2011 Copa Libertadores Final Preview: Santos vs. Penarol

Brazilian club Santos and Uruguay's Penarol square off on Wednesday June 22nd in Sao Paulo in the final of the Copa Libertadores, one of the most important club competitions in South American football. Penarol have won the prestigious tournament in 1960, 1961, 1966, 1982 and 1987. Santos, meanwhile, won the Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963, when their team featured the young Pele.

In the first leg of the finals on June 15, Penarol and Santos drew 0-0 in Montivedeo. Wednesday's match will be played on Santos's home turf at the Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, São Paulo, giving Santos the slim advantage of playing the final leg at home. The first leg featured gritty defending from the Uruguayans wherein Darío Rodríguez stifled Neymar by exploiting the Brazilian teen sensation's tendency to go to ground. In the second leg, however, Santos should be boosted by the return of Paulo Henrique Ganso to the midfield after recovering from a thigh injury.

Judging by the first leg in Montivedeo, Santos desperately need Ganso's creativity to unlock the rugged Penarol defense that previously constrained Neymar on both the right and flank. The Uruguayans, however, are determined to win and remain optimistic about winning on the road. Penarol knocked out defending champions Internacional and claim rugged defending in addition to clinical goal scoring capacity from Juan Manuel Oliveira Lopez, who, like Neymar, has already scored 5 goals in the tournament.

That said, the battle is likely to be won in midfield. Expect Ganso to rise to the occasion and free Neymar in front of a home crowd. Neymar and Ganso will be eager to claim some silverware in support of their self-promotion amongst European clubs and to cement their case for a spot in the starting line-up of the Brazilian national team for Copa America. Moreover, Santos coach Muricy Ramalho is a master tactician and will likely find ways to free Neymar from the grip of Penarol captain Dario Rodriguez. The final will likely involve a hard fought, highly physical match where the hosts, Santos, prevail.

Prediction: Santos 2-Penarol 0

Probable Santos lineup (4-2-2-2): Rafael; Jonathan, Bruno Rodrigo Fenelon Palomo, Durval, Léo; Arouca, Danilo, Elano, Ganso; Neymar, Zé Eduardo

Probable Penarol lineup (4-2-2-2): Sosa, Dario Rodrigues, Guillermo Rodriduez, Carlos Adrian Valdez, Alejandro Gonzalez, Mier, Frietas, Martinuccio, Aguiar, Corujo, Juan Manuel Oliveira Lopez.