Flamengo will soon need to build a new trophy cabinet. In a magical few months since Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus took over, the Rio de Janeiro giants have been accumulating plenty of silverware, and now they can add some more.
The latest is the Recopa, the South American Super Cup, sealed with a 3-0 win (5-2 on aggregate) over Independiente del Valle of Ecuador. A packed crowd in the Maracana stadium went home delirious after witnessing history; this was the first time the club had lifted an international trophy in front of their own fans.
Flamengo went into the clash as strong favourites. The Recopa pits the champions of the Libertadores against the winners of the Sudamericana -- and there is no doubt as to which of the two titles is more prestigious and more difficult to win. Also, this was hardly a fair fight. Flamengo's footballing budget this year is $162 million; Independiente del Valle's is $7m.
But the Ecuadorians played their part in a gripping night of football. The 3-0 scoreline might make it seem as if this was an easy victory. In fact, for just over an hour one could imagine a shock on the cards. Not many teams visit the Maracana and enjoy more than 70% of the possession but, on a night full of ebbs and flows, the pivotal moments went Flamengo's way.
Independiente spent the opening stages showing that they were in no way overawed by their illustrious surroundings. They passed and probed, worrying the crowd and perhaps the Flamengo players too. Midfielder Gerson was booked for a flurry of fouls all aimed at stopping the Ecuadorian counterattack at source.
Then came two of the game's four vital moments.
First, in absurd circumstances, Flamengo took the lead as Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa volleyed home from a yard after the three previous touches came off opposing players. Lorenzo Favarelli miscued a clearance, the ball looping behind the defensive line, and centre-back Luis Segovia had two options: head over his own bar, or control a header back to his goalkeeper. Seemingly caught in two minds, Segovia tried to do both. Keeper Jorge Pinos was forced to tip the ball against the crossbar and there, in the right place at the right time, was Gabriel to take advantage.
Flamengo were a goal up, but soon after were a man down. William Arao launched into an appalling studs-up chest high tackle on Beider Caicedo and, after video consultation, he was sent off. With his central midfield colleague Gerson on a yellow card, Jesus was forced into a reorganisation. Centre forward Pedro was sacrificed for Thiago Maia and the game changed complexion.
Flamengo abandoned their characteristic commitment to swashbuckling attack and filed back into deep defence, with two lines of four close together. It suited their slow pair of centre-backs, who had looked uneasy in open space, and it presented Independiente with a new challenge. Spanish coach Miguel Angel Ramirez has built the team to explode on the counter, create and make use of space. But there was none to find. With little penalty area presence and a dearth of tight dribbling skills, they had all the ball but none of the chances -- while the pace of Gabriel at the other end was a constant threat.
This was the pattern of the game well into the second half until, at last, Independiente managed to pass their way through. A splendid ball from right-back Angelo Preciado split the defence to send Faravalli free just eight yards from goal. He had to score, but his shot was not well placed and keeper Diego Alves got enough contact to send the ball wide.
Had Faravelli scored, at 1-1 with 11 vs. 10 men, Independiente would have been the favourites. Soon, though, they were two goals down. Gabriel produced a burst of pace to beat Richard Schunke down the right and crossed into the danger zone; Preciado half cleared, but Gerson made good ground to latch onto the ball and, on the slide, sent a subtle and precise left foot shot across into the corner. The game was effectively over.
There was time for Independiente to be reduced to 10 men themselves after Alejandro Cabeza was sent off. And time, too, for Michael, Gabriel and Vitinho to combine to set up Gerson for a neatly curled third goal.
Now there is time for the Ecuadorians to brood on the result and think on how they can do better. The two teams are in the same group of the Copa Libertadores and will meet each other in Quito on March 19, then back in the Maracana on April 22, this time with points at stake.
For Independiente del Valle, this will be a chance for revenge. For Flamengo, these matches will be seen as stepping stones on the way to more glory. It is a tough group -- completed by Barcelona of Ecuador and Junior of Colombia -- and Flamengo need to negotiate it successfully in order to make the next dream come true.
The aim is to be back in the Maracana on Nov. 21 disputing the final of this year's Libertadores. Win that and they will move on to the Club World Cup again, where they hope to do one better than last year's 1-0 defeat to Liverpool in the final. Flamengo have the Recopa, but they want the world.