Breno Lopes scored a 99th-minute winner as Palmeiras clinched the Copa Libertadores final in dramatic finale with a 1-0 victory over Santos at the Maracana on Saturday.

After a touchline fracas that saw Santos boss Cuca sent off, Breno – who replaced Gabriel Menino in the 85th minute – rose highest at the back post to nod a sensational right-wing delivery from Rony back across goal and into the far corner.

It was Rony's 13th goal involvement (five scored, eight assisted) in this season's Libertadores and it settled what had been a drab game of few chances in front of a small crowd.

Palmeiras were consequently crowned Libertadores champions for the second time in their history, with Abel Ferreira becoming just the third European coach to lead a team to glory in the competition.

Despite a fiery start there was minimal tempo in the play of both sides, with the temperature in Rio de Janeiro over 30 degrees Celsius at kick-off.

Raphael Veiga dragged the best opening wide before half-time and 14 minutes after the restart Lucas Verissimo nodded a free-kick from Marinho narrowly off target.

Veiga thundered a free-kick just over after the hour mark and Felipe Jonatan flashed a half-volley wide before Cuca was shown a red card in stoppage time for trying to stop Marcos Rocha taking a quick throw-in.

Santos were seemingly distracted by the incident and Palmeiras punished them, with Breno getting above Para – a champion with Santos in 2011 – to head home the decisive goal without the need for extra time.

There was huge adversity in the early stages of Yeferson Soteldo's career.

He grew up in the underprivileged neighbourhood of El Muertico in the city of Acarigua, where he claims an early grave was the likely alternative to a career in professional football, and although he gained a spot in the academy of Caracas – Venezuela's most successful club – he was thrown out aged 14 for "indiscipline".

Furthermore, there were huge question marks over his physical capability to make it as a pro – now 23, he only stands at five feet and two inches tall.

But Venezuela's most-decorated coach Noel Sanvicente gave him a second chance at Zamora and put him on the path to Saturday's Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Palmeiras at the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.  

In Messi's footsteps

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is an obvious inspiration for a number of players, but Soteldo felt a stronger connection than most to the Barcelona superstar as he worked his way through spells with Zamora, Huachipato and Universidad de Chile before ending up at Santos in 2019.

"Everyone was talking about my height, that I was not going to be able to play football because of my size, because I was very small. Now I'm here, I got over it," Soteldo told the official Libertadores website.

"That's for the young ones who are little too. They can see Soteldo and say, 'I can too.' I did that with Messi. I saw he was small, that he made it and I can too."

Since his arrival in the Campeonato Brasileiro, it is not just his short stature and bleached blond hair that have made him stand out on the pitch.

Soteldo has established himself as one of the league's most potent wingers, his low centre of gravity, incredible pace and quick feet making him a serious threat when in possession out wide.

It is no surprise he has attempted more dribbles (308) than anyone else since the start of the 2019 Brasileiro, but it is what he does in those moments that makes him dangerous.

Soteldo averages a carry with a shot every other game (0.6) in Brazil's top flight and creates a chance following a carry at least once per 90 minutes (1.1) – a league-leading amount among players to have featured for at least 1,800 minutes over the past two seasons.

That ability has seen him directly set up five goals and score three following a carry, accounting for over one third of his 22 goal involvements (13 scored, nine assisted) in the competition.

It is tough for defenders to stop him and he is unrelenting. Per 90 minutes, he averages 5.3 carries of at least 10 metres and 3.8 carries with a take on – the latter being the most among active players in the division.

Stepping up

He has managed to translate that form to the Libertadores this season, with only Carlos Tevez (30) and Nicolas de la Cruz (31) supplying more key passes than Soteldo (28) in the competition.

However, Soteldo has played one game fewer and averages three chances created per game, so would be expected to move level with De la Cruz after the final.

Carries have again formed a key part of the Venezuelan's output, with 11 of his key passes coming after a carry – three more than any other player – though only one has resulted in an assist.

