By Gabriel Pessoa/beIN SPORTS
Flamengo is one of Brazil’s most historic and successful club teams. O Mengao boasts one of if not the biggest fan followings in the country, and while having the biggest crowds can certainly be a source of pride, the Rio de Janeiro outfit’s supporters have had little else to celebrate in recent years.
Flamengo has not won a Brazilian Serie A title since 2009, and the last (and only) time the club lifted the Copa Libertadores was way back in 1981.
But the good times could be about to return. Following one of the busiest off-seasons in the club’s history, Flamengo is looking to change its streak of misfortune. In January alone, the club either signed or agreed contract extensions with the following players: Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Gabriel Barbosa, Diego Ribas, Rodrigo Caio and Bruno Henrique.
Over the summer, Everton Ribeiro, Rafinha and Filipe Luis joined the Carioca club. However, perhaps none of the aforementioned players is as important to Flamengo’s recent success as the final piece to the puzzle: manager Jorge Jesus.
The Portuguese coach joined Flamengo at a very tricky point in the season. The team has just reached the round of 16 in the Brazilian Cup and were set to face Emelec in the first knockout stage of the Libertadores. Jesus faced heavy criticism early on when two weeks into his stewardship, the team was not only knocked out of the domestic tournament at the hands of Atletico Paranaense, but was also starring down the barrel of a 2-0 aggregate deficit on the continental stage following a tough first leg defeat in Ecuador.
Since that rocky start though, it has been smooth sailing for Jesus. Flamengo sit top of the Brazilian Serie A following a run of 10 wins, two draws and one defeat since the 65-year-old took the wheel. Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa has been living up to his nickname, scoring a whopping 18 goals in 18 matches in the domestic league, already matching his tally from last season when, with Santos, he was Brazil’s top scorer.
As for the Libertadores, after barely squeaking past Emelec, Flamengo responded by breezing past Internacional.
This week Flamengo faces a Gremio side making its third successive appearance on the Libertadores semifinal stage, and with the formidable Everton Soares in tow. It is hard to imagine Flamengo being eliminated in this all-Brazilian semifinal matchup. Expect goals from ‘Gabigol’ and for Flamengo to face one of the Argentine giants in this year’s Copa Libertadores Final.