- Associated Press - Saturday, April 14, 2012

SAO PAULO (AP) - Santos, the Brazilian club that ruled soccer with Pele in the 1960s, is celebrating its centennial anniversary and still a force in Latin American soccer.

Santos will turn 100 on Saturday with a rich history, including many major titles and remarkable victories that make the club one of the most successful in soccer. Few teams can match the Brazilian club’s achievements both in Brazil and abroad.

While Barcelona is the team to beat in Europe, it is Santos which is attracting all the attention in the southern hemisphere. It’s seen as one of the few clubs still able to play the “Jogo Bonito,” or “Beautiful Game,” which made Brazilian soccer famous around the world.

In 1998, Santos became the first team in the world to surpass the 10,000-goal mark, gaining recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records.

More than 1,000 of those goals were scored by Pele.

“I have to thank God for allowing me to play for Santos,” Pele said. “I had the pleasure to help Santos promote Brazilian football across the world and today it’s a team recognized everywhere. Santos is adored by everyone.”

Pele introduced Santos to the world with his stellar play in the 1960s, and now it’s “The Prince” Neymar, the future of Brazilian soccer, who is keeping the club in the spotlight.

Led by the 20-year-old sensation, Santos won last year’s Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s most important club competition. And this year the club is a top title contender again. It hadn’t won the traditional tournament since the Pele era.

“I’ve been seven years with the club and I only had wonderful moments, the first match, the first practice,” Neymar said. “It’s a great happiness and a great honor to represent this Santos team of so many outstanding players, including the King of Football.”

Many say the joyful Neymar, with his Mohawk hairdo, has the potential to add many successful chapters to Santos’ history. The club made an unprecedented effort to fend off offers from top Europeans clubs for Neymar, and is set to keep the nifty skills of the youngster until at least 2014, when he will be expected to lead Brazil to the World Cup title at home.

But he is unlikely to come close to matching Pele’s achievements with Santos.

Of the 1,281 career goals scored by Pele, 1,091 of them came with Santos. He played for the club from 1956-1974, leading it to the Copa Libertadores championship in 1962 and ‘63, as well as the club world titles those years.

The first world title came in an 8-4 aggregate victory over Benfica, including a 5-2 win at the Estadio da Luz in the final match in Portugal. The second title came after Santos beat AC Milan _ led by Jose “Mazzola” Altafini and Giovanni Trapattoni _ in two out of three matches.

After losing the first match 4-2 at the San Siro, Santos earned a victory at the Maracana in front of more than 130,000 fans. Milan was up 2-0 at halftime, but Santos rallied with four answered goals to force a decisive third match, when more than 120,000 fans, again at Maracana, saw Santos win the title with a 1-0 victory.

Even though the club is based in the coastal city of Santos, the team was so popular that it easily packed the Maracana in Rio. Its tours around the world were popular too, helping increase the team’s fan base everywhere.

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