Rafael Veiga celebrates Palmeiras’ victory over Santos in Saturday’s Copa Libertadores final. RICARDO MORAES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
The Brazilian team with the Portuguese coach has won the South American Copa Libertadores for the second time in a row. For the second consecutive year, there was an exceptionally late drama. But the neutral may not have the same love for Palmeiras Abel Ferreira as he has for Flamengo Jorge Jesus, who won the title in 2019.
Much of this problem has to do with circumstances. Since the resumption of football in Brazil following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the calendar has been busy. Palmeiras played its 55th game on Saturday. Play resumed in late July. And the last ones, including this final against Brazilian Santos, took place in the middle of the summer heat.
The fact that the race started at 5pm in the afternoon helped to make it an event that had to be experienced with caution. The heat in Rio de Janeiro is hellish, and it’s especially hot in the Maracana stadium, which was rebuilt for the 2014 World Cup and whose roof was extended to keep temperatures high.
Santos made a clear gesture about the circumstances. Worried about Palmeiras’ counterattacks, they play with an extra man in midfield and call in Sandri for Lucas Braga : They knew they had a long day ahead of them.
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– Match Report : Palmeiras arrives too late in Copa final against Santos
In true style, Palmeiras took few risks. They waited for their moment, hoping their deeper team would give them more chances from the bench. Palmeiras would have been very happy if the match had been extended. Santos had to be careful not to want too much and fall into his trap.
The problem was that Santos could not make things difficult for the Palmeiras defense. Right winger Marinho has been retained: He had a full left leg, so Palmeiras made sure he couldn’t get in. On the other hand, Yeferson Soteldo is disappointed, as he seems to lack the confidence to face his opponent on the rare occasions he had a one-on-one. Young forward Cayo Jorge works hard, but it’s hard to stop the game. The biggest danger came from the occasional attack from left-back Felipe Jonathan.
Palmeiras was the more dangerous team, both in normal situations and when the winger Roni advanced quickly. But their main priority was encirclement, with centre-back Luiz Adriano isolated.
In the final 20 minutes, Santos coach Cook made his entrance. Braga showed up with four players and released Marinho. Palmeiras realized that the game had become more open and brought in another fast striker, Breno Lopez.
It seems that the change in Santos has had a greater impact. Suddenly his playing had a new fluidity. They almost took the lead when Diego Pituk’s shot was deflected by goalkeeper Weverton and Jonathan fired the rebound just over the goal.
Two things then changed the dynamic. Cayo hurt himself with a falling kick. With few options on the bench, Zuka replaced him with a defender and also reluctantly substituted the injured Jonathan. That stopped the Santos attack.
Palmeiras won the Copa Libertadores on Saturday for the second time in their history. Silvia Izquierdo – Pool/Getty Images
The game seemed to be heading towards extra time, but then Cooke got into an altercation with Palmeira defender Marcos Rocha. The two men were together at Atletico Mineiro when they won the Libertadores in 2013, but now they are bickering on the touchline after Cook grabbed the ball and then pushed it away to prevent a quick recovery. The referee released Tsuka and the players went for a shove.
As a result, Santos fainted and lost his concentration at a crucial moment. Rani, who was only too comfortable on the right side of the pitch, delivered a beautiful cross at the far post, where Brno crossed over Para and headed his header into the goal and corner. It was the 10th. In the second minute of injury time, Santos couldn’t get back.
The latest drama has produced an unlikely hero. If teenager Gabriel Veron had been in good shape, Brenau certainly wouldn’t have shown up. Instead, he celebrated Palmeiras in 1999, the only year they won the title.
Celebrations should be short. Palmeira fans are often plagued by the lack of a world title. All their local rivals have one, now it’s their turn. They travel to the Middle East for the Club World Cup, where they will take on victorious Tigres of Mexico and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea in the semi-finals on Sunday. Palmeiras are dreaming of a final against European champions Bayern Munich, with a two-legged Brazilian Cup final against Gremio scheduled for their return.
With such a busy schedule, it’s no surprise that the Libertadores were won by a team that took a pragmatic and risk-free approach.