LIBERTADORES: A FINAL PREVIEW

LIBERTADORES: A FINAL PREVIEW

This weekend, the longest Copa Libertadores in history is finally set to come to a close with an historic all Brazilian final between Palmeiras and Santos. The sides are the final two standing after 48 teams from 10 nations started the tournament way back in January 2020. We’ve since been treated to an action packed tournament with 404 goals scored across the 154 games played thus far.

With the BBC airing the final live at the very manageable time of 8pm (GMT) Saturday, it’s a great opportunity to get involved in the mad world of South America’s premier club competition. We’ve put together a little guide of who are the key characters to look out for, as well as how we got to this point.

So, without further ado, let's get into it... 

 

Where will it be?

 

 

Fittingly for only the third all Brazilian final in Libertadores history, the match will be played at the historic Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. The previous two all Brazilian affairs coming in the 2005 and 2006 editions. It will be Santos’ fifth appearance in the final, having won it three times, most recently in 2011. Palmeiras, likewise, will be appearing in their fifth final, having won once, in 1999. For the second year in a row the competitions final will be decided in a winner takes all one leg rather than the traditional two. 

 

How did they get here?

 

 

Palmeiras - Palmeiras have throughout the tournament put forward a very strong case for being this year's stand out team. Having swept through a group containing Guarani, Bolivar and Tigre, scoring 17 and conceding just 2, they lost no momentum in the knockout rounds. Aggregate scores of 8-1 against Delfin of Ecuador and 4-1 against Paraguayan heavyweights Libertad saw them reach the semi-finals while hardly breaking a sweat.

 

 

The semi-final would see them line up against Libertadores royalty in River Plate of Argentina and in one of the shock results of the tournament managed to come away from their first leg clash in Argentina with a 3 goal lead. The return leg was a far nervier occasion after River had pulled 2 back by the half, but in the end they held on despite a second half barrage from the Argentines.

 

 

Santos - Santos, like Palmeiras, had little trouble in escaping their group. Five wins and a draw saw them qualify comfortably for the knockout rounds. While many of the group stage games were nervy, one goal margin encounters, Santos consistently showed spirit and their excellent ability to grind out results. An away goals win against LDU Quito of Ecuador in the first knockout round continued to fail to inspire much confidence that Santos could go all the way in but their quarter-final victory over last year's finalists Gremio represented a turning point. Having held Gremio to a one all draw in the first leg, Santos looked fantastic in the second. Young superstar Kaio Jorge put them up after just a minute and they never looked back, the 4-1 full time score was undoubtedly one of the shocks of the tournament. The win set up a clash with Argentine giants Boca Juniors in the semi’s and after a dull first leg it was all square going into the deciding match. An early goal from Diego Pituca, followed by two goals in quick succession from Soteldo and Braga meant ultimately Santos breezed past an aging and self-destructing Boca side. 

 

Who’s in charge?

 

Palmeiras - Abel Ferreira will be looking to emulate compatriot Jorge Jesus, who last year became the first European manager to win the Libertadores in 28 years. Like Jesus, Ferreira has had little time to mold his side, having only arrived in Sao Paulo in late October. Ferreira though has undoubtedly hit the ground running. During his short tenure he has already guided Palmeiras to the final of the Copa do Brasil, defeating a strong Atletico Mineiro side 2-0 in the semi’s. Recent domestic league setbacks may be a cause for concern but when it comes to cup competition, Ferreira is yet to falter.

 

 

Santos - Cuca. There’s journeymen managers, and then there’s Cuca. Following a moderately successful playing career, spent almost exclusively in his home country, Cuca moved into his first job in management in 1998. He has since registered an astonishing 30 different managerial stints, with 22 different clubs. At the time of writing he has managed at every club currently occupying the top 7 places in the league and 8 of the top 10. His longest managerial stint lasted just over two years, his shortest 47 days. Cuca is a lot of fun. Also be sure to look out for his attire on the big day. During his side's historic semi-final victory against River Plate he very much elected to go with a sartorial homage to Grand Theft Auto’s Trevor.

 

Who to-look out for?

 

Palmeiras:

Gabriel Menino - Manino is a special player. There’s a reason many in Brazil are drawing comparisons to a young Dani Alves. The young fullback/winger has all the athletic and technical tools to absolutely command the right flank and provide genuine attacking threat. The last few months have seen Manino’s star rising as he continues to be a dominant force for Palmeiras, both domestically and on the continent. His form has been rewarded with the 20 year olds first call up to the national side back in September. Expect him to be tearing it up in Europe in the coming years.

 

 

Gabriel Veron - There’s a hell of a lot to get excited about with Gabriel Veron, After impressing in the youth ranks at Palmeiras, a club he has been at since the age of 14, he exploded onto the scene at last years U-17 World Cup. He played every game in Brazil’s title winning run and chipped in with four goals on the way to being awarded the player of the tournament award. He has since made his full debut for Palmeiras as well as becoming the second youngest scorer in the clubs history.

 

Santos:

Marinho - A late bloomer, the 30 year old Marinho is the creative heartbeat of his side. After spending years trying to find a place for himself things finally clicked upon his return to Santos, a side he briefly played for in his youth, in 2019. Despite missing the first two months of last year due to an injury setback he soon recovered to record 22 goals in 2020 and finish as the club's top scorer in that time. Never afraid to try an audacious pass or 35 yard shot, Marinho’s self belief can occasionally be a hindrance to Santos but when he’s on song, there are few that can have a bigger potential impact. Marinho will most definitely be one to keep and eye on.

 

 

Yeferson Soteldo - The diminutive Venzeulean is a lot of fun. He may not always be Santos’ star man due to his slight tendency to go missing in games as well as a lack of physicality but there are few better in South America at emerging from the shadows to turn a game on its head. His semi-final goal against Boca was a perfect demonstration of his abilities. Combining acceleration, agility, balance and a surprisingly strong leg. Soteldo shimmied away from a couple of defenders before riffling it past Andrada in the Boca goal, all but killing off the tie. With Santos going into the game as underdogs they could well be relying on a moment of magic, and in Soteldo they have someone who is more than capable of providing it. 

Kaio Jorge - At just 18 Kaio Jorge has had a phenomenal debut Libertadores campaign. Currently sitting on 5 goals in 11 games, he is Santos’ top scorer and will be looking to seize his moment on the biggest stage Brazilian domestic football has had in 15 years. Jorge, like Palmeiras’ Gabriel Veron, made his name at last year's U-17 World Cup, scoring five goals and registering one assist. With a fast, fluid and upright running style, the tall forward has something of Kaka or Alexandre Pato in full stride, which combined with his finishing means he will definitely be one to watch.

 

Words by Andy Gallagher

 

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