Santos midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso starred in Thursday’s Copa Libertadores clash against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno. The number 10 set up Maikon Leite for the second goal and controlled the midfield like an “artist,” in the words of his coach Muricy Ramalho. Danilo opened the scoring for Santos in the 12th minute with a remarkable left footed strike from 30 meters. Three minutes after the second half whistle, Ganso displayed his vision by spotting Maikon bursting up the right flank and delivering the through ball for Santos’s second goal. Ramalho remarked that, prior to the match, he had instructed Ganso to forget both the crowds and his possible transfer to AC Milan or Inter Milan next season. The 21 year old heeded his coach’s instructions by bursting forth from midfield and pressuring the Cerro Porteno defenders to come out of their predetermined positions.
The match underscored the success of Ganso’s recovery from a torn ACL injury in his right knee sustained in August 2010. Ganso made his first start in professional competition on March 16, 2011 in a Copa Libertadores match against Colo Colo. This Thursday’s must win clash against Cerro Porteno illustrated Ganso’s creativity, intelligence and chutzpah. With Neymar, Elano and Ze Eduardo suspended because of their theatrics in Santos’s 3-2 victory over Colo Colo on April 6, Ganso’s presence in the Cerro Porteno match proved critical. Santos are now tied with Cerro Porteno for second place in Group 5 and remain in contention for advancement to the next stage of the competition.
This year’s Copa Libertadores features the reunion of the midfield-striker partnership between Ganso and Neymar that many Brazil fans hope will translate into a sublime pairing on the Brazilian national football team that parallels the understanding between Socrates and Zico in the early 1980s. Although Mano Menezes seems to have settled on Lucas Leiva and Ramires in midfield, the Selecao additionally needs a creative playmaker in the vein of Socrates or Kaka that can supply the ball to Pato, Neymar and company.