Spotlight on Flamengo and River in South America

  • Flamengo and River Plate face off in the 2019 Copa Libertadores final

  • O Mengão, finalists for first time in 38 years, against the holders

  • We assess the two sides’ form and their style of play

The first Copa Libertadores final to be played as a single match pitches together two carefully crafted teams committed to attacking football, each enjoying one of the most successful periods in their respective histories. At stake is the biggest prize in South American club football and a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019™. looks ahead to Saturday’s match, one of the highlights of the season.

The match: Flamengo-River Plate

23 November | Estadio Monumental de Lima (15:00 local time/21:00 CET)

The winners of two Copa Libertadores – the last of them coming in Madrid in 2018 against arch rivals Boca Juniors – and two Recopa Sudamericanas in the last four years, River Plate are the most dominant force in South American football right now. That status is confirmed by their appearance in yet another final.

Facing them are a Flamengo side reborn following the arrival of Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus in June. Their form since then has been hugely impressive: a mere two defeats in their last 31 matches and unbeaten in 25 matches in all competitions heading into Saturday’s showdown. This is O Mengão’s second Libertadores final after their Zico-inspired 1981 victory.

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 02: Jorge Jesus coach of Flamengo reacts during a semi final first leg match between Gremio and Flamengo as part of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2019 at Arena do Gremio on October 02, 2019 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images)

The road to the final

River were unbeaten in the group phase and knocked out Cruzeiro, Cerro Porteno and Boca Juniors in the knockout rounds.

Flamengo topped their group and then saw off Emelec and Porto Alegre duo Internacional and Gremio, beating the latter 5-0 in the second leg of the semi-finals.

The star coaches

Both coaches are crucial to understanding the two finalists. Jorge Jesus has revolutionised O Mengão with his passion and commitment to attacking football, and has earned the devotion of the club’s fans in the process. This is a coach famed for the intensity of his training sessions, his belief that only the best will do, and the energy he puts into making adjustments in the middle of games.

There is not much that has not already been said about Marcelo Gallardo. In his five-year tenure he has won half the Copa Libertadores crowns now adorning the Millonario trophy cabinet. Aside from winning silverware, he has also restored an attacking mentality to a club that likes to play attractive yet effective football.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - OCTOBER 22: Marcelo Gallardo head coach of River Plate celebrates qualifying to the final after the Semifinal second leg match between Boca Juniors and River Plate as part of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2019 at Estadio Alberto J. Armando on October 22, 2019 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

The lowdown on Flamengo:

Style: The Brazilians usually operate a 4-1-3-2 system when in possession and switch to a 4-2-2-2 when defending, when they play a high press in a high block. In attack, the Fla forwards frequently switch positions to cause confusion in the opposition defence and create space and two-on-one situations.

Key players: The strike pairing formed by ex-Santos team-mates Bruno Henrique and Gabigol has scored 12 goals in the competition so far. Henrique can break any defensive line with his speed, while fan favourite Gabigol is in a rich vein of form. In the engine room behind them, Gerson, Everton Ribeiro and Giorgian De Arrascaeta provide workrate, talent and an attacking threat.

Strengths and weaknesses: This is a well-built, talented side with quality in every department, starting with the experienced Diego Alves between the posts and the formidable central-defensive pairing of Pablo Mari and Rodrigo. Flamengo also have strength in depth on the bench.

On the downside, this particular side has only been together a few months and its lack of experience on big occasions such as this could weigh against it.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JULY 30: Nicolás De La Cruz of River Plate celebrates after the match between Cruzeiro and River Plate as part of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2019 at Mineirao stadium on July 30, 2019 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)

The lowdown on River Plate:

Style: Though Gallardo likes to use a 4-4-2 formation, he is pragmatic enough to know when to switch things up. If the circumstances and opposition dictate, he will play with three up front and five at the back (three centre-halves and two wing-backs to create a numerical advantage in midfield). Regardless of how River set up, however, they are a team that likes to take the initiative.

Key players: Franco Armani is the kind of keeper who can save games, turning in one miraculous performance after another. Javier Pinola is the head man in defence, while full-backs Gonzalo Montiel and Milton Casco are vital cogs in the River attacking machine. Midfielder Enzo Perez is their creative force and invariably the first line of defence, and Nico de la Cruz’sability to get in behind defences and also track back make him a valuable contributor. Meanwhile, Rafael Santos Borre creates space for his team-mates with his mobility in leading the line.

Strengths and weaknesses: The defending champions are known for their winning mentality, their experience in playing and winning finals, and the character they show in getting out of tough situations. River’s performances have left a little to be desired lately, however, and the aerial threat and pace of Gabigol and Bruno Henriquez could pose them problems in defence.

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 09:  The River Plate team celebrate with the Copa Libertadores Trophy following their victory in the second leg of the final match of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2018 between Boca Juniors and River Plate at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 9, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. Due to the violent episodes of November 24th at River Plate stadium, CONMEBOL rescheduled the game and moved it out of Americas for the first time in history.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)