With the Superliga season now on hiatus until the new year, 2017’s final offering is a tantalising Copa Sudamericana final second leg between two South American giants. Independiente lead Flamengo 2-1 from last week’s clash in Avellaneda and now the famous Maracanã hosts the deciding match.
It has been a boisterous last 24 hours in Rio de Janeiro as Flamengo’s supporters have noisily made their presence known at the Independiente hotel. Both clubs are desperate to restore pride and put recent failures behind them and while El Rojo hold a slim advantage, the Mengão will be confident in their ability to overturn the one-goal deficit.
Flamengo certainly showed enough in the Estadio Libertadores de América last Wednesday for Independiente to be cautious. Powerful centre back Réver headed Flamengo into an early lead and while there is no away goals rule in the final, the Brazilian threat from set-pieces was apparent.
Perhaps with this in mind, Ariel Holan is thought to be toying with the idea of starting Venezuelan defender Fernando Amorebieta for the return leg with Nicolás Domingo possibly bolstering the midfield at the expense of forward Martín Benitez.
Independiente will feel that they have the tools to hurt Flamengo on the counter. Ezequiel Barco, possibly playing his last game for the club before a big money move to Atlanta United, Maxi Meza, Juan Sánchez Miño and marauding full back Fabricio Bustos will all look to burst forward at pace in support of lone striker Emmanuel Gigliotti.
Meza, Barco and Gigliotti did the damage last week to ensure that Independiente came from behind to take a first leg lead but Ariel Holan will need another big performance if they are to hold off Flamengo.
Independiente possible XI: Martín Campaña; Fabricio Bustos, Alan Franco, Fernando Amorebieta, Nicolás Tagliafico, Gastón Silva; Diego Rodríguez, Juan Sánchez Miño/Nicolás Domingo; Ezequiel Barco, Maximiliano Meza; Emmanuel Gigliotti
Flamengo possible XI: César; Pará, Réver, Rhodolfo, Trauco; Willian Arão, Cuéllar, Lucas Paquetá; Everton Ribeiro, Diego; Felipe Vizeu
For Brazilian giants Flamengo, five-time Campeonato Brasileiro champions, Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup champions in 1981 and record Campeonato Carioca champions, it’s an opportunity to make up for recent disappointments.
The Mengão are in the Sudamericana after another early exit from the Libertadores and victory would go someway to making up for that.
For Independiente it is something far more.
El Rey de Copas, a nickname that points back to Independiente’s rich history has looked more like a cruel joke in recent years, but after the ignominy of suffering the first and only relegation in the club’s history in 2013, Los Diablos Rojos are back in an international final.
The last was in this very competition back in 2010 when Independiente beat another Brazilian side, Goiás on penalties. It proved to be a peak before the great decline.
That is of course to say not the peak for Independiente – the reputation as King of Cups wasn’t built on that, but after lifting a record seven Copa Libertadores titles between 1964 and 1984 it is easy to see why El Rojo have been so impatient to sit back to the top table of South American football.
The two sides have met nine times with Flamengo holding a clear advantage, winning four and suffering defeat only twice. However, it is the aggregate defeat to Independiente in the final of the 1995 Supercopa Sudamericana that is best remembered.
A 2-0 defeat in Avellaneda in the first leg rendered the great Romário’s solitary goal in the Maracanã a week later nothing more than a consolation.
Independiente will certainly be hoping for a repeat and the weight of history is not something lost on Ariel Holan’s current crop of players. El Rojo have played 25 international final and won 16 (7 Copa Libertadores, 2 Intercontinental Cups, 1 Copa Sudamericana, 3 Copa Interamericanas, 2 Supercopas and 1 Recopa), and the players, staff and supporters are desperate that one more is added.