Monday 25 November 2019, 17:35

Agony turns to ecstasy on historic day for Flamengo

  • Flamengo won their second Copa Libertadores, 38 years after their first

  • Brazilian side staged a heart-stopping comeback against River

  • looks at how they did it and their star men

It has taken Flamengo 38 years and three days to lift the Copa Libertadores once more, a feat they achieved against none other than Marcelo Gallardo’s River Plate, the most dominant force in South American football in recent years.

O Mengão owed their second triumph in the competition to an unlikely comeback in the closing stages of the final at the Estadio Monumental in Lima. In the process the Brazilians also secured a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019.

Gabigol to the rescue

Fla improved as their tournament went on. After topping Group D on goal difference from Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito and Penarol, the Brazilians needed penalties to see off Emelec in the last 16.

They raised their game to beat Internacional of Porto Alegre by a more comfortable margin in the quarter-finals, and showed they meant business by sweeping to a 6-1 aggregate win over Internacional’s city rivals Gremio, a result secured by a 5-0 win in the second leg.

Fired into the final by the strike partnership formed by Bruno Henrique and Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa, Flamengo had their supply lines disrupted by River, who struck first thought Rafael Santos Borre in the 14th minute. The Argentinians held that lead until the last minute of normal time, when Gabigol appeared.

The leading scorer in this year’s tournament, the Brazilian striker pounced on River’s defensive lapses to turn the match around with two well-taken goals, the second of them coming two minutes into injury time.

Fla’s path to glory

  • 13 matches played

  • Seven wins, three draws and three defeats

  • 24 goals scored (average of 1.85 per match) and ten conceded

Player of the tournament

Gabigol has not stopped scoring since arriving on loan from Inter Milan in January,earning himself hero status among the Fla fans. In 12 matches in the Libertadores, he has found the back of the net nine times, with five of those goals coming in the last 16, quarter-finals and semis and the last two in his one-man comeback show in the final.

The front man had the fans fearing the worst when he touched the trophy on his way out to the pitch in Lima. Rather than bringing Fla misfortune, however, Gabigol proved their lucky charm.

Having made virtually no impact throughout the game, he popped up in the six-yard-box with a minute remaining to make it 1-1 and then got the better of Javier Pinola to give his side victory.

The keys to success: Jesus and his star signings

The club with the biggest fanbase in the world (more than 40 million), Flamengo have been extremely busy in the transfer market in 2019.

Arriving in January with Gabigol were Giorgian de Arrascaeta, Bruno Henrique and Rodrigo Caio, all of whom made significant contributions in the Libertadores campaign. Then in June came first-choice full-backs Rafinha and Filipe Luis, not to mention the man who has made it all happen for Fla: coach Jorge Jesus.

The Portuguese has taken a group of talented players and forged a team committed to attacking football and the high press, with players constantly switching positions to pull the opposition out of shape and create two-on-ones.

What they said

“Flamengo’s win today isn’t a victory for me or the players; it’s a victory for Brazilian football. When I accepted this challenge to come to Brazil, it was a dream of mine to be in the Libertadores and to reach the final and win it.” Jorge Jesus

Diego (R) of Flamengo kisses his teammate Filipe Luis

Did you know?

  • Fla won their first Libertadores in 1981, the year they also lifted the Intercontinental Cup after beating Liverpool 3-0. Will there be a return meeting at Qatar 2019, when the two teams will fight for the world title once more?

  • As the Mengão players celebrated their achievement in the streets of Rio, Gremio were beating Palmeiras in the Brazilian championship to hand Flamengo their first league title since 2009.

  • Colombian midfielder Gustavo Cuellar played for Fla up to the Libertadores quarter-finals before joining Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia. As fate would have it, the Saudi side are the reigning Asian champions, which means Cuellar could well face a reunion with his old team-mates at the Club World Cup in December.