This does not mean Soteldo is consistently involved, though. In this season's Libertadores he has 22 direct chance involvements, where his only contribution in those open play sequences was to create the chance. No player in the competition has more direct chance involvements and it shows the 23-year-old is always capable of popping up with a killer ball.

The next step

Life at the Vila Belmiro has not been a walk in the park for Soteldo.

Santos accepted a transfer bid from Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal last October but Soteldo opted against the move because of his desire to play in Europe.

The Brazilian side were only keen to sell to avoid a punishment from FIFA over fees owed to Huachipato following his arrival at the club, with a financial crisis making his future look increasingly uncertain.

In South America's biggest club game, at one of the continent's most famous stadiums, Soteldo can have a huge say in what happens next for him.

His journey to this point proves he will not let anything stand in his way.   

Weverton and Gabriel Menino will be key to Palmeiras' hopes of defeating Santos in the Copa Libertadores final on Saturday, according to Zinho.

The former Brazil international, a World Cup winner in 1994, was part of the first and only Palmeiras side to lift the Libertadores in 1999.

Marcos made a crucial save in a penalty shoot-out as the Sao Paulo giants overcame Deportivo Cali on that occasion and Zinho believes their goalkeeper may prove key this year too.

"Their strength, for me, is the whole. But if you ask me to choose one, I would choose the goalkeeper, who for me is the best goalkeeper playing in Brazil, which is Weverton," Zinho told Stats Perform News.

In the Libertadores and Campeonato Brasileiro this season, Weverton has conceded 24 times from an expected goals on target (xGOT) value of 33.9, meaning he has prevented 9.9 goals.

Only Luan Polli (6.8) of Sport Recife and Athletico Paranaense's Santos (7.2) outperform his 5.3 goals prevented in the Brasileirao, while Sergio Rochet of Nacional (5.2) is the solitary keeper with a better figure than Weverton's 4.6 in the Libertadores.

The young star

Palmeiras are also blessed with young talent and Menino is undoubtedly part of their most promising players.

Having been converted from a midfielder to a right-back, it has been suggested Menino could be the long-term successor to Dani Alves for the Brazil national team.

The 20-year-old has already been called up twice by Tite but was robbed of a potential debut in November after contracting coronavirus.

"Gabriel Menino [can be important] because of his versatility. He plays on both sides, he plays in the middle. During the match, he also can play as a striker. He is very versatile and he is very important for the team," said Zinho.

Regardless of where he plays, Menino makes his impact felt for Palmeiras.

In the league this season he leads the team in assists (five), and his 34 chances created are only surpassed by Lucas Lima (40).

It doesn't stop there; Menino has the most successful passes in the opposition half (440), has won the joint-most fouls (48), completed the second-most dribbles (30) and won the second-most duels (139).

 

A potent attack

Menino has also scored three goals and supplied one assist in the Libertadores this season, but the competition has very much been Rony's domain.

"I will say these two guys [Weverton and Menino] are key players and they must be in the game. But, of course, Rony is one of the top scorers, one of the leaders in assists in this competition," said Zinho.

"Luiz Adriano is a great, experienced, very good player. So in the offensive part, that looks for the goal, there are Rony and Luiz Adriano with more evidence. So I stay with those players."

Rony has more goal involvements than any other player in the Libertadores this season (12 – seven assists, five goals) and two of his assists have been for former Milan striker Luiz Adriano, who has found the back of the net five times in his six appearances in this edition of the Libertadores.

A place in the Club World Cup is on the line and a potential meeting with Hansi Flick's all-conquering Bayern Munich in Qatar awaits.

"If Bayern go with their maximum strength and face the game seriously, man… in football anything can happen," said Zinho.

"In football you cannot say 'it's guaranteed', but the difference between them is so big, it's huge. Bayern is infinitely better. If Bayern go focused and with desire, looking for the title, probably all the favouritism is for Bayern. But this is football, and it's why it's so lovely."

Bayern Munich will face either Al-Duhail or Al Ahly in their Club World Cup semi-final on February 8.

The competition's draw took place on Tuesday in Zurich and confirmed European champions Bayern will tackle hosts Al-Duhail or CAF Champions League holders Al Ahly.

