BUENOS AIRES - Muricy Ramalho could not have asked for a tougher start as Santos coach than a Libertadores Cup match with Group Five leaders Cerro Porteno of Paraguay next week without three suspended players including Neymar.
"We've lost three important players, something that could have been avoided," said interim boss Marcelo Martelotte, who had been in charge since Adilson Batista resigned in February and will now revert to be part of the coaching staff.
"Muricy has no choice but to work on those three problems for the next game. But I have no doubt we have been strengthened by this win over Colo Colo to face Cerro Porteno," he told reporters.
Brazil's Santos revived their chances of reaching the last 16 with their first win, 3-2 at home to Colo Colo on Wednesday, but had three players sent off as the Chilean side had two dismissed by Uruguayan referee Roberto Silvera.
The biggest loss will be teenage ace Neymar, who was handed a second booking because he celebrated his goal by picking up one of the many masks of himself distributed at the Vila Belmiro by one of his sponsors and parading it over his face.
"Neymar was sent off for not knowing the rules... we need to know the rules," Martelotte said.
Neymar had just scored a dazzling solo goal, jinking through the defence with exquisite close control including a backheel, a "sombrero" - a Pele-style lob over an opponent - before chipping past the goalkeeper to put Santos 3-0 up.
With Ze Roberto and Colo Colo's Uruguayan captain Andres Scotti sent off two minutes later for fighting, Santos were left with nine men facing 10 for more than half an hour and the Chilean team pulled two goals back in the final eight minutes.
Brazil midfielder Elano was sent off from the bench in the 89th minute, having already been substituted, apparently for throwing a towel towards Colo Colo's Argentine coach Americo Gallego.
"I'm going to congratulate (the team), say they were competitive, but they still need to improve emotionally," Ramalho, signed by Santos on Tuesday, said ahead of his first training session at Vila Belmiro on Thursday.
"The play was good but players need to be conscious, calm. Our team felt robbed and were nervous. We must know how to play football but also use our intelligence," he told reporters after watching the match from the stands.
"The squad is very short. We need to study Cerro closely," Ramalho, who steered Fluminense to the Brazilian league title last year, added as he also contemplated the fact that three other players are unavailable through injury.
With two rounds of matches to go in the group, Cerro Porteno lead with eight points. Colo Colo have six, Santos five and Deportivo Tachira of Venezuela two.
Santos travel to Asuncion to face the Paraguayan side next week before hosting Tachira the following week.