By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The finals of the 2017 Copa Sudamericana kicked off last night, December 6th, with Flamengo falling to Argentina’s Independiente 2-1 in the first leg of the finals in Avellaneda, Argentina.
Yesterday’s match capped a rollar-coaster week for the Rubro-Negra. The club punched its tickets to the Copa Sudamericana finals last Thursday (November 30th) thanks to a second-half brace from 20-year-old Felipe Vizeu leading to a 2-0 victory over Colombia’s Junior de Barranquilla.
This past Sunday, December 3rd, a pivotal 2-1 win over Vitória locked up sixth place in the final standings of the 2017 Campeonato Brasileiro (Brasileirão) Série A, guaranteeing Flamengo a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores (in the group phase).
Then, on Tuesday, December 5th, the club learned it would be without the services of star forward Paolo Guerrero for last night’s match when FIFA announced it was extending the Peruvian striker’s suspension an additional twenty days.
Guerrero was initially suspended for thirty days, beginning on November 4th, after he tested positive for an undisclosed substance in October.
Much to the dismay of the raucous hometown fans at Estadio Libertadores de América last night, it would be the Rubro-Negra who would draw first blood. At the nine minute mark, a cross from Miguel Trauco led to a towering header from Réver that found the back of the net to give Flamengo the early 1-0 lead.
The hometeam redeemed themselves at the 28th minute when Independiente’s Emanuel Gigliotti, setup with a beautiful pass from Martín Benítez, struck home a thunderous shot past a helpless César to level the game 1-1.
In the second half, the fans would be sent into a frenzy when Flamengo’s defense momentarily fell asleep allowing Barco to dart down the left and find Maximiliano Meza at the edge of box. Meza caught the volley perfectly to score into the bottom corner to give Independiente the 2-1 lead at the 53rd minute.
Willian Arão won a free kick in the game’s closing moments, but Flamengo would fail to score on the free kick in extra time to seal the 2-1 win for Independiente.
Flamengo will now have the home field advantage in next week’s second and deciding leg at iconic Maracanã Stadium on Wednesday, December 13th. According to club officials, tickets for the second leg, which began selling on Tuesday, December 5th, have already sold out.
The winner of the Copa Sudamericana will earn a place in next year’s Copa Libertadores.