Copa Libertadores final shows off Brazil dominance

Brazilian clubs’ domination of South American soccer is underscored by the Copa Libertadores final between Flamengo and Palmeiras on Saturday in Montevideo.

A Brazilian team will win the South American crown for a third consecutive time, an eighth time since 2010.

Flamengo won the trophy in 2019. Palmeiras is the defending champion thanks to a 1-0 victory against local rival Santos.

The winner on Saturday will become a three-time champion.

Whoever it is will put Brazil closer to Argentina in the tally of Copa Libertadores champions; 21 against Argentina’s 25, with many of the Argentine titles lifted early in the tournament’s history at a time when Brazilian clubs did not prioritize the competition.

The dominance of Brazilian clubs also includes the finalists of the second-tier Copa Sudamericana, won by Athletico this week. This year marks the first time all four finalists of both Copas have come from the same country.

Brazil’s advantage has also appeared in major signings. Players who could still be in Europe decided to return home, including Atletico Mineiro strikers Diego Costa and Hulk, Flamengo defender David Luiz and Corinthians winger Willian.

Many Brazilian clubs, including some with competitive teams, are in debt and struggling to pay their bills. But money has never stopped pouring in for soccer despite the country’s economic crisis.

Marketing company Sports Value said in August that Brazil’s soccer market revenues neared $1.5 billion in 2019, before the pandemic. Chilean clubs made $200 million and Argentine clubs, due to the fluctuation in the country’s exchange rate, even less.

“Brazil has bigger TV contracts, transfers, sponsorship deals, revenue from official supporters. The economic difference is very big between Brazil and the rest of Latin America these days,” analyst Amir Somoggi said.

Also based on 2019 figures, Sports Value counted Flamengo’s revenues at more than $230 million that year, while Argentina’s Boca Juniors made less than $100 million.

The gap could widen next year. Brazilian media has reported several other big names could go home next year; defender Thiago Silva, left back Marcelo, midfielders Paulinho and Oscar. Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez is also among the targets.

Most commentators say Flamengo is the favorite to win the Copa Libertadores final. The Rio de Janeiro-based giant has two players who have frequently played for Brazil and could well be at the World Cup in Qatar — midfielder Everton Ribeiro and striker Gabriel Barbosa, the top scorer of the tournament with 10. The team also has Uruguay midfielder Giorgian de Arrascaeta.

Flamengo could complete an unbeaten campaign; it has won nine matches and drawn three.

Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton is also among Brazil coach Tite’s favorites, though a step behind English Premier League-based Alisson and Ederson. The defending champions have lost once. Their top scorer is striker Rony, with six. But the team’s biggest strength is its defense. Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira is the first European to reach the final twice.

Ferreira and Flamengo counterpart Renato Portaluppi can win their second Copa Libertadores but both arrive under fire for their teams’ performances in the Brazilian championship. Both are far behind Atletico Mineiro, which could become champion next week.

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