Entering the semi-finals, there was little prospect of avoiding the third consecutive loss of the Copa Libertadores. And after playing the first encounters, a slim chance definitely became no chance at all.
Argentine Velez Sarsfield, the last hope for the rest of the continent, lost 4-0 at home to giants Rio de Janeiro Flamengo. It always seemed like a huge task for the team, which is currently 27th in Argentina’s top flight. Compared to the financial strength of the flamingo, how can they level the playing field? They can try to aggravate the playing field. In the hours leading up to the match, there was tension between the two sets of managers after Flamengo accused Velez of deliberately making a poor throw. Velez also eagerly tried to compensate – there were a lot of their supporters.
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But to stand any chance, they needed perfection on the pitch. Lucas Jansson intelligently tackled the danger of the ball from Santos in the Flamengo goal, and Lucas Orellano hit the post with a free kick. But like so many of Flamengo’s recent matches, the night turned into the opening goal – which, in this case, from Velez’s point of view, was infuriatingly nice. Central defender Leo Pereira hit a cross pass from deep, the team’s defense failed to clear it, and striker Pedro kept heading towards the net smoothly.
Once forward, a flamingo can show his lineage. The second goal, in the first half, was a statement of the team’s strongest virtue – the liquid front four. They are all together. Playing from the left, Pedro attacked midfielders Everton Ribeiro and Georgian de Arrascaeta combined, and Gabriel Barbosa shot into the danger zone as Everton Ribeiro continued his run to drive the ball into the far post.
Velez has had his dressing up with a mixture of attacking talents almost certainly lacking outside of European football. In the end, Velez may be grateful that the winning margin was only four goals. Pedro added two more goals in the second half and completed a hat-trick with uncomfortable right-footed finishing which raised the possibility of him being selected in Brazil’s squad for friendlies this month. National team coach Tite was frustrated that the skinny striker was spending too much time on the bench. But the injury of another attacking player, Bruno Henrique, opened the door and, with 11 goals to his name, Pedro is now Libertadores’ top scorer this year.
If he and Flamengo can certainly start thinking about the final of the Libertadores, scheduled to take place in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on October 29, it is not at all clear who they will face. The other semi-final match is on the line with Atletico Paranaense’s 1-0 home win over defending champion Palmeiras.
As expected, the first leg was not a classic. It was a tough match as Atletico scored with his only shot on goal. Right-back Khalfan is a useful offensive weapon with crosses. Palmeiras failed to clear the ball, teen sensation Vitor Roque kept the ball alive and Alex Santana found the back of the net with a clever half-time shot. Palmeiras missed two outstanding stars. It was impossible to replace Danilo’s midfield dynamic, although substitute Gabriel Menino was famous for his long-range shot. Gustavo Scarpa, a left-footed specialist, was also absent. Will be back next week. But Danilo is still suspended and could be joined by main playmaker Rafael Vega, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury and faces a race to regain fitness in the second leg.
Atlético finished the match with ten men. Experienced Chilean referee Roberto Tobar allows the match to flow – standards very different from those used by happier Brazilian referees. Midfielder Hugo Moura failed to adapt. He was already wearing yellow when he thought he was being fouled, went to the floor and took the ball. Second yellow toe board for handball. Tobar quickly reached for the red card again to silence the protests of angry Atletico coach Luiz Felipe Scolari – whose team withstood relatively easily against an aerial bombardment from Palmeiras. Champions of the past two years, Palmeiras will have to come up with something more inspirational in Sao Paulo next week if they are to retain the title they have been wearing for the past two years.