Santos hope Neymar can emulate Pele

BUENOS AIRES - Santos are pinning their hopes on Neymar to act as a modern day Pele and revive the club's glory days of the 1960s when they meet Penarol in Wednesday's Libertadores Cup Final first leg.

The teenage forward - a reported transfer target for Chelsea and Real Madrid - has been the inspiration behind Santos' run to the final, with the club having started as tournament outsiders in February.

Not even the ash spewing from a Chilean volcano that has disrupted air travel in the southern cone of South America for more than a week has upset the Brazilian team's resolve.

"There was anxiety over not knowing how we were going to get there but nothing will stop our will to be champions," Neymar told reporters as the squad left for the game in Montevideo.

"The match is going ahead," Nestor Benitez, spokesman for Conmebol, staunchly declared.

"Santos are flying to Montevideo where the airport has been opened, and so are the match officials. Let's hope it's a great occasion after so much uncertainty," Benitez told Reuters.

Pele, who helped Santos win South America's equivalent of the European Champions League in 1962 and 1963, told the Uruguayan daily El Pais: "I love Santos and want them to be champions, but in this match there are no favourites and any of the two can win".

The footballing great added that playing a Uruguayan team "is very difficult because they are warriors and they battle up to the last minute in or outside Uruguay."


The clash with Penarol, the Uruguayans that won the first two Libertadores Cups in 1960 and 1961 before losing to Santos in the third final, is one of the great classics of South American football.

Penarol, who have won the trophy five times, also faltered in the group phase and almost failed to reach the knockout rounds but like Santos they have improved with every tie.

Another key factor in Santos' improvement has been the arrival in March of coach Muricy Ramalho who is looking for his first Libertadores crown.

Ramalho has plotted four Brazilian championship title wins in the last five years, three in a row with Sao Paulo and last year with Fluminense.

Santos are without Brazil playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso, who is recovering from injury, but hope to have him fit in time for the second leg in Sao Paulo on June 22.

Penarol, who won the last of their Libertadores crowns in 1987 and had not qualified for the competition since 2003, are sleeping giants brought back to life by coach Diego Aguirre.

The 45-year-old Aguirre has Libertadores blood in his veins having scored the winning goal for Penarol in the 1987 final against America of Colombia.