Copa Libertadores final preview: All you need to know

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LIMA, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Argentina's River Plate and Brazilian side Flamengo will be aiming to carve their own slice of Copa Libertadores history - for vastly different reasons - when they meet in the final of South America's top club competition in Lima on Saturday.


River Plate are seeking to become the first team to win back-to-back Copa Libertadores titles since their great rivals Boca Juniors achieved the feat in 2000 and 2001.

In last year's final, River struck two extra-time goals in the decisive leg to beat Boca 5-3 on aggregate. That victory gave them their fourth Libertadores title and second in four years.

Flamengo, meanwhile, have not featured in the competition's showpiece fixture since 1981, when their Zico-inspired side lifted the trophy for the only time in the club's history.


Saturday's clash, originally scheduled to be played in Santiago, was moved to Lima's 80,000-capacity Estadio Monumental earlier this month because of ongoing social unrest in Chile's capital.

It is the first time that the competition will feature a single final, having been decided over two legs - home and away - since its inception in 1960.

The winner will earn a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup, to be played in Qatar from December 11 to 22.


Some critics were questioning Flamengo's decision to appoint Jorge Jesus in June after the Portuguese coach managed just one victory from his first five matches in charge.

However the Rubro-Negro quickly adapted to the 65-year-old's methodology and are unbeaten in 25 matches since August 10.

In addition to the Copa Libertadores final, Flamengo are just one victory away from securing their first Brazilian Serie A title since 2009.


Despite their impressive form in the Copa Libertadores, River have struggled for consistency in Argentina's first division this season and have won just three of their past six matches.

Marcelo Gallardo's men are currently fourth in the Argentinian Superliga, though only one point behind leaders Boca.

They earned a place in the Libertadores final by overcoming Boca 2-1 on aggregate in the semifinal. River will have had nine days of rest ahead of the final compared to Flamengo's six days.


According to Argentinian press reports, River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo could deploy a five-man defensive line in a bid to defuse Flamengo's attacking threat. Such a move would probably see Chilean Paulo Diaz start alongside fellow central defenders Javier Pinola and Lucas Martinez Quarta, with Gonzalo Montiel at right-back and Milton Casco at left-back.

While reducing the space available to the likes of Gabriel Barbosa and Bruno Henrique, the move could play into Flamengo's hands by allowing them to dictate terms in midfield, where they have the class and ingenuity to wreak havoc against even the most organized teams.

Flamengo, as is their way under Jesus, will look to expose River with rapid transitions with the ball and relentless high-pressing without it. There are no obvious weaknesses in Flamengo's squad and their bench is replete with options.

Jesus has given Barbosa, Henrique, Giorgian de Arrascaeta and Everton Ribeiro a license to roam where they please when Flamengo are in possession, and their knack for finding space could trouble a River defense that has looked shaky in recent months.

Meanwhile, Gerson and Willian Arao have been a reassuring presence at the base of Flamengo's midfield, ahead of a back four that includes Brazil international left-back Filipe Luis and ex-Bayern Munich defender Rafinha.


"It's crazy. There's nothing else like this in the world," Jorge Jesus told a Portuguese reporter tasked with accompanying the Lisbon-born manager in Brazil. Jesus was referring to the tens of thousands of Flamengo fans that flocked to the club's Ninho do Urubu training base on Wednesday to send the squad off as it departed for the Galeao international airport en route to Lima.

Brazilian news outlet Globo Esporte ran a photograph of the hordes of Flamengo fans surrounding the team bus alongside another image showing the handful of River supporters who gathered at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires to bid their team farewell earlier in the day. "There was no indication that [River] was leaving for an important match," the portal said.


Diego Haro, the Peruvian match official who was supposed to be the video assistant referee for the final, was relieved of his duties on Tuesday after making controversial comments to the media. The 36-year-old told Miter Radio in Argentina that he was wary of possible diving by River Plate players after analyzing videos of their matches.

South American football governing body CONMEBOL promptly replaced Haro with Uruguayan Esteban Ostojich, citing a "breach of the internal arbitration policy regarding interviews without prior authorization."


River arguably have greater experience across their squad, and several current players were a part of the team's triumph over Boca Juniors in last year's final.

However, Flamengo have veteran full-backs Rafinha and Filipe Luis, both of whom have played in Champions League finals, in addition to 30-year-old former Brazil international Ribeiro.

Both teams boast world-class goalkeepers in Argentina international Franco Armani and former Valencia shot-stopper Diego Alves. But Flamengo appear to be sturdier in defence and more dangerous in attacking areas.

Moreover, their high-tempo game plan - a rarity in South American football - might be too much to bear for a River side that includes 36-year-old Pinola and 31-year-old Casco in defence, as well as 33-year-old Enzo Perez in central midfield. Enditem

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