LIMA, Peru (AP) — Three minutes and eight seconds. That was the difference between despair and glory for Flamengo, the new champion of the Copa Libertadores.
Flamengo won its second South American title in dramatic fashion when it produced two last-gasp goals to overcome defending champion River Plate 2-1 in the final on Saturday in Lima.
Striker Gabriel Barbosa, on loan from Inter Milan, equalized in the 88th minute and three minutes and eight seconds later scored to give the Rio de Janeiro giant their first Libertadores crown in 38 years.
“Tomorrow, Rio is ours,” said Gabriel, who two years ago was mocked in Europe because of his nickname “Gabigol.” He scored only once for Inter and not at all for Benfica in a short spell later.
A victory parade is expected on Sunday in Rio.
Sided by Flamengo’s and Brazil’s historic left-back Júnior, Gabriel added: “Now we are together. I made history here too.”
River’s 14th-minute strike through Rafael Santos Borré was set to make the Argentine side the first back-to-back winner in 18 years.
With few chances by both sides, the Copa’s first single-match final settled into a feeling of inevitability for the more than 65,000 fans at Monumental Stadium. Flamengo was being outplayed by River, which was closer to doubling its lead than the Brazilian side was to scoring its first.
“We failed at finishing them,” River midfielder Enzo Pérez said. “This match was dead, nothing was happening. They reacted after the first goal and then they finished us. We had no time to react.”
Flamengo’s left-back Filipe Luis agreed. “We played a very bad match,” said the former Atletico Madrid defender. “Fate wanted us to win this. This is soccer.”
The equalizer began after River striker Lucas Pratto lost the ball near midfield and allowed Flamengo to counter. Gabriel met a low cross by midfielder Giorgian de Arrascaeta, and all the man of the match had to do was push it into the empty net. Flamengo fans erupted.
There was more disbelief three minutes and eight seconds later, as a long ball out of the defense landed for Gabriel, who controlled it on the edge of the box and shot it past Argentina national team goalkeeper Franco Armani. His ninth goal in 12 matches made him the Copa’s leading scorer this year.
“It was just like that Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich final 20 years ago, wasn’t it?” Flamengo midfielder and captain Everton Ribeiro asked journalists. United won the 1999 Champions League with two goals in added time to beat the German side 2-1.
More drama in Lima followed in the waning seconds. River’s Exequiel Palacios was sent off for kicking Bruno Henrique, who was lying on the ground, and Gabriel was also red-carded for sarcastically applauding the referee.
Several Brazilian players celebrated Flamengo’s title. Neymar, whose sister is Gabriel’s girlfriend, was quick to post videos of himself celebrating his friend’s goals.
Atletico Mineiro’s defender Guga was less fortunate; he was suspended from his club after posting a video celebrating Flamengo’s title.
River coach Marcelo Gallardo, who could have won his third Copa for the club, left the pitch in tears. He has a contract to the end of 2021, but Argentine media reported he is keen to move to an European team earlier.
“It hurts because we were so close to win it. It hurts me as much as it hurts our fans,” a teary Gallardo said in a press conference. “We stopped Flamengo’s power and then we didn’t make good choices in the second half to finish.”
Flamengo is Brazil’s most popular club but it hadn’t won the Copa since 1981 when Zico was wearing No. 10.
Flamengo’s title also changed the history of Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, who transformed the team in less than six months. His first major title followed two Europa League final defeats with Benfica in 2013 and 2014.
Jesus became only the second European coach to win the Copa Libertadores after Croatian coach Mirko Jozić won the 1991 title with Chile’s Colo-Colo.
This is surely the most important title of my career,” said Jesus, who won the Portuguese league three times. “This final was seen in 176 countries, by millions of people who now see the skills of these two great sides. Either could have won.”
Fans of the red-and-black team might have an even more memorable weekend. Flamengo will win the Brazilian championship on Sunday with four games in hand if second-placed Palmeiras fails to beat Gremio. The Rio club will then lift its seventh national title, and first since 2009.
Flamengo will also go to Qatar next month for the Club World Cup.
The Brazilian team may get to defend the Copa Libertadores at home next year. CONMEBOL has already picked Rio’s Maracanã as the venue for the 2020 final.
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