Saturday, January 30, 2021

Palmeiras bag the Copa

COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 2020: PALMEIRAS 1:0 SANTOS 

It was an all-Brazilian affair, won in the end by a late, late goal from Breno Lopes.

At the end of a long hot season, Palmeiras became champions of South America for the second time and advance to the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar. Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira bagged the biggest continental prize after less than three months in the job.

COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 2020
COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 2020

434 days separated this Copa Libertadores final from the last thanks to the Pandemic and the winners would only have barely a week before taking the field in the Middle East and a probable clash with Bayern Munich.

Boca Juniors and River Plate fell in the semis, so there would be no Superclásico final in Rio. This instead was a Clássico de Saudade (Nostalgia Derby) of two of Sao Paulo state's great sides, 76km apart, although both have bigger beefs with city rivals Corinthians.

There were almost no fans inside anyway thanks to Covid, but the Maracana's sweeping curves glowed majestically in the afternoon sun.

How I wished I were there in sultry Rio sipping a cool Brahma instead of sat here in England drinking hot chocolate to keep the cold at bay. 

That said, it did not take long for the myth of the Beautiful Game Brazil sold the world to evaporate.

After ten minutes two Santos players, Lucas Verissimo and Marinho made flying lunges from the Bruce Lee school of tackling. Players writhed on the deck or surrounded the referee. Before long the goalkeepers were writhing on the ground for treatment, or rather a respite.

It was not lyrical football to a samba beat, rather clash and pain to discordant noise.

Oh dear is it going to be one of those unwatchable matches the Mexican league specialises in, I wondered? Thankfully no, the frustrated fouls petered out and a football duel commenced. Both sides mercifully entered the dressing rooms with only a yellow card apiece.

Despite the internet, we Europeans still do not watch as much South American football as we should. We know more about their national teams than club sides, but hopefully that will change as the FIFA Club World Championship grows. Terrestrial coverage would help too.

So when we do watch it, we revert to our comfortable stereotypes of Brazil being a synonym for flair or skill and get our eyes opened when an all-Brazilian clash is a slug-fest instead. The other thing we ignore is how different the CONMEBOL calendars are to ours and how much air travel is involved.

After playing fifty plus games already this season, it would have been no wonder if both sides wilted in the heat today. 

Those factors plus the Latin football traditions meant a slower rhythm than in our equivalent - the UEFA Champions League final, and more space in midfield thanks to a welcome lack of gegenpressing.

Chances were slim in the first half with neither side on top.

Palmeiras' Raphael Vega scuffed a shot a yard wide from a tight angle in the 36th, the first and only attempt of the 45 and not a great one at that. On the other flank Rony made a high-speed raid and thumped the ball across the box against the goalkeeper.

Santos pushed forward more but Palmeiras remained solid, biding their time perhaps. Marinho looked the most likely gamechanger from Santos, with wing back Felipe Jonatan a willing lieutenant.

Just after the hour mark Raphael Vega dipped a free kick onto the roof of the Santos net to hint of Palmeiras remembering their lines.

With 15 minutes to go the field was very open and the tempo slow so the window for goals was open but a lack of quality touches from the forwards was limiting chances. 

Palmeiras seemed to want to play on the counter but could have supported their isolated striker Luiz Adriano better. 

Santos sparked into life in the 77th minute as Diego Pituca let rip from outside the box, Weverton could only parry and Jonatan rifled the rebound just wide.

In the 96th minute, hell briefly broke loose. Cuca, the Santos manager wearing a Virgin & Child t-shirt, was shown a red card for trying to pick up the ball as it crossed the touchline, possibly to waste time, and was bundled over by Palmerias' Marcos Rocha.

After a multi-player argument, the sending-off stood and the game exploded.

Cuca barely had time to join the Santos fans in the stands as from the restart Rony launched a diagonal long ball to the edge of the box and substitute Breno Lopes rose to power a header into the opposite corner of the Santos net.

1-0. A goal in the blink of an eye deep into injury time. A red card and drama at the death. Tears of joy and grief flowed.

Obrigado.

It was a real Brazilian football match in the end.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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