Al-Duhail secured their qualification as hosts by winning the Qatar Stars League in 2019-20, with no Qatari side managing to win the AFC Champions League.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly won African club football's biggest prize in November and qualified for the Club World Cup for the sixth time, having last appeared in 2013, which was also Bayern's only previous appearance.

Al-Duhail received a walkover into the second round after Auckland City, who had been nominated as Oceania's representative, pulled out due to coronavirus quarantine measures implemented by authorities in their native New Zealand.

The other second-round clash drawn on Tuesday will see AFC Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai face CONCACAF champions Tigres of Mexico, who are making their first appearance.

Tigres or Ulsan will go forward from that tie to play the Copa Libertadores champions – Santos and Palmeiras are due to face off in an all-Brazilian final of that competition on January 30.

Santos set up an all-Brazilian Copa Libertadores final with an impressive 3-0 win over Boca Juniors on Wednesday.

Goals from Diego Pituca, Yeferson Soteldo and Lucas Braga saw Santos to a comfortable home victory against Boca, sealing a semi-final success after the first leg finished goalless.

Frank Fabra was sent off in the second half for the visitors, Santos moving into the Copa Libertadores final for the first time since 2011.

They will meet Palmeiras at the Maracana on January 30 in the first all-Brazilian decider since 2006.

After flares were parachuted onto the pitch ahead of kick-off, Marinho hit the post for Santos inside the opening minute.

But amid penalty shouts for a handball, Pituca scrambled in the first goal of the tie for Santos in the 16th minute.

Soteldo doubled the lead early in the second half, stepping inside from the left before powering a finish into the top corner at Esteban Andrada's near post.

Santos sealed their win in the 51st minute, Braga tapping in after brilliant work down the right from Marinho.

Boca's chances of a comeback were ended when Fabra saw red five minutes later after stomping on Marinho's stomach.

Boca Juniors were held to a 0-0 draw by Santos in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final on Wednesday.

Neither team was able to find a breakthrough in a cagey clash at La Bombonera.

The goalless draw, in which there were just four shots on target, leaves the tie wide open ahead of the return leg in Santos on January 13.

Sebastian Villa hit the crossbar for six-time champions Boca in the eighth minute, although the forward was offside.

Both teams pushed for a goal but struggled to create much of note.

Santos, who last reached the Libertadores final in 2011, had a late penalty shout turned down after Marinho appeared to be brought down by Carlos Izquierdoz.

Finally, 2020 is history - there won't be many people who aren't happy to see the back of a difficult year.

While the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of making a swift exit, the turn of the year at least gives us the chance to look forward, and the same is true in the world of sport.

2020 saw many promising young players make the step up, some undoubtedly down to the absences caused by coronavirus or the packed schedule that the pandemic has led to.

We've picked out 21 under-21 players to keep an eye on in 2021 - and while you may already be familiar with some of them, there's good reason to give them your attention this year...

 

Illan Meslier, 20 - Leeds United

Few goalkeepers can come away from a 6-2 defeat having impressed, but Meslier did so against Manchester United recently. His eight saves prevented Leeds' crushing loss from getting even more embarrassing, while only three goalkeepers have produced more in a single Premier League match this term. His total of 63 is also the second most in the division – the France Under-21 talent, who joined on a permanent deal from Lorient last year, appears to have a big future ahead of him.

Kristoffer Klaesson, 20 - Valerenga

Goalkeepers tend to break through a little later than outfield players, but Norway youth international Klaesson has already been first-choice at Valerenga for the best part of 16 months – he only turned 20 in November. Coincidentally, he could have become a team-mate of Meslier's in 2020 as Leeds were reportedly interested, but he remains in Norway for the time being.

William Saliba, 19 - Arsenal

Saliba is certainly one of the most recognisable names on this list – after all, he has been owned by Arsenal for getting on for two years. Unfortunately, he has not been afforded much of a chance by Mikel Arteta this term, which makes him an interesting prospect to watch in 2021. Either he'll eventually get an opportunity at the Gunners, or a loan move will provide him with a crack at first-team football. After a tricky 2020, he'll want to get his career back on track.

