Seven years after their last international final, Independiente were able to put the pain of their 2013 relegation and recent disappointments behind them with a draw against Flamengo in the Marcanã to lift the Copa Sudamericana.
Following last week’s 2-1 win in Avellaneda, El Rojo held on in Rio de Janeiro to claim a 1-1 draw thanks to Ezequiel Barco’s first half penalty.
All the pre-game talk had been dominated by violent incidents involving Flamengo supporters and the police and the fiery atmosphere translated onto the pitch into a high-tempo, frantic game of football.
The Brazilians started the brighter and pegged back Independiente early on but it was just as El Rojo were beginning to grow into the second leg when Flamengo led. Just as in the first meeting a free kick into the penalty area caused panic and after being helped back across goal neither Nicolás Tagliafico nor Nicolás Domingo could clear, allowing Lucas Paquetá a simple tap-in.
Independiente’s response didn’t take long as Maxi Meza raced onto a Fabricio Bustos through ball and the slightest of touches knocked him off balance, prompting Wilmar Roldán to point to the spot. Flamengo protested but after checking with the VAR system, the penalty stood and 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco kept his cool to slot in the equaliser.
With no away goal rules in the final, Independiente were ahead in the tie and the onus was back on Flamengo to score at least one to force extra time.
The chances certainly came for the Mengão with Martín Campaña forced into action on a number of occasions but it was Independiente who came closest to finding the net.
Emmanuel Gigliotti robbed the ball and ran clear on goal, clipping the ball over César only for Juan to produce a miraculous goal-line clearance.
Flamengo, roared on by a packed Maracanã, pushed for the goal needed but couldn’t create that clear opening or maintain the composure to punish El Rojo.
The final whistle blew and Independiente rejoiced. Ariel Holan, manager and supporter, could barely contain his emotion as players and supporters erupted in joy and relief. It’s been a long road back to this point for the club and after a tremendous 2017, Independiente are now not only Copa Sudamericana champions but back in the competition that means so much to the famous Argentinian club, the Copa Libertadores.