Soccer City FC
The 49th Copa Libertadores finale kicks off on Wednesday June 25 with two teams making their first final in the competition. LDU Quito of Ecuador and Fluminense of Brazil have contested their way through to the final having advanced past the six group matches and then victoriously progressing through a further eight matches from the round of sixteen all the way to the last two. Remarkably, both clubs have played each other twice before this year having survived Group 8, which also contained Arsenal of Argentina and Paraguay’s Libertad. The final is split into two legs with each club playing home and away, LDU Quito kicking off first on Wednesday followed by the return leg in Brazil next week.
LDU Quito have had a strong presence in Copa Libertadores in recent years, having qualified five times out of a possible six since 2003 and their best run in that period was to the quarter-final stage in 2006 where they lost to eventual winners Internacional. The Ecuadorian outfit can consider themselves unlucky not to have made it further in other years, having lost on penalties to Santos in the last 16 in 2004 and have shown to be their country’s main soccer power. They have won their domestic league five times since 1998 and they are the current reigning champions. It is, however, all about the present and previous history and form are not always accurate estimations of who the victors shall be. Veteran frontman Augustin Delgado could prove to be a cunning option from the bench but Argentine strike duo Claudio Bieler and Damian Manso should start having scored 5 goals between them. LDU Quito go into the match in a strong vein of form in both the Copa Libertadores and their domestic league, where they have won 10 out of 17 and are consequently lying second with two games in hand. Barcelona are the only other team from the nation to have made the final, but both times they failed to win it so LDU Quito have the opportunity to not only make history for themselves, but for Ecuador. Coach Edgardo Bauza is optimistic ahead of the final. "This is a great prize for all the players of LDU, who have put in a lot of effort throughout every stage of the competition. We have not had a free day since we started competing in the Libertadores, and for that reason the players deserve this opportunity.”
On a more worrying note for Fluminense, the Brazilians have had a disastrous opening domestic run and lie bottom of the 20-team Campeonato Brasileiro.
The Rio de Janerio outfit have failed to win any of their seven league matches and only able to scrape uninspiring draws. The commitments of advancing in the Copa Libertadores may have taken their toll, but fans will be delighted with the team and will have the ultimate desire of them adding to last season’s Copa do Brazil with a continental tournament. Quirky and inconsistent league form will not determine the outcome of the final and Fluminense will be hoping to win this season’s competition to secure their position in 2009 as reigning winners and thereby see them automatically guaranteed a place in the group stages. The Brazilians made their first appearance this season in the Copa Libertadores but defeating favourites Boca Juniors in the semis and fellow natives Sao Paulo in the quarterfinals place them as firm favourites. Fluminense can call on former Brazil international Washington to provide the threat upfront with the top goalscorer at the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup grabbing 6 goals en route to the final. Manager Renato Gaucho will be hoping Fluminense can join the likes of Sao Paulo, Gremio and Santos by becoming their nation’s eighth team to take home the tournament.
Neither team had met each other prior to this year’s contest but the finalists were drawn together in the same qualifying group. The advantage lay in the hands of Fluminense after a goalless draw at LDU Quito was followed by a one-goal home win. Fluminense can consider themselves to be favourites having won last year’s Brazilian Cup and they progressed to the last sixteen as top seeds based on their impressive group stage results. A trip to the Ecuadorian capital is bound to be tricky and LDU Quito will have to use their familiar altitude to their advantage if the competition is to produce Ecuador’s first champions. Should Fluminense go into the return leg with a victory, it will surely be Brazil who are celebrating its 14th honour.
Can midfielder Franklin Salas lead LDU Quito to victory?
Image details: Ecuador v Paraguay served by picapp.com