By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A stellar performance from goalkeeper Diego Alves and a clutch goal from Gabriel Barbosa helped Flamengo overcome the high altitude and hostile conditions to beat San José 1-0 in the Rubro-Negra‘s debut match in the 2019 Copa Libertadores group stage.
Tuesday’s match took place in Oruro, Bolivia, the city with the highest altitude in the Libertadores tournament at 3,800 meters above sea level. Flamengo arrived at Oruro only hours before matchtime but came well-prepared with several oxygen tanks for the players.
Aware of the challenging conditions, Flamengo started the match playing at a deliberately slow pace, which San José looked to take advantage of early on. At the twenty minute mark, San José’s Kevin Fernandez launched a rocket into the corner that was barely deflected by a diving Diego Alves.
Alves came up with another clutch save at the 39th minute when Carlos Saucedo shot a close-range shot that the Flamengo keeper punched out of the goal area.
Only a minute later, Alves would have to come up big again, diving to his left to block another shot, this time from San José striker Torrico, to keep the game scoreless heading into the halftime break.
Both club’s offensive woes continued into the the second period until finally, at the sixty-minute mark, the Rubro-Negra would break the deadlock. Bruno Henrique threaded a lead pass to Barbosa, more commonly referred to as Gabigol, who promptly poked the ball past the onrushing San José.
Following Tuesday’s win, Flamengo’s next three rounds in the Copa Libertadores will take place in the friendly confines of Maracanã beginning next Wednesday, March 13th, when the club takes on Ecuadorian club LDU Quito.
Before then, Flamengo will have a classic matchup, also at Maracanã, against heated rivals Vasco da Gama this Saturday, March 9th, in the Taça Rio.