One advantage of moving from one football-crazed nation to another is that you still get great, although pricier, coverage on this crazy sport. And so I was able to watch the Copa Libertadores final between Brazilian teams Palmeiras and Flamengo at 20.00 GMT, with the single match taking place at Estadio Centenario in Uruguay in front of more than 40,000 supporters from each side.
My childhood allegiance to Fluminense made it impossible not to root for the opposite side, and I was not alone. Outside of a few Corinthians fans which make up the Fiel Porto supporters group here in town, who are Palmeiras’ fiercest rivals, pretty much the rest of the country was in the mood to root against the team with a project (and potential) to become Brazil’s Bayern Munich — thus breaking the tradition of having 12+ big clubs with a chance at winning it all in a season.
Talking about the match itself, it did not make for a great technical spectacle if you are a “European football snob”, as my friends love to say when discussing the sport in my vicinity. Palmeiras was clearly the better trained side, much thanks to having a Portuguese manager, Abel Ferreira, in command. Flamengo’s head coach, Renato Gaúcho, might be the best Brazilian boss at the moment. And that says a lot about the state of coaching in the country, as the guy is the typical “man management”/father figure type of manager who fails to bring out the most of his players via tactics.
So much so that Palmeiras got the opener five minutes into the match. A great pass from centre-back Gustavo Gómez to right-back Mayke caught Flamengo and their backline, led by one David Luiz, completely by surprise. With a backpass, Mayke assisted attacking midfielder Raphael Veiga for a smashing goal to get the Alviverde a deserved lead.
It was the setup Palmeiras needed to close up shop at the back, and frustrate the hell out of a Flamengo team clearly out of ideas outside of talent and creativity from what is still the best squad in all of the Americas. The attacking trio of Bruno Henrique, Gabigol and Giorgian de Arrascaeta tried their best, but they were either stopped by good defensive work by Abel Ferreira’s team or great shot-stopping by goalkeeper Weverton, who is a backup to Liverpool’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson in Brazil’s national team.
As we often say, why change a winning team? In the second half, Palmeiras prime directive was keeping the 1-0 at all costs. They kept playing with five and sometimes six players in a defensive line, at the cost of giving Flamengo more space to work out their offensive plays.
Chances start to pour in for the Rubro-Negro, and it started to feel the tying goal was only a matter of time. It eventually came through Gabigol, the Copa Libertadores’ top goalscorer with 11 scores to his name, assisted by Arrascaeta in what was a rare mistake by Mayke who had been having an almost perfect match up to that point.
Flamengo got quite close to scoring a second goal in regular time, much thanks to attacker Michael. A much maligned player by Flamengo supporters, the speedy winger almost got the winning goal following another potential by Arrascaeta, the best player on the carioca’s side yesterday.
But regular time would come to an end before Flamengo could continue to find the second and winning score. It was time for extra time, with Chelsea loanee Kenedy entering the pitch in place of Bruno Henrique for Flamengo, and goalscorer Raphael Veiga making way for centre-forward Deyverson on the opposite side.
The latter would be the most impactful of the subs by getting Palmeiras a second goal, once again five minutes after kickoff. A baffling mistake by Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira, during an exchange of passes with David Luiz in defence, gave Deyverson a one-v-one chance with goalkeeper Diego Alves. It is tradition in Brazil to complain about the somewhat “laid-back” finishing by strikers like Deyverson, as it could have gone awry since Diego got a touch of the ball. But what matters is that it made its way across the goalline, and into the back of the net.
There was even time for some Latin American dark arts from Deyverson himself, before the final whistle!
With the 2-1 win in extra time, Palmeiras pick a second consecutive Copa Libertadores and their third in the club’s history. In fact they won their penultimate continental title back in January against fellow Brazilian outfit Santos, with a goal in stoppage time by Breno Lopes.
And Palmeiras are also potential rivals to Chelsea in the upcoming Club World Cup, with its 2021 edition taking place early next year in the United Arab Emirates. They enter the tournaments’ semi-finals alongside the Blues, with Asian champions Al Hilal, African champions Al Ahly, CONCACAF champions Monterrey, Oceania nominees Auckland City, and 2020–21 UAE Pro League winners Al Jazira making up the rest of competitors in the running.
My belief in the beginning of the year was that Palmeiras had the best squad to fight on all fronts, from São Paulo’s state championship and the Brazilian League to Copa Libertadores. That however was not the case, with the Alviverde losing the state finals to rivals São Paulo, and failing to keep up pace with both Flamengo and likely league champions Atlético Mineiro.
These circumstances make it likely that Abel Ferreira, the main responsible for the team’s success this year, leaves the club either before or just after the Club World Cup. This certainly is not a good environment to have when your team has a shot at further international glory, which is only good news to Chelsea fans who care about the Club World Cup — myself included!
Nevertheless, congratulations to Palmeiras! Me, Thiago Silva and other hundreds of millions of Brazilians certainly had a very happy Saturday thanks to your efforts.