RIO DE JANEIRO: Players of Palmeiras celebrate with the trophy on the podium after winning the Copa Libertadores football tournament by defeating Santos 1-0 in the all-Brazilian final match at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday. - AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO: Breno Lopes scored in the ninth minute of injury time as Palmeiras won their second Copa Libertadores title on Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Brazilian rivals Santos at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium. Traditionally decided over two legs, for the second edition running the final -- delayed two months by the COVID-19 pandemic -- was played as a one-off contest, kicking off in sweltering heat and inside a largely empty ground.

Breno came on as a late substitute and planted a magnificent header beyond Santos goalkeeper John deep into stoppage time to settle a scrappy encounter and earn Palmeiras a spot in this month's Club World Cup in Qatar. "I can't describe the emotion," said Breno, calling it an "unforgettable day" as Palmeiras added to their 1999 triumph, when they overcame Colombia's Deportivo Cali on penalties. "We wanted this title, I was rewarded with the goal and we're the Libertadores champions."

Palmeiras coach Abel Ferreira, 42, became just the third European manager to win the tournament, emulating Portuguese countryman Jorge Jesus who masterminded Flamengo's 2019 triumph. Croatia's Mirko Jozic also won with Colo Colo in 1991.

Palmeiras will pocket $15 million (12.4 million euros) in prize money after winning South America's top club competition, with cash-strapped Santos earning $6 million as runners-up in what was just the third all-Brazilian final. Palmeiras now face a Club World Cup semi-final on February 7 against either Tigres of Mexico or Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai before a potential final against European champions Bayern Munich.

Santos left with 'no answer'

Santos, who last won the tournament a decade ago when a teenaged Neymar scored in the final, missed out on the opportunity to become the first Brazilian club to lift the trophy for a fourth time. "We had no answer. It was the last shot," said despondent Santos forward Marinho. "I'm sad not to bring this title home, but we fought until the end."

Despite the ban on supporters from the iconic 80,000-capacity Maracana stadium, the site of one of the city's coronavirus field hospitals, local authorities agreed to grant entry to a few thousand invitees. Palmeiras, who held on to overcome River Plate in the semi-finals, were without the injured Gabriel Veron, the highly-rated 18-year-old linked to a number of Europe's top clubs.

As for Sao Paulo rivals Santos, who won two of their three Libertadores titles with Pele in the side in the early 1960s, in Kaio Jorge, 19, they have one of the country's most exciting young strikers. With attacking flair in limited display in the first half, it wasn't until Santos midfielder Diego Pituca's speculative drive on 76 minutes that either team genuinely threatened.

Palmeiras keeper Weverton shoveled the strike away and a fizzing follow-up shot from Felipe Jonatan flashed narrowly wide. Kaio Jorge then sent a tame overhead kick straight at Weverton, but with the game seemingly destined for extra time there was late drama after Santos coach Cuca was sent off for a touchline tussle with Marcos Rocha. Santos briefly lost focus as the eight minutes of stoppage time initially allotted elapsed, and Breno peeled off his marker, hanging in the air to head in a deep right-wing cross from Rony to spark jubilant Palmeiras celebrations. - AFP