RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) — Saturday’s showdown between Santos and Palmeiras at Rio’s Maracana stadium will mark just the third time that the Copa Libertadores final features two Brazilian clubs.
Santos are aiming to win the trophy for a fourth time while Palmeiras are bidding for a second title.
Here are five things to watch as the 61st edition of South American football’s premier club competition draws to a climax.
Diminutive midfielder Yeferson Soteldo has been instrumental in Santos’ progress to the final, generating 28 scoring chances in the competition so far. Only River Plate’s Nicolas de la Cruz (31) and Boca Juniors forward Carlos Tevez (30) have created more.
Soteldo has also scored twice, including a sublime curling effort in his team’s 3-0 victory over Boca Juniors in the second leg of their semifinal. The Venezuela international, who stands at just 1.60m, revealed this week that he had been inspired to prove his doubters wrong by Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi.
“I went through a lot of things, a lot of people talked about my size, that I couldn’t play because I was small,” the 23-year-old told reporters. “Now they’ve taken noice. I want to be an example for children who are also small. Messi did that for me. I saw that he was little and I thought that if he could make it, I could too.”
Both Palmeiras and Santos have no shortage of firepower in attack. Palmeiras are led by the duo of Rony Barbosa and Luiz Adriano, who have scored five goals each in the tournament to date. In addition, Barbosa has been an important link-up player with seven assists. Twenty-year-old midfielder Gabriel Menino has also provided a scoring threat with more shots on goal (29) than any other player in the competition.
Teenage striker Kaio Jorge is Santos’ leading scorer, having netted five times in 11 outings. He has been ably supported by former Changchun Yatai forward Marinho, who has four goals in nine appearances.
Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton has conceded just six goals in 12 matches in the current edition of the Copa Libertadores and has made 39 saves. He was particularly impressive in the second leg of the semifinal against River Plate, making 11 saves to deny the Argentine side a tie-equalizing third goal at Allianz Parque.
The 33-year-old is currently regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in Brazilian domestic football and another miserly performance in the final will keep him in the reckoning for a place in Brazil’s squad for FIFA World Cup qualifiers in March.
Teenage forward Gabriel Veron is fully fit again after overcoming a left hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of January. According to Brazilian press reports, the Copa Libertadores final might be one of his last games for Palmeiras.
The 18-year-old, who has scored nine goals and provided three assists in 34 matches across all competitions this season, is understood to have attracted the interest of Manchester City, Manchester United and Barcelona. Veron is tied to Palmeiras until 2025 but the Sao Paulo club is expected to field offers for the Brazil U-20 star at the end of the season in February.
BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS
Palmeiras have experienced a stark change in fortunes since Portuguese manager Abel Ferreira took charge in November following the sacking of Vanderlei Luxemburgo. Pundits have attributed the club’s resurgence to the 42-year-old’s meticulous attention to detail, innovative tactics and ability to quickly win the respect of the players.
Ferreira, who has never won a trophy as a manager, will be aiming to be just the third European coach to win the Copa Libertadores. Croat Mirko Jozic achieved the feat with Colo-Colo in 1991 and Portuguese Jorge Jesus led Flamengo to the title in 2019.
Santos boss Alexi Stival, better known as Cuca, is also aiming to make history as he bids to become only the fifth Brazilian coach to win the Copa Libertadores for a second time. The 57-year-old, who guided Atletico Mineiro to glory in 2013, would join Luiz Perez (Santos: 1962 and 1963), Tele Santana (Sao Paulo: 1992 and 1993), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Gremio 1995, Palmeiras 1999) and Paulo Autuori (Cruzeiro 1997, Sao Paulo 2005).
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