Fluminense have scaled steep hurdles to reach the final of the Copa Libertadores 2008. The had just 20 minutes to put two unanswered goals past Brazilian champions Sao Paulo in their quarter-final, and completed this improbable mission when Washington headed home three minutes into injury time. Then, trailing 3-2 on aggregate to defending continental kings Boca Juniors with less than half-an-hour remaining in their semi-final, Renato Gaucho's charges scored thrice without reply to book a date with LDU.
Fluminense's message was apparent: it's not over till it's over. It is a motto they will take into the second leg of the decider tonight, when they will attempt to do what only two teams in the history of the Copa Libertadores have achieved: recover a two-goal deficit from the first leg of the final to lift the trophy.
Despite this statistic, optimism is flowing through the veins of O Tricolor Carioca as they prepare to take to the same stage which staged their recoveries against Sao Paulo and Boca Juniors. " ," said Renato Gaucho, a dashing right-winger in the Gremio side that swept to Libertadores glory in 1983 who is now preparing Fluminense for the most important 90 minutes in their history (with the 'away goals rule' not in operation, extra time and even penalties could ensue).
"I already said before the first match that this final would be decided over 180 minutes. The first 90 have been played and they earned a two-goal advantage. Now there's another 90 that could even become 120. We will have the force of the supporters behind us, and the drive they give us has already inspired some great victories. This was the case against Sao Paulo and Boca. I respect LDU but believe that we will do it"
Washington, whose six goals have propelled O Fluzão into the Libertadores final, shares his coach's confidence. ""I believe we can do it and so do the supporters," he affirmed. "They are our driving force and LDU will find it difficult in front of over 80,000 at the Maracana.
Coração Valente (Brave Heart), who finished as the top scorer at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 in the colours of Urawa Red Diamonds, does not mind missing out on the headlines tonight - so long as Fluminense seal him a return to the world stage in December. "I dream about scoring the winner, but if another player scores it that's no problem," he said. "All that matters is that we win the most important title in the club's history."
Idols of '84 lend support
This is, at least until tonight, the solitary Brasileirão crown they seized in 1984, and the man whose goal delivered this prize is confident Fluminense can triumph. "I love this club and its supporters and I am certain that we will win," commented the Paraguayan Romerito. Branco concurred with his former team-mate: "I'm convinced that we will win the Libertadores," he declared.
Carlos Alberto Parreira, who guided a side comprising Romerito, Branco, Paulo Victor, Ricardo Gomes, Washington and Assis to domestic rule 24 years ago, will be among the many rooting for his former employers at the Maracana. "Fluminense will have 80,000 fans willing them on and their support is a big plus - we saw that against Sao Paulo and Boca," he said. "I think this will be difficult for LDU and Flumniense will emerge as champions."
History may not be on their side, but the consensus among Fluminense staff past and present is that the biggest match in the club's history will end in celebration.