The stars were aligned – this was the Libertadores final on home soil, this was Dinizismo propelled by the vision of veteran midfielder Paulo Henrique and German Cano’s goals, this was a modest Boca Juniors – and yet for all those advantages Fluminense labored against its Argentinian opponents for the first 35 minutes of on an afternoon steeped in fervor and tension.
This after all was the biggest stage, South America’s premier club final at the Maracana Stadium. The fans transformed the iconic venue into a cauldron of noise and unchecked passion. The Copa Libertadores has not yet been taken over by the corporatism that so marks showpiece matches in Europe.
Boca Juniors ceded possession, but kept Fluminense at bay – bar a header from German Cano. Then in the 35th minute, the Rio club found the opening goal following a lovely move on the right channel. It was the inevitable Cano, a native Argentinean, who delivered the cool finish, his thirteenth goal of the competition, finding the net every 83 minutes. It was a just reward for Fluminense who dominated but had failed to convert possession into meaningful chances. Boca’s defending had left much to be desired with wonder boy Barco failing to track back.
The true test of any team is how it reacts after conceding. Boca Juniors had not won a single of its knockout matches, progressing after multiple penalty shoutouts, and its attacking limitations were apparent responding feebly to Fluminense’s opening goal. Up front, veteran striker Edinson Cavani remained invisible.
After the restart, the team of manager Jorge Almiron was more progressive and with Fluminense dropping deeper and deeper, Boca Juniors punished the Brazilians following Luis Advincula’s fine strike in the 72nd minute. Cutting inside, he perfectly exploited the space and time Fluminense gifted him by defending around its box to pick his corner. Fluminense only had itself to blame for the equalizer.
The momentum shifted. Could it be that Boca Juniors was once again on the way to a victory without actually winning the match? The host was rattled, but Diniz responded by switching to a 4-2-4 formation with substitute John Kennedy. At the othe end, Miguel Merentiel almost won the match for Boca with a dangerous attempt in the 88th minute.
It was if Boca Juniors wanted to prove that you don’t need to win soccer matches to win a tournament. They had taken Uruguay’s Nacional, Brazil’s Palmeiras and Racing to extra-time before defeating all three sides from the penalty spot. Boca was the master of prolongations, but at long last the Argentinean side caved in.
Kennedy’s thunderous 99th-minute goal proved a step too far. Not that the drama was at an end yet. Kennedy’s elaborate goal celebration cost him his match, his second booking reducing Fluminense to ten men for the last 18 minutes of the match. This was classic Libertadores action – a sending-off, mini brawls, penalty claims, time wasting and scything tackles. Boca Juniors then had Frank Fabra red carded. Dropping deep again, Fluminense could sense victory and almost picked Boca off on the counter but Guga struck the post. It mattered little.
Ultimately, Fluminense was simply the best team, its victory a collective triumph and reflection of Diniz’s distinct style. The pain of the 2008 defeat against LDU Quito will have been forgotten. This is one of the great Fluminense sides alongside the Maquina Tricolor and the league-winning team headed by Fred. Diniz built a team around veteran defender Felipe Melo, playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso and the goalscoring prowess of Cano. His ideas are idiosyncratic because they do not center around positions or pressing. He can now back up his philosophy with a major trophy. Diniz and Fluminense rule Rio and the continent.