Perr Schuurs, 21 - Ajax

Given his appearance, playing style and the fact he has come through Ajax's academy, comparisons between Schuurs and Matthijs de Ligt were to be expected. He may not reach the Juventus star's level, but he has certainly shown real promise that is reportedly interesting Liverpool. Schuurs is one of the five youngest players to have featured for at least 500 minutes in this season's Champions League, while his 47 ball recoveries was the sixth highest of any player in the group stage.

Ethan Laird, 19 - Manchester United

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was supposed to fix Man United's issues at right-back, but this season his defensive positioning has been concerning and he appears to have become even less effective in attack – his chances created and open-play crosses per 90 minutes have decreased significantly. Laird has long been considered a fine prospect at United and boasts the technical abilities to be a threat in attack. If he can stay fit, chances could be in the offing.

Tariq Lamptey, 20 - Brighton and Hove Albion

Having joined Brighton last January from Chelsea, Lamptey has quickly made a name for himself as an exciting wing-back. Last year saw the diminutive talent enjoy something of a breakthrough, but in 2021 he'll be looking to truly establish himself and potentially break into the England squad. There are few more exhilarating full-backs in the Premier League – his 3.8 dribbles per game is the third most among defenders to have featured more than twice.

Nuno Mendes, 18 - Sporting CP

Sporting have a wealth of talent coming through at the moment and left-back Mendes is arguably chief among them. Blessed with fine technical abilities, the 18-year-old is apparently a target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Already a regular having started 10 of the Primeira Liga leaders' 11 games this term, Mendes' 10 completed dribbles is the fourth-highest among defenders in the division, while his 28 interceptions is second only to team-mate Luis Neto.

Gabriel Menino, 20 - Palmeiras

An intriguing player with a well-rounded skillset, Menino has already transitioned from centre-back to defensive midfield to right-back despite his young age. It is in the latter position where he impressed enough to earn a first Brazil call-up last year and only two players have provided more than his five assists in the 2020 Brazilian Serie A.

Moises Caicedo, 19 - Independiente del Valle

The past month or so has seen Caicedo brought to the attention of a wider audience – or, more specifically, Manchester United fans. The all-action midfielder was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Billy Gilmour, 19 - Chelsea

Scottish talent Gilmour had shown real promise during his 11 Chelsea appearances last season before a knee injury in July laid him low. He returned to action last month with a few cameos off the bench, and there will be plenty hoping he can return to his previous level quickly. A loan move might be on the cards, but Frank Lampard has high hopes for the crafty midfielder.

Yunus Musah, 18 - Valencia

Valencia are going through another difficult spell, with off-field matters often overshadowing on-pitch performances. Nevertheless, in United States international Musah, they appear to have a reason for optimism. Another tricky winger, Musah's 38 dribbles is the second most among Los Che players this term and he became their youngest LaLiga goalscorer (17 years, 338 days) this century when netting back in November. He's one that got away from Arsenal.

Ander Barrenetxea, 18 - Real Sociedad

A nimble right-footed left-winger, Barrenetxea broke into La Real's senior side last season with 17 appearances in LaLiga. His eight starts this term is already an increase of five on the entirety of 2019-20 and he has been using that extra time on the pitch to excite. He has attempted 41 dribbles in LaLiga, and his 56 per cent completion rate is bettered by only seven players – all of whom are much older – among those to have tried at least 40.

Bryan Gil, 19 - Eibar (on loan from Sevilla)

If Barrenetxea embodies the modern 'inverted winger' style, then Bryan is very much a wide midfielder of the classic variety. A direct touchline-hugger, the left-winger's aim is almost always to beat his man and get a cross into the box, and he is catching the eye on loan at Eibar this term. Only five wingers in LaLiga can better Bryan's 49 open-play deliveries, though his 22.5 per cent accuracy is better than all but one of those with more cross attempts. He's also tried 44 dribbles, his 52.3 per cent completion putting him close to Barrenetxea.

