With BBC 2 broadcasting the Copa Libertadores final this Saturday night, lots of British football fans will get their first chance to watch Flamengo and River Plate.
There are several factors which make this final special, and the main one is that it’s being played in a single leg for the first time. And we can definitely say that the two best teams in South America are facing each other.
On one side, there’s Flamengo, who have been fantastic since Jorge Jesus took charge of the club in June. He has 24 wins, six draws and only two losses so far. Winning the Brazilian league is a matter of time, since they’re 13 points clear with six fixtures to go.
Now they go for the international challenge.
But the Argentine opponents have been showing their strength for longer. Under the command of Marcelo Gallardo, River Plate won the Copa Sudamericana in 2014, and then the Copa Libertadores in 2015 and 2018. They defeated their arch rivals Boca Juniors in last year’s final, and did the same in the semifinals last month.
Now stats are cool and all, but the only thing that could make people sit and watch this game are the good players on both sides. So we’ve tried to make a list of stars who you should keep an eye on.
Flamengo’s financial status has given them the chance to sign players who have some good experience in Europe. That’s the case of Diego Alves, Rafinha, Filipe Luís and Diego Ribas. But there others who some Europeans can take a look at for the first time.
The first one is Gerson. He couldn’t find his best form at Fiorentina and Roma in the past couple of seasons, but his last months for Flamengo have been incredible. His size and strength may make it look like he’s just a physical player, but his passing and shooting skills have been really standing out lately.
Former Santos winger Bruno Henrique has arguably been Flamengo’s best player this season. He’s been scoring decisive goals in important games, and his impressive speed is a nightmare for all fullbacks who try to stop him.
Everton Ribeiro is 30 years old and his chances of a big move to Europe look gone. But his magic in midfield continues to be crucial for Flamengo’s success and the beauty in his play makes him a man to watch.
And finally we have Gabigol. He was a flop during his time at Inter Milan and Benfica, but his return to Brazil has been fantastic. His 27 goals for Santos in 2018 and another 38 for Flamengo this year (so far) show that he deserves a second chance. Since his loan deal from Inter Milan expires next month, there could be a race to sign him.
River Plate also have a couple of experienced players such as Franco Armani and Enzo Perez who are well known for their silverware at the club. But there are a few young talents who could still have a chance in Europe.
Uruguayan midfielder Nicolás De La Cruz is one of them. He’s been crucial for River’s Libertadores campaign, being the player with the best stats, getting three goals and three assists so far. At only 22, it will be hard to keep him in South America for much longer.
Meanwhile, Santos Borré has been the team’s main striker this season, leaving the very experienced Lucas Pratto on the bench. The 24-year-old has seven goals in the Argentine league and another two in the Copa Libertadores so far, and is Gallardo’s target man for this final.
Along with Enzo Perez, midfielder Exequiel Palacios is the one who’s been dominating River Plate’s midfield in this campaign, and he’s their main hope of controlling the sector against Flamengo. The 21-year-old is a product of the club’s famous academy.
There’s also Ignacio Fernandez, who’s already 28, but his impact in the team has been huge this season. He’s one of Millonarios’ main creative players, and is their reliable weapon on the wing.
For this final game, we’d expect River Plate to use their experience and be more conservative to get a positive result. They’ve just shown how well they can do it by eliminating Boca Juniors at La Bombonera.
On the other hand, Flamengo are expected to come out with full force, just like they’ve been doing for the past five months, with a big hunger for goals. The fact they won their only Libertadores final in 1981 puts a lot more pressure on them.