Following five months and 137 matches, the 49th edition of the Copa Libertadores reaches its conclusion tonight when Fluminense and LDU contest the second leg of the final. The Ecuadorians will pitch up at the Maracana in confident mood after last week's 4-2 win in the first leg, although a two-goal win for O Fluzão will take the match into extra time and, if those 30 minutes fail to separate them, on to penalties. Whoever comes out on top will also pocket a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 in December.
Fluminense-LDU, Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Wednesday 2 July, 21.50 (local time)
The time for talking is over. Fluminense and LDU are one game away from claiming their maiden continental title. While the Carioca outfit are aiming to make it 14 tournament wins for Brazilian sides, should Edgardo Bauza's men prevail they will become the first ever Ecuadorian side to reach the pinnacle of continental club football. Los Albos served up a typically offensive display in last week's first leg and went in at half-time with a seemingly decisive 4-1 lead. Renato Gaucho's side pulled themselves together after the interval, however, plugging the defensive gaps and stealing a second goal through Thiago Neves to leave the tie nicely poised at 4-2.
That second-half performance in Quito has given the Tricolor Carioca squad the belief that they can overturn the deficit, and recent history suggests that confidence is not misplaced. En route to the final, Fluminense conjured up 3-1 wins over Sao Paulo and Boca Juniors in the last eight and the last four respectively. Playing a vital role in both those triumphs was striker Washington, the top scorer for Urawa Red Diamonds at the last FIFA Club World Cup who has shaken off his injury problems to earn a place in tonight's starting line-up. Alongside him will be full-back Junior Cesar, who will be making his 200th appearance for the hosts.
Having put the disappointment of failing to put the tie out of the Brazilians' reach behind them, Patricio Urrutia and his team-mates have been planning how to handle the pressure exerted by a Maracana bursting at the seams and baying for glory. A draw or even a one-goal defeat will be enough for Bauza's side, and the Argentinian coach will be boosted by the fact he can call on a full-strength squad, with the talismanic trio of Joffre Guerron, Damian Manso and Claudio Bieler all starting. Lining up in goal will be Jose Cevallos, who tasted defeat with Barcelona of Guayaquil in the 1990 and 1998 finals, the only other occasions on which an Ecuadorian side had a tilt at the title. Will it be third time lucky for the veteran custodian?
The opening 30 minutes will be crucial to the final outcome. If the visitors can withstand what is sure to be a frenzied atmosphere, control possession and work some openings, the pressure is sure to switch to the hosts. Should Fluminense strike early, though, it could be a taxing evening for LDU, who have recorded just one win, two defeats and three draws in their six away games in this year's Libertadores. Even more worryingly for them, O Fluzão have a 100 per cent home record, scoring 16 goals and conceding a mere two.
What they said
"We are not underestimating anyone but we're not saying we'll finish runners-up either. We respect LDU but this is the last battle. Everyone knows Fluminense now thanks to this year's Libertadores and we're going to end our journey in style," Fluminense coach Renato Gaucho.
"People are saying there's a lot of pressure on us, but the onus is on them. They're playing at home and they need to come back from 4-2 down. We know we've already made history but we want more. We've come to Brazil to become champions," LDU captain Patricio Urrutia.
Previous Copa Libertadores meetings:
Group phase - 2008
20 February: LDU 0-0 Fluminense
17 April: Fluminense 1-0 LDU
Final, first leg - 2008
25 June: LDU 4-2 Fluminense