Jaminton Campaz, 20 - Deportes Tolima

Campaz may not be a household name yet, but a move to Europe or one of South America's leading leagues is surely not far away. The attacker, who can play wide or through the middle, is an explosive player but also productive. No younger player had more goal involvements (five goals and four assists) and chances created (32) in Colombia's top division than Campaz.

Amad Diallo, 18 - Manchester United

Although United splashed a reported £19million on Diallo, the young Ivorian remains something of an unknown quantity. A left-footed right-winger, he has only been given a handful of opportunities in Atalanta's senior side – though he has often caught the eye with his ability on the ball. Given United's lack of options on the right flank, he might just establish himself sooner than some expect – either way, he will be one to monitor.

Pedri, 18 - Barcelona

As each week passes, more and more Pedri looks to be settling into the role as Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona, but whether he's ready to take up such a mantle as early as this year is another matter. Messi's contract ends in June and so he could well depart – taking on his creative burden would be an unenviable task for a teenager, though Pedri is proving effective. He is creating a chance every 45 minutes on average in the league this term, the third most frequent in the squad among those to have played at least five times.

Talles Magno, 18 - Vasco da Gama

Are you really a Brazilian 'wonderkid' if you've not been linked with every major European club? Talles Magno fits the bill there and it's easy to see why there's interest. His end product still needs work, but his ability to excite is considerable – the 18-year-old has completed more than twice as many dribbles (106) as any other teenager in Brazil's Serie A between 2019 and 2020.

Karim Adeyemi, 18 - Salzburg

There has been a buzz around Adeyemi for a few years now as has previously impressed scouts with Germany's youth sides and during a fruitful loan spell at Liefering. Now back at Salzburg, he looks destined to be another serious talent off the club's impressive conveyor belt. Adeyemi is the only player to have been involved in four goals in a single Austrian Bundesliga this term, scoring and getting a hat-trick of assists in the 8-2 victory over St. Polten, while he set up a goal on his league debut for the club in June. A thrilling talent with great vision and dribbling abilities, Adeyemi may get even greater responsibility in 2021 following the departure of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Marcos Leonardo, 17 - Santos

It's still early days for Marcos Leonardo, though Santos clearly rate him highly – the striker's release clause is €100m. He's already the underage player with the most minutes played (296) and goals (one) in Brazil's top division this season, while he became the sixth youngest player to net in the Copa Libertadores (17y, 173d) when scoring a winner against Defensa y Justicia.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 - Borussia Dortmund

There's not much that hasn't already been said about Moukoko. He became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player in November when making his debut a day after his 16th birthday, before then also setting a new record for the league's youngest goalscorer in December. New coach Edin Terzic has already given him two starts – his next target will be to break records on the international stage with Germany. He couldn't get into their Euros squad, could he?

Matias Arezo, 18 - River Plate (URU)

Stocky, technically gifted and already proving decisive in front of goal with seven goal involvements (five goals, two assists) in 15 league matches, Arezo has a lot going in his favour. Whether he has the mentality or focus to not let the 'new Luis Suarez' labels distract him remains to be seen, but he's already the youngest Uruguayan (17y, 349d) to ever score a brace in the Copa Sudamericana having done so against Atletico Nacional in November.

Santos have revealed an unexpected gripe with Lionel Messi being acclaimed for beating Pele's single-team goals record - claiming the Brazil great's friendly feats have been overlooked.

Barcelona captain Messi scored his 644th competitive goal for Barcelona in the 3-0 win over Real Valladolid on December 22.

That took him past the total of 643 that Pele scored in official games for Santos, and three-time World Cup winner Pele has been quick to praise the Argentine forward.

Yet Santos appear to believe that Pele's 448 goals in friendlies should carry equal weight, and that therefore the true leader in goals for one team remains their greatest player.

An article on the Santos website, attributed to club historian Fernando Ribeiro, carries the headline, 'King Pele - 1,091 goals for Santos FC'.

