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Palmeiras snatch cagey Copa Libertadores final

A long and arduous past year has brought few opportunities for celebration and optimism, but for two hours the thousands of Brazilians with allegiance to Palmeiras saw their club reach the pinnacle of South American Club Football for the second time. Undoubtedly the green of Palmeiras will be worn with extra pride across the barrios of Sao Paulo and beyond.

The game “made in England but perfected in Brazil” took centre stage in households across South America, as their equivalent to the Champions League was played to a finish in one of football’s spiritual homes. The Maracana has played host to countless legendary battles, not the least the 1950 and 2014 World Cup finals, although this final did not provide a similar level of spectacle. What we did see was the 331st iteration of the Classico da Saudade, Palmeiras vs Santos, a match that produced few highlights but was ended with a devastating sucker punch.

The Copa Libertadores is famed for the “Sueño Libertador” or the liberator’s dream, the overwhelming importance placed by clubs and fans on winning the continent’s top footballing prize. Nowadays the Libertadores reflects South American football’s dual role as the breeding ground for top talent and the provider of potential fairytale endings to the careers of longtime star players.

We saw both of these in abundance throughout the tournament with young stars like Kaio Jorge, Nicolas De la Cruz, and the Brighton-bound Moises Caicedo impressing observers from across the globe, while icons like Carlos Tevez and Felipe Melo continue to enjoy their late career swansongs. Without a doubt this iteration’s star was Santos winger Marinho, who ended on the wrong side in the final but nonetheless received the Player of the Tournament award.

The match itself was played in front of 5,000 spectators made up mostly of club officials and sponsors, a questionable decision considering the dire situation Brazil is in regarding Covid-19. There were only two events of note throughout the game which was extended past 100 minutes thanks to various stoppages. First was the sending off of Santos’ manager Cuca. Donning a Virgin Mary T-shirt, Cuca attempted to disrupt play while the ball was out for a throw in. Despite his obvious intentions, the sending off appeared a bit harsh. Once sent off instead of returning to the changing room, Cuca joined the fans in stand, hoping to be in amongst it if his team were to score or lift the trophy. However only shortly after Cuca was left even more red-faced when Palmeiras’s Breno headed home in the 99th minute, with only seconds left to play.

A socially distanced trophy ceremony was attempted but emotions quickly proved too strong once the trophy was hoisted above the heads of the Palmeiras squad. Palmeiras will have little rest, as they will soon travel to the Middle East to represent South America in the Club World Cup, where they are expected to fight it out against European representatives Bayern Munich for the trophy. Though the final lacked entertainment value, the Libertadores proved an enthralling and dramatic competition every step of the way this season, one that is all too often lost on many of us in Europe who fail to expand our palate to the footballing offerings of South America.

Image: Roberto Sabino via Wikimedia Commons