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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Flamengo stage incredible comeback to beat River Plate and become champions of South America

Outplayed and outfought over 90 minutes in Lima, Gabriel Barbosa capitalised on two late chances to win Flamengo’s first Copa Libertadores title in 38 years.River Plate so nearly had the job done but they were tiring.They had been in Flamengo’s faces right from the first whistle. Without the ball they had pressed and harried the Rio de Janeiro team into submission and with it they had looked a constant threat. Gallardo’s team had totally dominated the game and with just a few minutes to go they were 1-nil up and in total control, holding Flamengo at arm’s length.

Previously, in what at the time seemed like a mis-step, Gabriel Barbosa had touched the Copa Libertadores trophy as he entered the pitch. He stroked the base of the giant prize and then rubbed his chest with the magic dust of the past 59 winning captains, presumably thinking of little Zico and his sensational team of 1981.
Coming from one of the most superstitious countries on the planet, this was a strange act from Gabriel. Indeed, until the last five minutes tonight, Gabigol had hardly got close to River Plate’s goalmouth to do justice to his nickname in front of an international, primetime TV audience. It seemed the old wives tale was indeed true.
Exactly 38 years to the day that Flamengo won their first and last Copa Libertadores, they somehow manage to rob their second off the continent’s best and most consistent team of the last five years.
With 88 minutes on the clock, Bruno Henrique again ran at Gonzalo Montiel on River’s right, cut inside and on the edge of the area, with four River players around him, managed to lay a pass into the path of Giorgian de Arrascaeta who had gambled.
Javier Pinola had come racing across to cover but couldn’t get there before Arrascaeta’s outstretched left leg and the Uruguayan hooked the ball across to Gabriel Barbosa, a yard out at the far post.
Suddenly Flamengo were back in the game from absolutely nowhere.
Three minutes later a long ball was pumped upfield toward Gabriel, who had his back to Pinola. The River captain had been superb until this point where he missed his clearing header and let the ball bounce behind him and into the path of the tournament’s top scorer
Screaming into the box and heading the ball down onto his favoured left foot, Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa made a mockery of those old superstitions by thumping a powerful drive off his laces and past a despairing Franco Armani who had no chance to react.
Unbelievably, Flamengo had come back from the dead to grab the 2019 Copa Libertadores and book their place in next month’s Club World Cup where they have a chance to face Liverpool again, just like they did in 1981.
No one saw it coming. Least of all the River Plate fans who must have felt like they already had one hand on the trophy.