And they thought it was going to be a walk in the park.
Flamengo have won the 2019 Copa Libertadores in the most spectacular fashion, with two late goals from Gabriel Barbosa giving them a 2-1 win against River Plate in the final in Peru.
Flamengo were outfought and outthought for 89 minutes, but found an equaliser in the 90th minute. Two minutes later and they were in front, and another few minutes and two red cards later (including one for Barbosa) and Flamengo were champions.
They didn’t deserve this title for what they did on the night, but they did deserve it for what they have done the whole season. Itâ€™s a funny old game at times, football.
If you haven’t been following things in South America this year, Flamengo have been played some sensational stuff, epitomised by their 5-0 demolition of Gremio in the semi final. They’ve also virtually sealed the domestic league title, and will win it tomorrow with four games to spare if Palmeiras fail to win their league match against Gremio.
Flamengo were poor for 89 minutes of today’s match but credit must go to River Plate, who played with the kind of intensity, aggression and organisation that Flamengo simply aren’t used to. It shocked Flamengo, who seemed to go into the field with the attitude that if they turned up and did what they always do, then they would walk away with the trophy.
It was quite disappointing from a Brazilian point of view and nobody could really have complained if Marcelo Gallardo’s River Plate had won. They had a few chances to make it 2-0 and Flamengo barely had an attack of note between River’s goal in the 15th minute and the 57th minute.
Bruno Henrique finally managed to break down the left. His pace took him away from the defender, as it so often does, but his pass was poor, which meant that Arrascaeta could only scuff his shot. The ball still broke for Flamengo, but they missed two chances to score; first, Gabriel Barbosa’s shot was blocked and then Everton Ribeiro fired straight at the keeper.
Flamengo were dominating possession, but most of this was in their own half. And whenever they got into the opposing half they were being stung by River tackles and struggling to keep the ball. Admittedly, River were committing some cynical fouls, which meant that the game was stopping and starting repeatedly and Flamengo couldnâ€™t build any momentum. The referee was giving River the benefit of the doubt and a few yellow cards would have given them the security to receive the ball and know that they werenâ€™t about to get clattered.
Jorge Jesus introduced Diego in the 65th minute and Flamengo slowly started to find more rhythm. Everton Ribeiro became more effective and on a few occasions Flamengo finally managed to release Bruno Henrique and Gabriel Barbosa into space on the wings. They were starting to create a few half chances but they were still lacking their usual fluidity.
One of those came in the 75th minute when good play set Barbosa free on the right hand side. He lacked a little bit of space so crossed instead of shooting, which resulted in Arrascaeta attempting an overhead kick. It would have been something special, but it went across the goal instead of on target. They had another chance in the 79th minute when Gabriel Barbosa broke free down the left but his cross was blocked.
For most of the match it seemed like this would not be Flamengoâ€™s day. And had they lost, big questions would have been asked about the attitude of the players and their temperament. Flamengo fans wonâ€™t care one bit about that though now, after they turned the game on its head in four crazy minutes.
Bruno Henrique produced an excellent bit of quality to draw four defenders towards him before slipping in Arrascaeta, whose cross-shot made its way to Gabriel Barbosa, who tapped the ball into an empty net. A few minutes later and the World had been turned upside down.
Diego Alves; Rafinha, Rodrigo Caio, Pablo Mari, Felipe Luis; Willian ArÃ£o (Vitinho), Gerson (Diego); Arrascaeta (Piris da Motta), Everton Ribeiro, Bruno Henrique; Gabriel Barbosa.
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