By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Flamengo, winners of the 2013 Copa do Brasil, will be looking to add more titles to their trophy cabinet in 2014 as they return to the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier football competition. The self-styled biggest club in Brazil have been beset by financial problems over the last few years, and November’s triumph was their first national title for four years.
Yet victory in the Brazilian Cup has given the outfit a direct path into the 2014 Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. Now, the club will look to strengthen their squad as they go after their first continental crown in over thirty years.
They must also contend with the Campeonato Carioca, the Rio de Janeiro state championship. There is little doubt however, for the first half of the calendar year at least, the Libertadores tournament will remain the priority.
The Rubro-Negro have been drawn in Group 7, alongside Club Bolivar from Bolivia, Club Leon from Mexico and Ecuador’s CC Emelec. In 2012, Flamengo went out at the group stage thanks to a late Emelec goal, and this year will be looking to avenge a hugely painful experience, as they watched Carioca rivals Fluminense and Vasco progress that year.
The club’s two outstanding performers in 2013 were Hernane and Elias, the former netted 35 goals in the season and was instrumental in their Copa do Brasil success. Elias, meanwhile, was on loan from Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon and negotiations are ongoing to make his transfer to Flamengo permanent.
According to Sporting club president Bruno de Carvalho, no deal is yet in place yet, and others remain interested in acquiring the playmaker’s talent. Flamengo maintain that Sporting’s asking price for the midfielder is too high, and they run the risk of losing him, possibly to Brazilian rivals Corinthians.
Bruno de Carvalho said to Portuguese television channel RTP: “The negotiation [with Flamengo for Elias] is not a simple one, because others clubs have in the last few days shown an interest in signing the player. Sporting’s wish is to negotiate with Flamengo while hearing what other clubs have to say.”
Elias has a contract with the Lisbon club until 2016, signed in 2011 for over R$25 million, the 28-year-old has failed to make himself a first-team regular at the club. He nevertheless proved himself a valuable asset to Flamengo and the club now appear to face stiff competition for his signature. Sporting are willing to sell him for 8.8 million euros, around R$ 27 million.
If Flamengo fail to land their man, they risk going into pre-season training having made only one signing during the off season. Attacking midfielder Everton has already agreed to join the club, but a leaky defense must also be addressed before entering continental competition.
The squad are set to reconvene today (January 8th) to begin their pre-season training campaign. Their opening match in the Copa Libertadores is scheduled for February 12th. That gives the club 35 days in which to identify, sign and integrate new arrivals into the playing staff if they are serious about going far in the most important tournament in South American football.
On the domestic front, the 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro campaign was largely a disappointment for Flamengo and their fans. Their season was saved by their hugely impressive Copa do Brasil triumph, which saw them defeat high-flying Botafogo, Cruzeiro and Atletico-PR on the way to their third Copa title.
If they are to raise their game this year, squad strengthening is key, and with only one arrival so far, pressure is on the directors to make the right moves in the transfer market to avoid disappointment in World Cup year.