The piece states: "In the last few days, much has been said in the press and on social media about the number of goals scored by Pele with the Santos shirt.

"According to some statisticians, Argentine Lionel Messi (Barcelona) became the player with the most goals for the same club, reaching 644 goals for the Catalan club, excluding friendly matches - called by some as official goals."

Ribeiro acknowledges Pele's note of congratulations to Messi, but adds: "Part of the press reports the historic feat, reneging on the greatest of all records, the total goals in the clubs.

"Pele scored 1,091 goals for Santos. In the accounts of the specialised press, the King of Football scored 643 in competitions and the 448 goals scored in friendly matches and competitions were ostracised, as if they had less value than the others.

"The 448 goals that today they try to disqualify were scored against the main clubs and teams of the day. America (Mexico) and Colo Colo (Chile) each suffered nine goals from Pele.

"Internazionale Milan, one of the main teams in Europe in the 1960s, suffered eight more goals from the King."

The historian points out a string of sides that Pele scored against in friendly games, adding: "Barcelona themselves, where Messi now plays, were also a victim of Pele: four goals, scored in four matches."

Pele's extraordinary four-figure goalscoring haul has been the subject of debate in the decades since he was an active player, with some arguing several of the opposition teams were lightweight.

The 80-year-old Pele posted a note on Twitter on Sunday that appeared to be a reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, where he wrote: "We are reaching the end of this great and tiring game. We will come out winners. And we will embrace at the end!"

Even such a warm, positive message did not mean Pele was spared a jibe from one social media critic, clearly a sceptic of his career record, who replied: "How many goals you scored against your nephew in the garden this weekend?"

It may reach a point where Lionel Messi is going to need an encyclopedia to record his ever-growing list of achievements.

The Barcelona great's latest benchmark came as a result of his goal in Tuesday's 3-0 win over Real Valladolid in LaLiga.

That strike was Messi's 644th in all competitions for Barcelona, the most scored by any player for a single team.

He surpassed the previous record held by Brazil legend Pele, who netted 643 for Santos and enjoyed his most prolific year in 1958 when he scored an astonishing 66 goals.

To commemorate such an impressive achievement, we took a look at some of Messi's most impressive numbers with the help of Opta data.


A CLASS OF HIS OWN

In a little over 16 years in Barca's first team, Messi has raced streets ahead of the competition to become the club's all-time leading goalscorer with a whopping 644 in total. Second on that list is Cesar Rodriguez with 232 goals.

Of Messi's haul, 451 goals have come in LaLiga, which means he also has the most in the history of Spain's top flight. Messi has 118 in the Champions League, 53 in the Copa del Rey, 14 in the Supercopa, three in the UEFA Super Cup and five in the Club World Cup.

His first Barcelona goal came against Albacete on May 1, 2005, with fellow superstar Ronaldinho setting him up.

The Argentina great enjoyed his most prolific campaign in the 2011-12 campaign, when he scored 73 goals across all competitions for Barcelona. There were an eye-watering 79 across the calendar year in 2012.

LOVE FOR PEP, TITO AND SEVILLA

It should come as little surprise that some of Messi's best returns in a Barca jersey came when playing in the golden era of Pep Guardiola.

In total, Messi had 211 goals and 79 assists in 219 games played under the now-Manchester City manager – an average of 0.96 goals per game.

He also excelled under Luis Enrique, winning the second of his career trebles. There were 153 goals, 66 assists and a goals-per-game ratio of 0.97 in that period.

But it was actually Tito Vilanova for whom Messi returned the best goals per game, a mind-boggling 1.2, having scored 60 in 50 appearances.

Many teams have conceded to Messi but none have picked the ball out of the net on more occasions against the Argentina great than Sevilla, who have done so 37 times.

Atletico Madrid are not far behind on 32, while Valencia have conceded 29 times to Messi and fierce rivals Real Madrid have done so on 26 occasions – making him the highest scorer in Clasico history.


