Kennedy Lights Up Rio


Coming home from Bonfire Night on Saturday in the UK, I switched on the internet to find some real fireworks from the Copa Libertadores final in Rio, where Fluminense beat Boca Juniors 2-1 to take the famous cup for the first time.

Boca had much the greater pedigree having won the Libertadores six times but Flu were on their home turf, the legendary Maracana and took the trophy in dramatic fashion as their talented young striker John Kennedy volleyed a spectacular extra-time winner before getting a second yellow for his celebrations and being sent off.

In Europe we are eternally guilty of ignoring South American football. Even though Argentina are world champions it still takes an effort to follow even their World Cup qualifying results in our mainstream media. 

The BBC for instance, routinely ignores South American football on all its platforms, although at least they had the South American club showpiece live on their website.

I noticed familiar faces from European football in the final - Marcelo and Felipe Melo for Fluminense, Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo and Edinson Cavani for Boca. 

The most impressive performers however were the aforementioned Kennedy, a 21 year-old striker who has yet to play beyond or for his homeland. and Luis Advincula, Boca's 33 year-old flying full back who played for Peru at the 2018 World Cup and equalised spectacularly in the Maracana.

Fluminense's Diogo Barbosa missed a golden chance to win it in the 94th minute at the end of normal time, but his fluff was not fatal. Boca's Frank Fabra was sent off for a late slap to level up the dismissals as the tackles got meatier and the tension ratcheted up. 

Guga could have sealed it in the 114th minute for the Brazilians but hit the post. It really was a final full of fire.

Marcelo, despite a silverware-laden CV with Real Madrid, spent the last few minutes in tears and said this win was the greatest win of his career.

Flu's celebrations lit up their quarter of Rio, and if the draw pans out as expected, we can look forward to them tackling Manchester City at next month's FIFA Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia.

12th-22nd December 2023. Jeddah

1st Round entrants: Auckland City and Al-Ittihad

2nd Round entrants: Al Ahly, Leon, Urawa Red Diamonds

Semi-Final entrants: Fluminense and Manchester City

* * *

A week ago, 80,000 fans filled Paris' Stade de France to watch a football World Cup final, but of the rugby variety.

I played rugby as well as football at school but never enjoyed it as much or ever fully understood the rules. Watching the 2023 Rugby World Cup, I was reminded of how illogical they remain, which meant South Africa could win the final without scoring a try.

Rugby's complexity and physicality were surely the reasons it is a smaller global sport today than the simple, beautiful game of soccer, but that does not explain why there are nations or parts of nations where football plays second or lower fiddle to it or other carrying forms of football.

I could not help wondering again why rugby, which evolved into American football, became the bigger sport in the USA when association football already had a foothold as it had elsewhere. The football World Cup returns to America in three years, let us remember.

Irish native football.
Ireland's native form of football

Days later I was in Ireland visiting a stadium of Gaelic football, whose fast-moving hybrid of kicking and carrying, nets and tall posts is perhaps closest to the original 'football' from which all modern versions sprang.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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