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Football: River Plate and Flamengo eye history in Copa Libertadores final

River Plate football fans in the streets of Lima, November 22, 2019.
River Plate football fans in the streets of Lima, November 22, 2019. Pilar Olivares, REUTERS

Argentine holders River Plate and Brazil’s Flamengo are set for an all-or-nothing showdown in the final of the Copa Libertadores on Saturday, the first final in the competition’s 60-year history to be decided over a single match.

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River are chasing their fifth Copa after wins in 1986, 1996, 2015 and last year. A win on Saturday would make it a hat-trick for their talismanic football coach Marcelo Gallardo, who won as a player in 1996.

Gallardo’s well-organized and workmanlike team will pose a stiff challenge for the Brazilians, whose Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus has put together a fearsome attacking side since taking over at the Rio de Janeiro club last June.

Jesus was giving nothing away after arriving here Thursday, holding team training at a Peruvian football federation pitch behind a wall of black tarpaulin, specially erected to keep the press at bay.

Flamengo left-back Filipe Luis says River are favourites.

“We’re facing the best team of the moment, the Copa champions, a team used to playing in finals in recent years,” said the 34-year-old Brazilian international, once of Atletico Madrid.

“River have been under a lot of pressure and come through everything,” he said.

“We, on the other hand, are a new team, with players who arrived at the beginning of the year, a group with a lot of quality, believing in our coach’s ideas, but one that is still getting to know each other.”

Brazil's most popular team

Despite being Brazil’s most popular team, Flamengo have won the Copa Libertadores only once, back in 1981 with the Brazilian great Zico in the side.

However, they have competition’s top scorers in Gabriel Barbosa, who has hit seven goals on the way to the final, and Bruno Henrique, with five.

The single match format will make things straightforward, said River striker Rafael Santos Borre.

“In a single game it will depend a lot on how you play and how things turn out on that one day. The one who plays better will be champions.”

Defending champions River overcame fierce Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors in the two-legged semifinal, while Flamengo thrashed Gremio 6-1 on aggregate.

Chilean referee Roberto Tobar will take charge of the game at the 80,000-capacity Monumental stadium in Lima, which kicks off at 5:00pm (2000 GMT).

Peruvian authorities have drafted in 4,000 police to ensure security around the game.

The South American showpiece was originally set for Santiago, but the venue was switched to Lima because of the last month’s deadly social protests in Chile.

It’s the second year running that security concerns have forced a last minute change of venue.

The second leg of last year’s final was controversially played in Madrid after the original fixture was twice postponed due to Boca players suffering cuts and smoke inhalation when their team bus came under attack from River fans.

Probable teams:

River Plate: Franco Armani - Gonzalo Montiel, Lucas Martinez Quarta, Javier Pinola, Milton Casco - Enzo Perez - Exequiel Palacios, Ignacio Fernandez, Nicolas de la Cruz - Rafael Santos Borre and Matias Suarez. Coach: Marcelo Gallardo.

Flamengo: Diego Alves - Rafinha, Pablo Mari, Rodrigo Caio, Filipe Luis - Willian Arao, Gerson - Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Everton Ribeiro, Bruno Henrique - Gabriel Barbosa. Coach: Jorge Jesus.

(AFP)

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