LUCKLESS ALVES, SUAREZ AFFINITY AND GLORY AT THE BERNABEU

Not many goalkeepers can say they have got the better of Messi, and Diego Alves in particular has not enjoyed encounters against the mercurial forward.

Messi scored past the former Valencia stopper on 21 occasions, with Gorka Iraizoz next on the list - having shipped 18 to the Argentina captain. Iker Casillas and Andres Fernandez have been beaten 17 times.

At Barca, Messi has played alongside some of the best players of his, or indeed any, generation.

But no player has assisted Messi more than Luis Suarez, who has now left Barca for Atleti, with the Uruguay star setting up his former team-mate to score on 47 occasions.

Dani Alves ranks second on 42 assists for Messi, with Andres Iniesta and Xavi laying on 37 and 31 goals respectively.

Camp Nou is of course the venue where Messi has scored the majority of his goals, but the Santiago Bernabeu is next highest, with the 33-year-old having celebrated 15 strikes there.

The Riazor is where Messi has his best goals-per-game ratio at 1.625, scoring 13 times in eight games played at the home of Deportivo La Coruna.

Lionel Messi reminisced on breaking Pele's record as the Barcelona superstar insisted his latest achievement exceeded his wildest dreams.

Messi set a new one-club goals record after netting for the 644th time – the Barca captain surpassing Pele's haul in Tuesday's 3-0 LaLiga victory at Real Valladolid.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi, who matched Pele against Valencia on Saturday, scored his 451st LaLiga goal as Barca eased past Valladolid.

Messi used social media to react to the historic feat after Pele had tallied 643 goals in an 18-year career at Brazilian club Santos.

"When I started playing football, I never thought I would break any records," Messi wrote on Instagram. "And even less the one that I achieved today that @pele had...

"I can only thank everyone who helped me over the years, my team-mates, my family, my friends and everyone who supports me every day. Hug!!"

Messi's 644 goals have come across 17 seasons and 749 games for Barca, where the 33-year-old debuted in 2004.

His effort against Valencia made Messi the first player to reach the 450 milestone for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Lionel Messi has set a new one-club goals record after netting for the 644th time as a Barcelona player, surpassing Pele's haul.

Messi matched the total of 643 goals that Brazil legend Pele – one of the greatest players to grace the game – racked up in an 18-year career at Santos.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner headed in his record-equalling goal against Valencia on Saturday and surpassed Pele's tally on Tuesday.

Having created the opener with a cross for Clement Lenglet and played a crucial role in Barca's second against Real Valladolid, Messi swept home after latching onto Pedri's clever flick in the 65th minute to make it 3-0.

As well as taking him past Pele, it was also Messi's 451st goal in LaLiga.

His effort against Valencia made the 33-year-old the first player to reach the 450 milestone for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Pele congratulated Lionel Messi on equalling his one-club goals haul and said he admired the Barcelona star.

Messi scored his 643rd goal for Barca during Saturday's 2-2 draw at home to Valencia in LaLiga.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner matched Pele's haul of 643 goals in just 656 matches for Santos between 1956 and 1974.

Pele, regarded by many as the best to ever play the game, posted a tribute to Messi on Instagram.

"When your heart overflows with love, it is difficult to change your path," the Brazil great wrote.

"Like you, I know what it's like to love wearing the same shirt every day. Like you, I know that there is nothing better than the place we feel at home.

"Congratulations on your historic record, Lionel. But above all, congratulations on your beautiful career at Barcelona. Stories like ours, of loving the same club for so long, unfortunately will be increasingly rare in football.

"I admire you very much, @leomessi."

Having initially seen a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, Messi got his milestone goal when he met a cross from the left and nodded home from point-blank range.

Messi's headed goal was his first for Barcelona in all competitions since March 2017, while he missed a spot-kick for the club for the first time since February last year.

Remarkably, his latest goal was also his 450th in LaLiga, making him the first player to reach that figure for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Lionel Messi has equalled Pele's one-club goals haul after chalking up his 643rd for Barcelona against Valencia.

Brazil great Pele, regarded by many as the best to ever play the game, scored 643 times in just 656 matches for Santos between 1956 and 1974.

