Copa Libertadores: Another all Brazil final – hardly a surprise

FOR THE second consecutive season, two Brazilian clubs will battle it out for the Copa Libertadores title. Palmeiras, the holders, will face the 2019 winners, Flamengo, in Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario and given these two clubs are South America’s most valuable, there is a vague sense of inevitability about the final. Flamengo have a market value of US$ 129 million and Palmeiras US$ 113 million according to Statista. Flamengo also have the highest number of fans across brazil, estimated to be more than 32 million.

Both clubs have had benefitted from significant investment and they have also gathered strong squads of young players who will, ultimately, yield substantial transfer income. 

They have also been the dominant force in Brazil for the past few years. Between them, they have won four of the last five Brazilian championships and in 2020, Flamengo were champions and Palmeiras won the Copa do Brasil as well as the Libertadores, where they beat fellow Brazilians Santos. Flamengo were South American champions in 2019, overcoming the challenge of 2018 winners River Plate from Argentina.

There is unrest in Brazilian football at the moment, not least in the top clubs’ bid to breakaway from the current structure. Three different consortiums have pitched proposals to reshape domestic football in South America’s biggest country and number of possible partners have been set-up. Most Brazilian clubs are struggling financially and some have ventured into the world of crypto currency in a bid to increase revenues. The good news is that the fans are returning to stadiums, which should improve some of the key revenue streams at most clubs.

Furthermore, Brazil has seen a number of big names from the past return home, such as David Luiz (Flamengo), Hulk (Atlético Mineiro) and Willian (Corinthians). In addition, Brazilian-turned-Spaniard Diego Costa has also joined Mineiro. While this enthuses many people, it has to be noted that these players are going back to Brazil in the twilight of their careers.

Flamengo came through their Libertadores group unbeaten, finishing ahead of Velez Sarsfield of Argentina, Únion La Calera (Chile) and LDU Quito (Ecuador). They won every one of their knockout games, home and away, beating Defensa y Justicia (Argentina), Olimpia (Paraguay) and Ecuador’s Barcelona.

Flamengo have already beaten Palmeiras twice in the league this season and currently sit third in the table, behind Atlético Mineiro and their Libertadores fellow finalists. Gabriel Barbosa has scored 27 goals this season, including 10 in the competition. Barbosa has an excellent scoring record and it seems only a matter of time before he returns to try his luck in Europe once more. Bruno Henrique, who scored all four of Fla’s goals in their two semi-final games, is another one to watch. The ex-Santos player is 30 now but appears to be in excellent form.

Palmeiras may be second in the league at the moment, but they are 10 points behind Mineiro whom they play on October 6. They overcome Mineiro in the semi-finals of the Libertadores, and also beat Sao Paulo in the last eight and Chile’s Universidad Catolica in the round of 16. The group stage, which saw them score 20 goals in six games, involved Peruvian side Universitario, Independiente del Valle (Ecuador) and Defensa y Justicia (Argentina). Their leading scorer was Rony, who was named in the South American team of the year in 2020. Palmeiras have Andreas Pereira in their squad, who is on loan from Manchester United.

Palmeiras’ Portuguese manager Abel Ferreira, has become the first European to lead a team to two Libertadores finals a year after becoming only the third European coach to win the trophy. His counterpart at Flamengo is the much-travelled Renato Gaúcho, who won the Libertadores in 2017 with Grêmio.

Montevideo is hosting not only the Libertadores but also the Copa Sudamericana. Uruguay has one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 infection and deaths from the pandemic. There is no more historically relevant stadium in South America – the venue for the first World Cup final.

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