Brazilian strikers Adriano and Ronaldo have scored a great many goals between them during their long and eventful careers, causing countless headaches for opposing defences.

And despite also facing their fair share of obstacles along the way, the pair are still causing nets to bulge. The free-scoring duo now have the chance to pit their finishing skills against each other when O Fenômeno’s Corinthians take on O Imperador’s Flamengo in a fascinating contest for a place in the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores.

The first leg of the eagerly awaited last-16 tie between the two best-supported teams on the continent takes place on Wednesday at the Maracana, the perfect stage for two of the game’s greatest marksmen.

“It’s a heavyweight contest in itself,” remarked Corinthians coach Mano Menezes, in reference to the first ever duel between the two former Brazil team-mates. “They are both big stars, two great players who have made their names in world football.”

Adding to the pressure of the occasion is the fact that one of them will be taking their leave of the competition at the tie’s conclusion. And with both Ronaldo and Adriano having come in for their fair share of criticism in the last month, it has been no surprise to see them shying away from reporters in the build-up to the Libertadores showdown.

In the firing line
If anything, it is Ronaldo who will be feeling the heat more than Adriano. After all, this is a tie that pitches him against the club closest to his heart, a club that he turned his back on only a few months ago to join Corinthians, much to the chagrin of Flamengo fans. “I hope the supporters have a real go at him and it knocks him off his game,” commented a smiling Vagner Love. “That will make things a lot easier for us.”

Appearing at a fashion show in Rio on Saturday evening, Ronaldo was even booed by some of those present. “I understand it,” he said, keeping his composure. “A lot of Rio people are Flamenguistas, as are a lot of Brazilians. I know everyone’s really keyed up about the game, and if you ask me, the fans seem a bit fearful.”

Ronaldo is back to his best. He is tremendously motivated and he doesn’t need any extra stimulus.

Roberto Carlos on Ronaldo

The subject of whistling from the Timão faithful during Corinthians’ last match in the group phase, Ronaldo has been put through his paces in training recently, undergoing four extra sessions in a bid to be in tip-top condition for the Maracana meeting.

“Ronaldo is back to his best,” said team-mate and close friend Roberto Carlos. “He is tremendously motivated and he doesn’t need any extra stimulus. He played in front of plenty of big hostile crowds in Europe and this is just another new experience for him.”

Emperor set to strike back
Adriano also came in for criticism when Flamengo laboured to a 3-2 win over Caracas in their last group game, though that was perhaps the fans’ way of expressing their frustration at seeing Botafogo wrestle Fla’s Rio state championship crown from them just a few days previously.

Having recovered from his troubling back pains, O Imperador is hoping to end a goalless April on a high note and recover the form that saw him hit 12 goals in 13 games at the start of the season.

In all he has struck 31 times in 43 matches since returning to the Gavea, and should he add to that impressive tally against Corinthians, it will go a long way to helping his side get back on track following the departure of Andrade as coach. Replacing him in the hotseat, for the meantime at least, is former Flamengo defender and the coach of Brazil’s U-20 side at Egypt 2009, Rogerio Lourenco.

“I’ve already told him that I’ll give him a clip round the ear if he doesn’t come out on top in this duel,” said strike partner Love in jocular vein. “They were team-mates at the last World Cup and they’re playing for two of the most popular teams in the country. No one has bigger support than us and them and I hope the Maracana will be full for this tie.”  

That will most definitely be the case. The last remaining tickets for Wednesday’s game and next week’s return fixture have already sold out. All that remains now is for these two battle-hardened strikers to match expectations and regain the affection of their demanding supporters.