By Samindra Kunti
December 14 – Argentina’s Independente won the Copa SudAmericana 3-2 on aggregate after holding Flamengo of Brazil 1-1 on a tense night in Rio de Janeiro that was punctuated by fan incidents and VAR controversy.
The rivalry goes back to in 1995 when the Argentinean club defeated Flamengo in the final of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. This time the stakes where not as high in the final of the Copa SudAmericana, the continent’s version of UEFA’s Europa League, which offers a ticket to the Copa Libertadores.
Flamengo had already qualified by securing a spot through Brazil’s domestic league, but for Colombian coach Reinaldo Hueda the pressure was on after having lost the Brazilian Cup final and the final of the Rio de Janeiro State Championship earlier this season.
Independente travelled to Rio with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg and were given a warm welcome with scrimmages between Flamengo fans and the visiting supporters on the eve of the final. The build-up to the showpiece match remained tense with incidents around the Maracana in the hours before kick-off. Ticketing proved to be chaotic as not all fans with a valid ticket were allowed entry and hundreds of fans decided to storm the turnstiles in order to get in. After the match violence clashes took place in the vicinity of the venue.
On the pitch Flamengo seized the initiative and were rewarded with a goal at the half-hour mark from 19-year old Lucas Paqueta who stabbed home from close range. But the hosts’ lead didn’t last long as Independente forced a controversial penalty. Meza seemed to trip himself inside the Brazilian penalty box and referee Wilmar Rondan from Colombia pointed to the spot. Amid the protests of the Flamengo players the VAR confirmed the referee’s soft decision. Ezequiel Barco converted the spot-kick.
After the break Hueda introduced Vinicius Junior, Flamengo’s 17-year-old Real Madrid bound star, and Lincoln, a revelation from Brazil’s U-17 team, but the Brazilians remained impotent up front and failed to penetrate the Argentinean defence. Independente masterfully contained and frustrated Flamengo and hit on the break with Tagliafico getting the biggest chance of the second half. Hueda lamented the absence of the injured Diego Alves and the suspended Paolo Guerrero, but a 1-1 draw sufficed for the visitors to be crowned ‘Kings of South America’ for a second time.
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