Newcomers at the ready

When the draw was made for the first two phases of the Copa Libertadores 2008 last December in Asuncion, few observers paid much attention to Group 8. With the likes of LDU and Fluminense populating the section that was perhaps no surprise. After all, the only other Ecuadorian side to reach the final of the competition was Barcelona, while the Brazilians had only ever made two appearances in South America's premier club tournament.

How things have changed in the six months since then, however. Tonight, with the region's heavyweights having fallen by the wayside some time ago, the aforementioned outsiders will run out for the very first time in a Copa Libertadores final. Ahead of a historic night in the competition, sets the scene for this most unexpected of showdowns.

The stakes
LDU-Fluminense, Estadio Casa Blanca (Quito), Wednesday 25 June, 19.50 (local time)

Both teams are aware history is in the making. They are just 180 minutes away from winning the most coveted club trophy in Latin American football for the first time, and with it a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008.

Curiously, Edgardo Bauza's side are going into the final having failed to win any of their previous five Libertadores matches, their last victory coming in the first leg of their last-16 tie with Estudiantes. In their subsequent meetings with San Lorenzo and America, the Ecuadorians relied on their ability to negotiate penalty shootouts and grab vital away goals to progress. What better way then for Los Albos to break their winless run than at home in the first leg of the final?

Fluminense coach Renato Gaucho won the trophy as a player with Gremio in 1983 and has worked some minor miracles in getting his team this far. O Fluzão have seen off tournament favourites Sao Paulo and Boca Juniors en route to the final, and having lost only two games away from home in the competition, one of them with an under-strength team, the Brazilians are hopeful their habitual efficiency in front of goal will set them up for a comfortable second leg.

The Ecuadorians have no selection worries for tonight 's game, while Fluminense striker Washington is expected to play after overcoming a niggling injury.

The key
With such a huge prize on offer, the abilities of both sides to handle the pressure will prove vital. Will LDU be able to maintain their disciplined, composed style with a stadium full of impatient fans urging them on? Or will the individual quality of the Brazilians prove to their hosts' undoing? The answers to those questions could lie in the midfield duel between scheming playmakers Damian Manso and Thiago Neves.

What they said
"We were too nervous against America and didn't play well, particularly in the first half. I'm confident that won't happen again in the first leg though. We want to make the fans happy and these are the two most important matches of my life," LDU coach Edgardo Bauza.

"My players know this is the game of their lives and we need to forget about tiredness and the altitude of Quito if we want to be champions. The only way to go down in history is by winning things and to win this now would just be amazing. We're going to go for it," Fluminense coach Renato Gaucho.

Previous Copa Libertadores meetings:
Group phase - 2008
20 February: LDU 0-0 Fluminense
17 April: Fluminense 1-0 LDU