By Roberto Rojas
Remarkably, the 2019 match-up will only be the team’s second Copa Libertadores final appearance as the Brazilians take on Argentine rivals, River Plate, in Lima on Saturday on beIN SPORTS.
Flamengo are arguably Brazil’s most popular club and have fielded greats such as Ronaldinho, Adriano, Romario and the legendary Zico. Yet Flamengo’s only previous appearance in the Copa Libertadores final was in 1981, fifteen years before current star striker Gabigol was born.
2019 began in the worst possible manner for Flamengo with February’s fire at the Ninho do Urubu, Flamengo's training ground and youth team headquarters that claimed the lives of ten youth players who were sleeping in their rooms at the camp. While not covering up for such a loss, a win in Lima on Saturday for Flamengo as well the chance to capture the team’s first league title in a decade just days later would bring joy to the Mengão fans.
Heading into 2019, Flamengo had a new president in Rodolfo Landim and with new financial backing, the Rio side was able to build a formidable squad. Firstly, they got a hold of Gabriel Barbosa - Gabigol - on loan from Inter Milan after spending all of 2018 at his boyhood club in Santos where he finished the year with 27 goals in 53 games. The 23-year-old has become Flamengo’s top goalscorer in the Brasileirão and Libertadores with 38 strikes in 53 matches.
Alongside Gabigol, more European experience came from Rafinha of Bayern Munich, Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid and Gerson of Roma, as well as Pablo Marí of Manchester City, who never got a minute with the reigning Premier League champions.
Home And Continental Experience
Alongside those that had a history of playing in Europe, Flamengo spent big in terms of finding talent across Brazil and South America.
Rodrigo Caio earned the reputation as one of the best defenders in Brazil during his time at São Paulo and has become a mainstay in Jorge Jesus' side. Winger Bruno Henrique was brought in from Santos and has been hugely influential with five goals and five assists in the competition. Finally, the Uruguayan midfielder Giorgian De Arrascaeta came in from Cruzeiro for a record fee for a Brazilian side and has proven himself as one of the best midfielders in not just Brazil, but across South America.
Jorge Jesus- The Redeemer And The Redeemed
At the beginning of 2019, Landim chose Abel Braga to lead Flamengo. Braga had previous experience with Flamengo but also at clubs such as Fluminense and Internacional, where he won the club’s first Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup title back in 2006. However, the Brazilian coach would only last until May shortly after the beginning of the Brazilian league and right after Flamengo qualified to the Libertadores Round of 16 by winning their group.
Braga’s replacement was Portuguese manager Jorge Jesus, who had experienced success in his native Portugal but came as a novice to Brazil. Despite early criticism, the 65-year-old hit the ground running. Flamengo surged all the way to the top of the league in Brazil where they are looking to capture their first league title since 2009. In the Libertadores knockout stages, Flamengo surged past Emelec in the Round of 16, Internacional in the quarterfinals to reach their first Libertadores semifinals in 35 years. They took on 2017 winners Gremio, trashing them 6-1 on aggregate to put them into Saturday’s final.
Should Jesus capture the league and continental double in his short timespan at the club, it would immediately make the Portuguese manager a hero amongst the fans of the most supported club in Brazil.