The rangy striker was on-target in the first half to give his side a slim advantage over the Brazilians, and if not for Rafael the deficit could have been higherA gutsy performance from Velez Sarsfield led the home side to a narrow victory in Buenos Aires over Santos, although after being denied several times by on-form Rafael in goal Ricardo Gareca's men would perhaps have liked to add another to the scoreline in view of an inevitably tricky tie in Vila Belmiro for the second-leg of their Copa Libertadores quarter-final.
Velez came out to impose themselves on the game early in Liniers, showing almost from the first whistle that they were looking to take the initiative against the Libertadores holders. The Argentines pressed incessantly and were not afraid to get physical with their rivals, but also distributing the ball well and showing no little imagination through the talents of Juan Manuel Martinez and the excellent Francisco Cerro.
The Fortin threatened a handful of times in the opening exchanges, but it was Santos who had the first real chance of the match. Quiet in the first 20 minutes, Neymar finally burst into life with a mazy run; and when the young star was thwarted on the edge of the area, Ganso's deflected shot forced a wonderful fingertip save from Marcelo Barovero.
At the other end, Augusto Fernandez went close to putting the home side up when the ball broke to him on the right. The former River Plate midfielder released a wicked half-volley, but Rafael was more than equal to the challenge as he palmed away to avoid an opener. The passionate Velez fans, however, did not have to wait long to celebrate.
A pinpoint crossfield pass from Cerro found Emiliano Papa with space on the left, and the full back did enough to make room and send in a dangerous cross. The Santos defence failed to pick up Mauro Obolo in the centre and the ex-Arsenal de Sarandi hitman looped his header over the despairing Rafael to put his name on the scoresheet and his team into the lead. The Peixe were left reeling, and only a very sympathetic call from referee Carlos Amarilla saved the Brazilians from conceding a penalty on Martinez that could have sent into the break two down.
Velez had a scare early in the second half when the ball was flashed across the penalty area, and it took the cool head of captain Fabian Cubero to clear away from danger. Cerro continued to impress in both attack and defence, a crunching challenge on Neymar staying in the mind as the wonderkid was stopped abruptly in his tracks. Obolo, meanwhile, went within inches of doubling the lead, when his bullet header flashed just past the left post with roughly an hour left to play.
Sebastian Dominguez was the next to test Rafael in search for another, seconds after Elano's dangerous free kick was easily dealt with by Barovero. The ex-Corinthians defender rose highest to direct the ball towards goal, but the keeper was waiting and got down well to save his side. Fernandez was then on hand to release another stinging volley at goal, but the young shot-stopper's reactions were impeccable as he once more deflected the ball away.
Velez will be happy to have established a slender advantage over their highly-rated rivals, more so having avoided conceding a potentially decisive away goal. The Fortin, however, will have to be on top form if they wish to eliminate Neymar and Co. in front of their own fans in the return match.