Brazilian giants Santos reached the Copa Libertadores final as they drew 3-3 away to Paraguay's Cerro Porteno to claim a narrow 4-3 aggregate win on Wednesday.
Santos, who won the title in 1962 and 1963, will play the Copa Libertadores title-deciding tie for the first time since 2003, when they lost to Boca Juniors. Cerro Porteno, meanwhile, missed the opportunity to play their very first final after putting up an incredible fight.
In the third minute Neymar was fouled by Pedro Benitez close to the box on the left side. Elano shot from the free-kick and Ze Eduardo headed the ball at the near post and opened the scoring for Santos. Seven minutes later, Cerro coach Leonardo Astrada was forced to make a substitution as midfielder Ivan Torres picked up an injury and Juan Manuel Iturbe came in.
In the 28th minute, Pedro Benitez's night got even worse as he headed the ball into the back of his own net - not helped by a mistake by keeper Diego Barreto - and helped Santos widen the gap to two, three overall, to leave Cerro needing to score four goals to progress. Cesar Benitez reduced the deficit with a header four minutes later, but Neymar finished a rapid fast counter-attacking play to consolidate Santos' lead at the Estadio La Olla Azulgrana in Asuncion.
Once again, Cerro fought back as Juan Manuel Lucero shot a right-foot strike 16 minutes after the interval. Cerro needed three more to make it into the finals and Jonathan Fabbro gave his team's fans some hope with a long-distance shot in the 81st to level 3-3 on the night. Neymar fired a free-kick close five minutes later, while a Luis Caceres shot for Cerro hit the crossbar in injury time.
In the last minute of the game, Santos captain Edu Dracena was shown a red card and will miss the first leg of the final. Santos' opponents in the title-deciding tie will be Argentinian league leaders Velez Sarsfield or Uruguayan giants Penarol. Penarol won the first leg 1-0 in Montevideo while Velez host the return match on Thursday.
Rafael told Fox Sports Cerro were great strong opponents: "They were a very tough team," he said. "We knew it was going to be a difficult game. We managed to score three away goals in the first half. We did not win, but we progressed in the end."
Cerro Porteno's Lucero, meanwhile, commented: "Santos have great players. We expected more because of our fans, but this is over. Santos played better football."