heavy in the night air, Peñarol hosted Santos in the first leg of this year's Copa Libertadores decider. The Peixe travelled to Uruguay hoping to emulate their class of 1962; Pelé's side picked up the club's first continental silverware that year, after a three-legged final against the Montevideo giants. The current Santos team, of course, has one or two nascent icons of its own; their moment, one suspects, will come in next week's return match.

Peñarol 0-0 Santos
Goalless it may have been, but last night's first leg was far from dull. Chances came and went for both sides, with neither defence truly convincing. Without Paulo Henrique Ganso, who failed to recover from injury in time for the game, Muricy Ramalho elected to flood the midfield; Adriano and Arouca sat slightly deeper, with Elano and Danilo given licence to support the front men. In defence, Bruno Rodrigo replaced the suspended Edu Dracena, and Pará got the nod at rightback.

Float like a butterfly; Neymar in full flow.

The first chance of the game fell to the hosts; Luis Aguiar picked out Juan Manuel Oliveira, whose clever run had not been tracked by his marker. Luckily for Santos, goalkeeper Rafael was alert, darting out to smother at the feet of the attacker. At the other end, the Peixe also began to threaten. With Neymar being double-marked for much of the match, space was created for leftback Alex Sandro to power into; the youngster brought two decent saves from Sebastián Sosa midway through the half. Bruno Rodrigo also saw a header clip the woodwork. Peñarol, though, almost landed a sucker punch just before the interval; a loose ball fell to Darío Rodríguez, whose lobbed effort fell just over the bar.

The opportunities continued to flow thick and fast in the second half. Elano dragged an attempt into the path of Zé Eduardo, whose snapshot brought another fine stop from Sosa. The Peñarol 'keeper was marooned just minutes later, however, when the same striker met Alex Sandro's cross with a downward header. Unfortunately for Santos, the ball bounced inches wide of the post. The home side began to push more men forward, hoping for a goal to defend in the second leg. Substitute Antonio Pacheco added some guile, and Olivera dragged a decent chance wide of the upright.

Heartbreak; Diego Alonso sees the assistant referee's flag.

With just four minutes remaining, the Uruguayan side finally had the ball in the back of the net; the Santos defenders failed to deal with a low cross, and Diego Alonso tapped home from close range. To the ire of nearly everyone in the Centenário, however, the goal was (correctly) chalked off for offside. Peñarol boss Diego Aguirre was livid, sprinting down the touchline to remonstrate with the official. His side, one imagines, will need more of that garra (fighting spirit) in Wednesday's second leg; Santos, with their greater technical ability, are surely favourites to seal the title on home soil.

(Photo credits; (1) & (2) Miguel Rojo.)