2011 was an exhausting year for Santos. They went all the way in the Campeonato Paulista and the Copa Libertadores, and upon the conclusion of the Campeonato Brasileiro, jetted off to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup. There, defeat by Barcelona in the final was O Peixe’s 77th match of the year.

Coach Muricy Ramalho therefore elected to give his first-teamers longer to relax before they return to action for, what he hopes, will be an equally long 2012. In the absence of Felipe, Ganso, Neymar, Borges and Co, though, Santos were held to a 1-1 draw at minnows XV de Piracicaba in their state championship bow on Saturday, and were trailing at home to Ituano with just 17 minutes remaining last night.

That’s when Alan Kardec, who had been operating in a more withdrawn role, began getting into the opposition’s area more. It paid dividends, with the 23-year-old, who is midway through a one-year loan from Benfica, equalising with a diving header before snatching Santos a 2-1 victory with an assured finish in injury time.

“We used Alan as a midfielder when Ganso got injured last year,” explained Muricy afterwards. “He was very withdrawn in the first half. I prefer him closer to the area.

“In the second half he was and it paid off. He’s intelligent tactically and very obedient. He did well in Europe. He’s a difficult player to mark. He gets in good positions.” Alan Kardec said: “I just want to help the team. I was more withdrawn to help out with the marking, but when we have the ball near the goalline, I have to make sure I get in the area to score goals.

“But you can’t win a game on your own. I think everybody showed they are capable of playing for Santos. We have a lot of quality players and important competitions ahead, so everybody deserves respect. Scoring goals brings me great happiness, but everybody helped out and gave it their all, and that’s why we won.”

Era Pele feat the target
O Peixe return to action away to Paulista on Sunday, when Muricy will once again field a second-string XI, before facing Oeste and then Palmeiras in what will be their first clássico of the year.

Santos are vying to become the first team to win three successive Campeonato Paulista crowns since they themselves managed the feat in 1969 with a team including Carlos Alberto, Ramos Delgado, Djalma Dias, Clodoaldo, Edu, Toninho Guerreiro and Pele.