On Wednesday night Copa Libertadores holders Boca Juniors take on Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro in the first leg of the higher-profile of the competition’s semi-finals. Regular readers of HEGS will have been able to follow Boca’s progress through the tournament and indeed in Argentina’s domestic league this year, but may well be rather more in the dark about their opponents tonight. For that reason, I’ve been in touch with Jon Cotterill of the wonderful Pitaco Do Gringo, an English-language Brazilian football blog. He’s kindly agreed to give us non-Portugese readers a quick Q&A. Call it ‘an idiot’s guide to Fluminense’ (with me, of course, playing the role of the idiot).
Hasta El Gol Siempre: Jon, perhaps you could start by giving us an idea of Flu’s domestic form so far this season. Who will be their key players:
JC: After three games, Flu are joint bottom with only one point – but you can safely ignore this, as they’ve been putting out reserve teams for their league matches so far. Key players will include forwards Washington and Dodô; free-kick specialist Thiago Neves [HEGS note: Arsenal de Sarandí know all about him]; Argentine former River Plate and Rosario Central enganche Darío Conca, and talented young centre back Thiago Silva, who’s just been called up by Dunga for the Brazilian national side.
HEGS: How can we expect them to play in the first (away) leg?
JC: I expect it will be damage limitation in Buenos Aires. They may and snatch a goal as Flu aren’t known for sitting back. One thing viewers will see is a lot of diving (especially from Neves!) – this often works in Brazil where referees are generally crap and blow for everything, but sometimes backfires in the Libertadores as they don’t always get the decisions, and end up losing the ball.
HEGS: Brazilian sides often seem to freeze against Boca, particularly when Juan Román Riquelme’s playing. Presumably Flu aren’t looking forward to this one?
JC: They would have preferred Santos, that’s for sure. I don’t think it’s a question of Brazilian sides ‘freezing’, it’s just that the Argentine teams are better, and play with more heart and determination.
HEGS: What’s the thinking in Flu circles about Boca being suspended from using La Bombonera for their home leg?
JC: They probably think of it as an advantage. That being said, the Maracanã has seen crowds of around 80,000 so it shouldn’t bother Flu wherever they play.
HEGS: With Brazilian clubs’ well-earned reputation for sacking managers at the drop of a hat, will [Flu boss] Renato Gaúcho be watching his back if they lose this tie?
JC: I don’t think so. Off the top of my head, I think they’ve only qualified for the Copa Libertadores three times! They have certainly never been anywhere near the semis before. If anything, he may even get a statue erected in his honour!
Thanks to Jon for that, of course. Flu reached the semis by putting out 2005 champions São Paulo 3-2 on aggregate with a 91st-minute winner in the second leg at the Maracanã last week (winning only 2-1 on the night, they were heading out on away goals before Washington won it for them in stoppage time).
As for the big names, Darío Conca has been expressing his confidence in his team-mates ‘to win a difficult match and give happiness to all of Fluminense.’ Flu’s general manager Branco, meanwhile, has been rather more forthright. Branco, famously accused the Argentine physios during the Argentina – Brazil match in the 1990 World Cup of giving him drugged bottled water, an accusation since confirmed by Diego Maradona, no less. Now, against Maradona’s old team, he’s got revenge on his mind. ‘I’m going to drink an Argentine wine to celebrate my team’s victory,’ he reportedly told a Brazilian radio station. Imagine how scary that would sound if it weren’t being said about a football match…