After 38 years, Flamengo and Liverpool will face each other again at the Fifa Club World Cup final at the Khalifa International stadium on Saturday. Despite Jurgen Klopp’s warning last Friday, when he said ‘Flamengo never played against a team like Liverpool’, it is unanimous among journalists that this tournament is more important to the South American team than it is for the European champions.
Even though the Club World Cup is not a big deal in Europe, Liverpool decided to prioritise the Club World Cup over the League Cup, sending the main squad to Qatar and the youngsters to face Aston Villa – in which the Reds lost 5-0 last Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, when it still wasn’t clear if the Copa Libertadores’ champion and the Champions League’s winners would face each other in the final, Klopp admitted in an interview to ESPN that he ‘didn’t know much’ about Flamengo. However, during the press conference last Friday, Klopp described his Rio de Janeiro rivals as ‘speedy up front, creative in the centre and cheeky on the wings.’
Flamengo won 3-1 against the Saudi side Al-Hilal on Thursday, while Liverpool beat the Mexican team Monterrey 2-1 on Wednesday with a late goal from Brazilian Roberto Firmino and the clubs are now ready for a historical rematch.
But how was the Flamengo season so far and what should Liverpool fans expects from the Libertadores’ champion?
Runner-up in the Brazilian Cup in 2017 and a second place finish in the Brazilian Championship in 2018, Flamengo began the 2019 season carrying the fears and longings of two frustrating seasons.
At the end of 2018, the engineer Rodolfo Landim, who had no previous experience of football management, got elected for Flamengo’s presidency with the promise of building an ‘invincible’ team. He hired important names including, some very well known in Europe, such as ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, Rafinha, Filipe Luís and Bruno Henrique. His staff also signed the Uruguayan star De Arrascaeta from Cruzeiro for £15m, the most expansive player in the history of South American football.
In February, a horrendous tragedy took in place in the club’s backyard. A fire swept through the training centre and lodgings of the club, killing 10 members of the club’s youth team from 14 to 17 years old. Ten months after the accident, the club is accused of negligence and omission by the victim’s family.
The pain and the mourning didn’t stop Flamengo on the field. On April, they conquered the Championship of Rio de Janeiro’s State after beating their rivals Vasco 2-0.
In May, however, head coach Abel Braga quit his job after internal pressure and criticism from fans after a poor beginning to the Brazilian Championship. That’s when the glorious picture started to be drawn at Flamengo.
The coach chosen to replace Abel Braga was Portuguese Jorge Jesus, who was managing the Saudi team Al-Hilal and has a vast career coaching in Portugal. His tactical patterns matched Flamengo’s ultra-qualified squad. In addition, the players didn’t take long to accept and trust Jesus’ philosophy.
That was the perfect receipt for an ‘invincible’ team.
“Jesus changed Flamengo’s history. We was able to get the best out of every player in a very short time and made Flamengo the best team in Brazil”, said the Brazilian journalist Léo Burlá, who covers the team regularly.
High intensity during the 90 minutes; pressure defence that begins in the defensive zone and takes space from their rivals; strong collective game; not losing energy after scoring; running the game but being reactive when it is necessary; confidence from good results; the support of more than 40 million fans – the largest fandom in Brazil.
Those are the qualities that led Flamengo to win the Libertadores final against Argentinians River Plate with two late heroic goals by ‘Gabigol’ and that led the team to win, just one day after this glorious day, the Brazilian Championship was secured with four rounds of matches still left to play.
Flamengo will renew rivalries with Liverpool after the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, a football match between the winners of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores. Flamengo won 3-0, with the Brazilian football legend Zico playing a pivotal role.
Klopp might be right when he says that Flamengo have never played against a team like Liverpool, but is also undeniable that the Reds have probably have never faced a team with so much will to win as the Brazilian team.