It was the most memorable Copa Libertadores final in history. Of course, the things that made it memorable were far from entirely positive, but it will take a long time for the 2018 final between Boca Juniors and River Plate, which saw the latter lift the famous trophy at the Santiago Bernabeu, to fade in the mind.
River Plate are now just one win away from keeping their continental crown with the Buenos Aires club set to face Flamengo in the 2019 Copa Libertadores final this weekend. This match-up might not be as compelling as the one produced twelve months ago, but it could still turn out to be something of a classic.
While the chaos of last year’s Copa Libertadores final has largely been avoided, the build-up to this weekend’s match hasn’t been without controversy, with the game moved from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru just weeks beforehand due to ongoing protests in Chile.
This demonstrated continued disregard for South American football fans who last year had to hotfoot it to Madrid at short notice last year and have this year been forced to change their plans, at their own cost, once again.
This year’s Copa Libertadores final will be a one-legged affair after a change in format for this season. That has come with its own problems in a continent where fans don’t always have the money to travel to a neutral venue to watch their team, but from a footballing standpoint, it should produce quite the spectacle with everything on the line.
History is on the line for both clubs, but particularly for Flamengo who are in the Copa Libertadores final for the first time in 35 years.
Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa has been the driving force behind the Brazilian side, with the on-loan Inter forward scoring 29 times over 2019. Hyped as a wonder-kid from a very young age it has taken a return to Brazil for Gabigol to find his best form.
“We have written our names in the page of Flamengo's history,” Gabigol said after the semi-final win over Gremio, but they can write their names into the club’s history in marker pen with victory over River Plate on Saturday. Meanwhile, River Plate can become a legendary team in a wider sense by becoming the first side to win back-to-back Copa Libertadores titles since Boca Juniors in 2000 and 2001.
Marcelo Gallardo has also been strongly linked with the Barcelona job and so a second successive continental title could make him even more attractive to the Catalan club. All this is without mentioning the Argentina v Brazil factor which will make this weekend’s match one for the ages. Nothing could compare to what happened last year, but Saturday’s game more than deserves your attention.
Football fans even have the extra bonus of being able to watch this South American showdown live on BBC Two from 7.30pm this evening.