With key players now out of the equation, Flamengo’s defences will be put to the test. The results will decide their future as a premier football club.
Things are set for the decisive second leg of the Recopa Sudamericana. It’s an annual competition between the winners of the Copa Libertadores and of the Copa Sudamericana. Last week’s match between Flamengo and Independiente del Valle ended in a draw. Though the two teams were ‘equal’ on the pitch, Flamengo has a clear advantage in terms of funds. They have a budget of $162 million while their opponents only have a budget of $7 million.
Their first match, which ended in a draw, can be attributed to the fact that the pitch was some 2,800 metres above sea level. Playing in unfamiliar territory and unable to properly acclimate, Flamengo found themselves (sort of) at a disadvantage. However, heading into the second leg, they are the clear favourites.
Flamengo has never won an international in the Maracana, hence this tournament bears some significance to them. Some view the Recopa as an overrated friendly instead of a legitimate title, but if Flamengo wins the title, no one and nothing can convince them otherwise. Its significance for Flamengo is nearly as important as preparing for the coming season of the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A.
Independiente del Valle can certainly play against clubs that are above their ‘level’. They are a well-run club who proved that they can go toe-to-toe with other premier clubs when they beat Quito 3-2 in the Ecuadorian Serie A. One thing that is holding them back is their size. They are a club more focused on youth development, producing and selling players instead of winning titles. Flamengo can be placed on the opposite end of the spectrum. They have the support of an entire nation behind them with some ‘swag’ as part of their natural play style. They gave Liverpool a run for their money back in December’s FIFA Club World Cup final and would love to play in that tournament again. Who’s to say that they won’t go all the way and win the title this year.
Ever since Jorge Jesus took over last year, the club has been experiencing a big improvement to their game. In just a matter of months, the standards of what a South American football club was raised. They played with a style that was never seen in the region, with a high defensive line and wanting to take the initiative at all times. But given that this style is draining, can they keep up their performance in their year as defending champions? Only time can tell.
The problem for them was on the other end – defence. Last year, Jorge Jesus’ plans required a high defensive line, something that Brazilian centre-backs aren’t used to. They found their solution in the form of Spanish centre-back Pablo Mari. He was signed from Man City and was given the task of helping strengthen the defences. He had an immediate impact, helping organize the defensive line. Unfortunately, his performances didn’t go unnoticed. Arsenal took on the player back across the pond after a January transfer.
The question now remains: can Flamengo find a suitable replacement for him? This question continues to increase in weight after Rodrigo Caio went down due to injury.