(Reuters) - Neymar led holders Santos into the Libertadores Cup knockout phase as Group One winners inspiring them to a late 2-0 home victory over Bolivia’s The Strongest on Thursday.
Fellow Brazilian side Internacional, twice South American champions, qualified in second place despite a disappointing performance in a 1-0 defeat away to Juan Aurich of Peru.
Santos finished top with 13 points from their six matches. Inter were second with eight points, The Strongest third with seven and Juan Aurich bottom on six.
Having spent most of the match wearing down the Bolivian side’s resistance, Neymar crossed to substitute striker Alan Kardec who headed Santos in front four minutes from time.
Less than two minutes later Neymar broke through the defence to steer the ball past goalkeeper Daniel Vaca and secure the win over the Bolivian side who had upset Santos in their opening group match at high altitude in La Paz two months ago.
In Neymar’s best chance of the first half, Vaca matched the 20-year-old’s 35th-minute free kick with a good diving save.
A minute later, Santos striker Borges hit the bar with a rising shot from the middle of the box and just before the interval the visitors cleared a Neymar header from a corner off their line.
On the hour, Neymar raced clear on the left in a swift counter-attack that presaged his later goal but, with Vaca cutting down his options, he put the ball outside the far post.
Panama striker Luis Tejada scored the only goal in the other Group One match when he headed Juan Aurich’s winner after a quarter of an hour in the Peruvian champions’ home town of Chiclayo.
Atletico Nacional of Colombia, champions in 1989, were away to Copa Sudamericana holders Universidad de Chile in the Chilean capital Santiago in a later match where only first place in Group Eight was at stake.
Also among six former champions in the last 16 are Boca Juniors (six titles) and Velez Sarsfield (1994), both of Argentina, and Brazil’s Vasco da Gama.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury