By Desmond Norris
While the dust continues to settle on La Bombonera in the wake of Tuesday’s epic grudge match between Boca Juniors and River Plate, across the border in Rio de Janeiro, the tension will be rising to a crescendo as Flamengo and Gremio prepare to take the stage to decide which of the two will be representing Brazil in November’s Copa Libertadores final.
The all-Brazilian side of the bracket pitches an unstoppable force against an immovable object. While the bookmakers have Flamengo as the favorites to progress, recent history and the teams’ head-to-head record hint at a tightly-contested match.
Mengão have not lost any of their last four meetings with Gremio in all competitions. Gremio, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last three away games in this Copa Libertadores campaign. And of the previous ten encounters between the teams in CONMEBOL competitions, six have ended in draws while the other four were split down the middle with two wins apiece.
Lleva 2⃣4⃣ atajadas en la #Libertadores y sólo 9⃣ goles en contra: lo más destacado de 🧤@diegoalvesgol, figura de @Flamengo en la Copa.— CONMEBOL Libertadores (@Libertadores) October 21, 2019
🔜 El miércoles, ante #Gremio, buscará llegar a @Santiago2019 en busca de la #GloriaEterna. pic.twitter.com/1lDO9CjVi7
But the bookies’ faith in Rubro-Negro isn’t ill-founded. Jorge Jesus’ men, who sit ten points clear at the summit of the Brazil’s Serie A, do hold the upper hand at the midway point of this matchup thanks to the all-important away goal scored by Bruno Henrique in Porto Alegre, and the twelfth-man factor of the iconic Maracanã stadium.
It would be foolish though to rule out a Gremio comeback. The Tricolor showed their mental fortitude in the first leg, where despite not hitting the same high notes as in earlier rounds, they still managed to salvage a late draw against South America’s most in-form team.
🤩🇪🇪 ¡Alisson marcó el gol que colocó a #Gremio en la semifinal y ya acumula otros 3⃣ decisivos en el mano a mano de la #Libertadores!— CONMEBOL Libertadores (@Libertadores) October 21, 2019
🏆🇧🇷 ¿Podrá convertir contra #Flamengo? #Grêmio necesita marcar en el #Maracana para soñar con @Santiago2019 y la #GloriaEterna. pic.twitter.com/IURiJkSz4p
Renato Gaucho’s experience in the competition is another reason for optimism among Gremio fans. Since taking the reins in 2016, the 57-year-old has led the club to three successive Copa Libertadores semifinals and the 2017 title.