Flamengo from Brazil wins the Copa Libertadores for the third time in its history

Flamengo players celebrate the Copa Libertadores title.LUIS ACOSTA (AFP)

He won flamingo and lost Conmebol. The popular team from Rio de Janeiro, which surveys show as having the largest number of fans in its own country —42 million, out of a total of 214 million Brazilians— beat Atlético Paranaense 1-0 in the final of the Ctakeover Libertadores male played this Saturday in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and became champion of America for the third time in its history.

The Fla, a team full of stars that reached three of the last four finals – they were champions in 2019 and runners-up in 2021-, confirmed their favoritism and took over from their compatriot Palmeiras, two-time champion in force until today. The paradox is that the consecration of the massive team from Rio de Janeiro took place in a stadium, that of Barcelona in Ecuador, with many empty spaces in its stands, a new blow to Conmebol’s controversial decision to play the final in a single stadium. More than 6,200 kilometers separate Rio de Janeiro from Guayaquil in a subcontinent with little air connectivity and hit by the economy.

Gabriel Barbosa, better known as Gabigol, he scored the only goal of the game after a great play by Everton Ribeiro 49 minutes into the first half, when the Parananese were playing with ten players after Pedro Henrique was sent off seven minutes earlier. The 26-year-old striker had also scored in the 2019 finals against River Plate of Argentina and of 2021 against Palmeiras, for which he became one of the only three footballers to celebrate goals in at least three definitions of the Libertadores: he equaled the Uruguayan Pedro Rocha (1965, 1966 and 1974) and was behind the Ecuadorian Alberto Spencer (four, 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1966), both glories of Peñarol from Uruguay.

If a new Brazilian final, the second in a row, confirmed the hegemony of the clubs from that country on the continent (the last presence of another country was in 2019, that of River), Flamengo consolidated itself as an almost unbeatable team in America: Of his last 30 games in Libertadores, he lost just one, the final against Palmeiras last year. In the midst of his comfortable journey in 2022, he won 6-1 in the aggregate result of the semifinal against Vélez, from Argentina, and scored seven goals against Tolima, one of the best defending teams in Colombia.

Even in a lackluster game, with the usual tension of the finals, Flamengo beat Paranaense -a team with less history, winner once of the Brazilian league, but recent two-time champion of the South American, in 2018 and 2021- with the authority of a superior soccer and economic squad for the South American context. Flamengo looks like a Champions League team: it has most players who played in Europe and who are still at a good level, far from retirement.

On that list, between starters and substitutes, are among others David Luiz (35 years old, former Chelsea and PSG), Filipe Luis (37, former Atlético de Madrid), Pedro (25, former Fiorentina), Diego (37, former Juventus) Y Arturo vidal (35, former Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich). Precisely, in the midst of so much Brazilian presence in the final, the Ecuadorian fans pointed against the Chilean midfielder shouting “he who does not jump, does not go to the World Cup”, a remnant of the controversy over the claim of the Chilean team to the detriment of Ecuador for the nationality of defender Byron Castillo.

Semi empty grandstands

The match was played in the magnificent Monumental stadium, owned by the Barcelona club in Guayaquil and with a capacity for 59,000 spectators, but with semi-deserted stands. As reported on Friday by the Minister of Sports of Ecuador, Sebastián Palacios, 24 hours before the game only 30,000 tickets had been sold. That amount included, on top of that, seats given away by the South American Football Confederation in its desperate attempt to prevent television cameras from projecting the empty cement of the stadium: Ecuadorians who had bought a seat received a second courtesy – a true 2-for-1 promotion – and the members of Barcelona, ​​the most popular club in the country, were favored with a 65% discount to purchase tickets.

In an attempt to copy the European model, that of the Champions League and the Europa League, Conmebol began to apply a single venue in 2019 for the definitions of the Libertadores and the Sudamericana. The experiment so far is a formidable economic and television business for Conmebol -which organizes the games for Saturday night in Europe- but an undisguisable failure for the interest and accessibility of South American viewers.

Last September, barely 20,000 spectators spread out in the stands of the Kempes stadium, in Córdoba, Argentina, with capacity for 56,000 spectators, to witness the South American final between São Paulo from Brazil and Independiente del Valle from Ecuador. In the definition of the Libertadores this Saturday in Ecuador, not even the presence of Flamengo, indicated as the team with the most “genuine” fans in the world, again prevented the lack of demand.

Although it is possible that the presidential elections this Sunday in Brazil have also threatened the trip of some Flamengo and Paranaense fans, the main reasons for the new attendance failure are explained more in the South American geography and economy. A fan of Paranaense, Eder Warpechoski, traveled eight days by land to join the 5,900 kilometers that separate the city where his team plays, Curitiba (southeast of Brazil), with Guayaquil (northwest of South America).

Due to the characteristic lack of air connectivity in the region, the fans who traveled by plane from Brazil to Ecuador explained that it would have been cheaper for them to pay a ticket to European capitals than to Guayaquil. According to Ecuadorian media reports, such as the portal First fruits, half of the scheduled flights from Rio de Janeiro or Curitiba were cancelled. Of an estimated 400 private jets or charters, only 200 landed. Likewise, of the 30,000 Brazilians who were expected to arrive at the mouth of the Guayas River in the Pacific Ocean, it is estimated that 12,000 finally arrived. The local economy also attacked Conmebol’s claims: the tickets ranged from 142 to 245 dollars, while the basic salary of an Ecuadorian is 425 dollars.

Flamengo, champion of America for the first time in 1981 under the influence of Zico, joined the teams classified for the Club World Cup, such as Real Madrid, although the date and venue of the tournament are not yet known

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Flamengo from Brazil wins the Copa Libertadores for the third time in its history