Flamengo set sights on Copa Libertadores final at Maracana as Brazilians aim to keep the party going

March 28 – Can Brazil’s dominance of the Copa Libertadores be broken? At the draw this week, reigning champions Flamengo were given what looks to be an easy path to the knock-out rounds. Brazil’s other six clubs in the competition will be keen on leaving their mark as well.

Last season, Flamengo won a second continental trophy in four years defeating Atletico Paranaense 1-0 in the competition’s final in Ecuador. It was the fourth consecutive time that a Brazilian club has won the title. The 2022 final was also the third all-Brazilian final in a row.

In Monday’s draw, heavyweights Flamengo and Palmeiras were in pot 1, alongside Argentina giants River Plate and Boca Juniors, Nacional, Athletico, Independiente del Valle and Olímpia.

In Group A, the defending champions will meet Aucas of Ecuador, Racing of Argentina and Nublense of Chile.

“I think the group is not bad,” said Flamengo vice-president Marcos Braz. “The only fact that makes us uncomfortable is that we will have to leave for Ecuador between the two state championship finals. The game is at altitude, we have six hours of travel. But Flamengo cannot complain.”

Crosstown rivals and opponents in the Carioca championship Fluminense find themselves in a tough group with River Plate, The Strongest of Bolivia and Sporting Cristal of Peru.

Champions in 2020 and 2021, Palmeiras will travel to Ecuador as well to play Barcelona. They also face Bolivar and Cerro Porteno of Paraguay.

“Libertadores is the big dream of all of us, my dream too. I haven’t won a Libertadores yet. Although, in the last Libertadores we won, in Montevideo, I had already been elected, but had not taken office,” said Palmeiras president Leila Pereira.

Sao Paulo giants Corinthians play Copa Sudamericana winners, Independiente del Valle of Ecuador, Argentinos Jrs of Argentina and Liverpool of Uruguay in Group E. Brazilian sides Atletico Paranaense and Atletico Mineiro will face each other in Group G with Alianza Lima of Peru and Libertad of Paraguay completing the group’s line-up. Clubs of the same country are kept apart in the group phase with the exception of those that came through the qualifiers.

The group stage will commence in the first week of April. This year’s Libertadores will culminate with the final on November 11 at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium. Defending champions Flamengo will be keen to return to another final, this time on their home turf.

“It would be a dream to play the final at Maracanã, it is the home of Flamengo, it is the temple of Flamengo of great conquests,” said Braz. “I think that 80% or 90% of Flamengo’s history was written there, I hope we are lucky and can be in Maracanã and one more final. And, God willing, to be champion.”

The winners of the competition will bank more prize money than ever. Entering a new commercial rights phase, the South American confederation Conmebol increased prize money across its club competitions to $300 million. The Copa Libertadores winners can earn as much as $28 million.

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