Like the boxers when the bell rang at the end of the last round, both Palmeiras and Flamengo were able to raise their arms and achieve some kind of victory when the final whistle rang on Sunday with a 1-1 draw in the Brazilian League in a potential Copa preview. Libertadores Cup Final.
These are the current “big duo” of Brazilian football, clubs that seek to monopolize serious titles. Last year, Atlético Mineiro, who had been spending a lot of money, emerged to form a short-lived ‘strong treble’ and exited with both the league and the cup. But it has fallen sharply this year.
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Normal service has resumed. The Great Battle between Palmeiras in São Paulo and Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro. Just as their cities are very different, so are their teams. Flamengo had a magical year in 2019 under Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, winning the domestic title and the Copa Libertadores. Jorge Jesus built it up front, with a bold front four that the local coaches thought was unworkable. He left in 2020, and all subsequent coaches – there were four – worked under him, with a commitment to come up with something amazing.
Palmeiras won his next two Libertadores titles with their own Portuguese coach – but one of them is of a very different fabric than Jorge Jesus. Abel Ferreira is young, ambitious and frighteningly talented. There is something about young Jose Mourinho in him. By nature, his squads are cautious on big occasions. They can smash weaker opponents. But the “clean nets first” mentality speaks volumes against the big teams. Perhaps that is why so far he has performed better in the cup competitions than in the league.
But this year it is proving different. With Atlético Mineiro’s sharp decline, and Flamengo off to a horrific start, it appears that the path is open for a Palmeiras victory. This appears to be even more true after Sunday’s 1-1 draw. Palmeiras succeeded in disrupting the strong recovery presented by Flamengo under Dorival Junior, who replaced Paulo Sousa.
Flamengo remain in third place and are nine points behind Palmeiras, with 15 rounds remaining. The surprise team Fluminense this year, which is visiting Palmeiras on Saturday, is in second place. He avoided defeat in that match and Palmeiras can look forward to the final in a row with a healthy lead. The league title will be theirs to lose.
But Flamengo can also claim a kind of moral victory from Sunday’s draw. The league title could be a losing cause. Time will tell. But there is a bigger fish for frying. These two players met last year in the Libertadores final, where Palmeiras won 2-1. They are on their way to meet again for this year’s decision. Both qualified for the semi-finals, where they were the favorites – Palmeiras against fellow Brazilians Atletico Paranaense, and Flamengo against Argentina’s Velez Sarsfield.
And from the perspective of preparing for a potential Copa Libertadores final, Flamengo are not far from Sao Paulo in any way that has been reduced by a 1-1 draw. Palmeiras was in full force. Flamengo, with one eye on the domestic cup semi-final in the middle of the week, rested for a number of players. Newcomer Arturo Vidal was on the bench, as were the four at the front: playmakers Everton Ribeiro and Georgian de Arrascaeta, as well as forwards Gabriel Barbosa and Pedro.
It is true that their team has amazing strength in depth. Coming into that was the Brazilian international winger Everton Soares, who signed from Benfica, while on the other winger was Marinho, a big name from Santos. But the youngsters also had a race, and one of them, 18-year-old Vitor Hugo, gave Flamengo the lead with a header from a cross from the left.
Palmeiras turned his mind after the first half, and although Flamengo goalkeeper Aderbar Santos was not saddled with yellow cards, they deserved the equalizer when playmaker Rafael Vega curled a curled outside ball. At that time, the Flamengo sat on the bench, and soon brought their five famous names. It inevitably changed the game – not least because 1-1 was a de facto victory for Almeras and they were content to concede possession and wait for opportunities on the counter-attack.
There were chances and a half chances on both ends in the last 20 minutes. All this bodes well for a possible parade of the Libertadores final in the Ecuadorean city of Guayaquil on October 29 – an occasion where everything that happened in the domestic league is likely to lack its relevance.