Before coaching Brazil at World Cup qualifiers, Diniz eyes Libertadores glory

Fernando Diniz says he will be 100% committed to the task of coaching Brazil into the 2026 World Cup qualifiers. But this week he is 100% committed to his day job, coaching Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro, and helping the club achieve their dream of becoming continental champions.

They have never won South America's Copa Libertadores, and on Thursday they take the field against Olimpia of Paraguay 90 minutes away from reaching the semifinal.

Handling two managerial jobs has its pitfalls. Back in 1998 Vanderlei Luxemburgo also spent a few months doubling up. When he began his time in charge of Brazil he was also coaching Corinthians, and he felt that the situation left him exposed.

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Any defeat suffered at club level was a potential blow to the national team coach. Mano Menezes, who was in charge of Brazil from 2010-12, has also expressed misgivings over Diniz's double duties. This, then, is not a normal situation, and is some way short of ideal.

The confusion emerges from Brazil's desire to appoint Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti as the next national team coach, and their willingness to wait a year until the Italian's contract with the Spanish side comes to an end.

Diniz is keeping the seat warm in the meantime. That is the theory. Not everyone is convinced. There has been no official confirmation from Ancelotti that he is coming -- to be fair, he is only free to enter into an agreement from January, when his current contract is in its final six months.

Diniz may not be entirely convinced. He has been careful not to place himself as part of a process directed by Ancelotti, emphasising that he has never been anyone's assistant. It is possible that he believes that the Brazil job could be his for the long term -- which makes this current Copa LIbertadores campaign all the more important.

In the manner of most domestic Brazilian coaching careers, Diniz has spent a decade bouncing around from club to club, with jobs more on promise and his interesting style of play than on results. His best spell is this current one with Fluminense, where he has now been in charge for 16 months. He won his first title earlier this year, overcoming local rivals Flamengo to claim the Rio de Janeiro state championship. He has no national titles to his name. Lifting the Copa Libertadores would do wonders for his prestige, and the path to the final seems to be opening up obligingly.

A frequent criticism of the work of Diniz is that his projects start well only to tail off. In part, this applies to their Libertadores campaign. Fluminense were at their best at the start of the group phase. Three straight victories included an eye catching triumph away to Sporting Cristal of Peru and a 5-1 thrashing of River Plate, the heaviest defeat the Argentine giants have ever suffered in the competition.

But all of that was by early May. Subsequently they have not been anything like as impressive, and have lacked some of their early season boldness.The hallmark of the team was the way that it grouped so many players around the ball, sucking the opponents in and then passing through them, or switching play to the other flank. Have opponents worked them out? Has there been a loss of confidence in this free flowing, unstructured model of play?

Recently they have been more conventional, less audacious -- but still good enough to get themselves on the brink of the semifinals. In part this has to do with the quality of the opposition -- or, more precisely, with the financial chasm that has opened up between Brazil's club and the rest of the continent.

There were some anxious moments before Fluminense booked their place in the knock-out phase, where they first came up against Argentinos Juniors, well coached by Gabriel Milito but operating on a comparative shoestring. Two late goals at home in the second leg gave Fluminense a 3-1 aggregate win. But it was tight, and could have gone the other way.

And if Fluminense won the tie, they temporarily lost the services of veteran former Real Madrid left-back Marcelo, who was sent off for inflicting a horrific leg break on rival defender Luciano Sanchez. Marcelo's action was entirely involuntary. The red card was debatable. The subsequent three-game suspension seemed ludicrously harsh.

But it may not be relevant. Marcelo is currently out of action with a thigh injury, and anyway, Thursday's second leg against Olimpia is likely to call for defensive discipline rather than the left-back's trademark buccaneering flair.

Fluminense hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg in the Maracana. Against limited opponents who have endured a dreadful domestic year, it should be enough. But there are no guarantees. Last year, before Diniz took over, these two teams met in the qualifying stages of the Libertadores. Fluminense took a two-goal lead to Paraguay, could not hold it and ended up eliminated on penalties.

And if that seems like ancient history, Olimpia have shown their strength this month against Rio opposition, staging a memorable comeback to eliminate reigning champions Flamengo. Olimpia have their tradition -- they are three-times Libertadores champions and delight in describing themselves as 'the cup kings.'

Olimpia have the crowd and they have power in the air. All three of their goals against Flamengo came from headers. Fluminense will have to prepare for an aerial bombardment.

The Paraguayans will also seek to win the midfield battle -- and it is here that Liverpool transfer target André will be so important. It is easy to understand why Jurgen Klopp is so interested in the 22-year-old, recently capped by Brazil and named in the squad for the World Cup qualifiers. Fluminense play with a high line, meaning that André has plenty of space to cover. And they pass out from the back, so that he is continually receiving the ball in pressure situations.

Under normal circumstances, the transfer would have gone through. But Fluminense are dead against seeing their star leave while the Libertadores dream is still alive. A couple of weeks ago at home to Argentinos Juniors, André nearly brought the house crashing down. He was caught in possession on the edge of his area, he was very lucky not to concede a penalty and he could have been sent off for a high kick.

He got lucky, and made use of his fortune last week against Olimpia. With the Paraguayan defensive line forced right back, he found himself in space to send a deflected shot past the goalkeeper and put Fluminense on the way to that 2-0 win.

Next week André teams up with Diniz on national team duty. As they prepare for World Cup qualifiers, both of them will be hoping that they will be back in LIbertadores action at the end of September, this time in the semifinals with glory within their grasp.