by Gabriel Pessoa
Flamengo and River Plate will play the 60th Copa Libertadores final in Lima, Peru on Saturday and it will be the first time that South America’s prestige club tournament is decided by a one-off match.
Defending champions, River Plate, are looking to be the first team to win the Libertadores twice in a row since arch-rivals Boca Juniors did so back in 2000 and 2001. While River Plate looks to make history, Flamengo is set to end a title drought in Rio de Janeiro. The Carioca club has not won the Libertadores since 1981.
Speaking of 1981, after Flamengo won that Libertadores title, Zico and company went on to defeat none other than Liverpool in the Club World Cup. Should Flamengo defeat the defending champions, we could be treated to a rematch of that historic game which introduced the world to one of Brazil’s greatest players.
Flamengo could not be riding higher as far as momentum is concerned. ‘O Mengao’ could potentially be Brazilian Serie A champion just 24 hours after Saturday’s match should Palmeiras fail to beat Gremio on Sunday.
Brazilian clubs would be right in their shock over Flamengo’s impressively meteoric rise to domination. The vast majority of the Flamengo roster (including Portuguese manager Jorge Jesus) are relatively new to the club. Eight of the eleven players that started for Flamengo against Gremio in the return leg of the Copa Libertadores semifinal joined the club in 2019.
The situation over in Buenos Aires could not be more different. A total of 10 starters for River Plate to play in the return semifinal leg against Boca Juniors were part of last year’s championship team. Not to mention manager Marcelo Gallardo, who has established an impressive culture within the club. Whether the former Argentine International will replace Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona is yet to be determined but should Gallardo leave Buenos Aires, he will be leaving behind a dynastic legacy. River Plate has won 10 of the 13 finals it has competed under Marcelo Gallardo in all competitions.
Saturday’s match will be a collision between a dominant attacking force (Flamengo) against a seemingly impenetrable fortress (River Plate). Flamengo’s Gabriel Barbosa leads the tournament with seven goals and his striking partner, Bruno Henrique, has been involved in 11 goals with six assists and five goals. Meanwhile, River Plate have tormented opposing attackers by allowing an average of 1.9 shots on goal going into the semifinal round of the tournament, the lowest average in the competition.
This final matchup is well-deserved for both teams involved. Flamengo and River have been the most consistent teams in the competition. That said, it’s hard to imagine Flamengo not winning the match. Under Jorge Jesus, this team has seemed virtually unstoppable and extremely disciplined. River Plate would have to produce their best performance of the year to be able to defend their Libertadores crown in what could be an incredible Brazil v Flamengo battle.