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River and Flamengo eye history in Copa Libertadores final

Flamengo defender Filipe Luis has faith in his side’s ability. Their nerves he’s not so sure about.

Filipe Luis believes River Plate’s greater amount of experience in finals gives the Argentine side the edge for the Copa Libertadores final on Saturday.

“They have had many moments of pressure and managed to overcome them with cool, easily,” Felipe Luis says. “That plays in their favor. They are the best team now. Many of our players arrived this year. We are still getting to know each other.”

Argentina's River Plate players photo at on the pitch at the Monumental Stadium during a training session in Lima, Peru, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. River Plate will play Brazil's Flamengo on Saturday, in the Copa Libertadores final match. (AP PhotoMartin Mejia)

River is going after its third Copa crown in four years, which would enhance its case as the best club in South America in this decade. But since the beginning of the century no team has managed to win back-to-back Copa Libertadores.

“We are the defending South American champions and we will make that count against a very strong rival,” River coach Marcelo Gallardo says.

Flamengo is poised to end a 38-year drought in the tournament, which dates to the days of Zico, its great No. 10. The team’s attacking formation, led by former Inter Milan flop Gabriel Barbosa, has thrilled fans of Brazil’s most popular club.

Brazil's Flamengo Coach Jorge Jesus, center, runs with his players during a training session on the pitch of the Peruvian Soccer Federation, in Lima, Peru, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Flamengo will play Argentina's River Plate in the Copa Libertadores final match on Saturday. (AP PhotoMartin Mejia)

Flamengo has reached the final unbeaten in its last 21 matches. The Rio de Janeiro team is so dominant at home that it could win the Brazilian championship after Saturday’s final without playing.

All it takes is Palmeiras failing to beat Gremio, which would give Flamengo its first Brazilian title in 10 years with four matches in hand. Despite the home success, its only Copa Libertadores came in 1981.

Flamengo coach Jorge Jesus, who has transformed the team in less than six months, also wants his history to change. Jesus has never won an international title. He lost two Europa League finals with Benfica, in 2013 and 2014.

Coach Marcelo Gallardo, right, of Argentina's River Plate, talks to player Javier Pinola on the pitch at Alianza Lima's Club during a practice, in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. River Plate will play Brazil's Flamengo on Saturday, in the Copa Libertadores final match. (AP PhotoMartin Mejia)

“In matches like this, the one who is more focused and makes less mistakes will win,” River striker Rafael Santos Borré said. “That is the kind of match that we players like.”

The first single-match Copa Libertadores final will be played in front of more than 65,000 fans at Lima’s Monumental Universitário Stadium. The match was originally scheduled for Santiago’s National Stadium, but it was moved because of street protests in Chile.

River narrowly eliminated archrival Boca Juniors in the semifinals, the same adversary it beat in the 2018 decider. Flamengo crushed local adversary Gremio 6-1 on aggregate, including a 5-0 thrashing at the Maracanã.

Both teams enjoy keeping possession and are keen to attack.

Gallardo will use his traditional 4-4-2 tactics, while Flamengo’s Jesus will use a 4-1-3-2.

Security involves 10,000 police, two helicopters and drones.

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