While Pele's overall goals record for his entire career is disputed, he did net 643 goals in official competition for Santos.

Some believed Pele's haul to be a world record in top-level football, though statisticians are unable to confirm this with absolute certainty.

Nevertheless, this is unlikely to detract from Messi's accomplishment, as he drew level with Pele's remarkable total after scoring with a header in first-half stoppage time on Saturday.

Having initially seen a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, Messi got his milestone goal when he met a cross from the left and nodded home from point-blank range.

Remarkably, his latest goal was also his 450th in LaLiga, making him the first player to reach that figure for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Messi has attracted criticism this term as his performances have not been at the level many might have expected them to be.

But his latest goal took him on to six from 13 LaLiga matches in the 2020-21 campaign.

The 33-year-old scored his first Barca goal on May 1, 2005 against Albacete in LaLiga when he was 17, at the time becoming the club's youngest ever goalscorer.

He has since gone on to become Barca's all-time leading scorer, as well as LaLiga's, and has won the Ballon d'Or a record six times.

But how much longer he will remain at Camp Nou remains a topic of much debate.

Messi attempted to force a transfer away from the Blaugrana in pre-season, adamant a get-out clause in his contract provided him with the opportunity to leave on a free transfer.

But then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu stood in his way, Messi ultimately backing down as he was unwilling to drag Barca through the courts.

Media speculation continues to link Messi with an end-of-season move to reunite with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, with his Barca contract expiring in June.

Recently, Paris Saint-Germain have emerged as possible favourites to sign Messi, with Neymar having expressed a desire to play alongside his former Barca team-mate in 2021.

Santos have suspended their contract with Robinho following a backlash in the wake of his signing. 

Robinho returned to Santos for a third stint this week but the club came under fire due to the player's past sexual assault conviction.

The former Milan forward was in 2017 sentenced by an Italian court to nine years in prison for his alleged involvement in the rape of a 22-year-old woman at a nightclub in 2013. He has lodged an appeal against the ruling after firmly denying any wrongdoing, and the legal process is continuing.

Brazilian orthodontics franchise Orthopride announced it had pulled its financial backing of Santos "out of respect for women", while other companies were said to have demanded action from the club.

A club statement read: "Santos and Robinho report that, by mutual agreement, they decided to suspend the validity of the contract signed on October 10 so that the player can focus exclusively on his defence in the process that runs in Italy."

In a video posted on his official Instagram account, Robinho said: "With a lot of sadness in my heart, I am telling you that I made the decision with the president to suspend my contract at this difficult time in my life.

"My goal has always been to help Santos. If in any way I'm getting in the way, I had better leave and focus on my personal stuff. For the fans [of Santos] and those who like me, I will prove my innocence."

The announcement came after Brazilian media outlet Globo Esporte published what it said were excerpts of court documents from Robinho's case and transcriptions of some of the recordings that were used as evidence.

Brazil great Robinho has returned to Santos for a fourth spell after signing a short-term contract with his boyhood club.

The former Manchester City and Real Madrid forward has agreed a deal with the Brazilian top-flight club for the remainder of the campaign.

Robinho had been without a team since leaving Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir in August and the 36-year-old was delighted to return to familiar surroundings.

"This has always been my home," he said of Santos, who are currently seventh in the table after 14 games.

"My objective is to help on and off the pitch and get Santos in as high a place as possible."

Robinho started his career with Santos prior to moving to Europe, when he initially joined Real Madrid before becoming the first major signing for Manchester City after their takeover in 2008.

He twice returned to Santos on loan in 2010 and 2014, either side of a four-season spell with Milan.

As well as stints in China and Turkey, Robinho previously returned to Brazil to play for Atletico Mineiro in 2016 and 2017.

Robinho, who has won two league titles with Santos, made 100 appearances for Brazil between 2003 and 2017, scoring 28 times.

His return to Santos was billed as 'The Last Pedal' on social media, a twist on NBA legend Michael Jordan's 'Last Dance' with the Chicago Bulls.

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