Barbosa fires Flamengo to last gasp Copa Libertadores triumph

Lima (AFP) – Flamengo came back from the dead to break the hearts of holders River Plate and win the Copa Libertadores in Lima on Saturday with a thrilling late brace from Gabriel Barbosa that decided the final 2-1 at the death.

Barbosa scored in the 89th minute and again in injury time to see his side bounce back from Rafael Santos Borre’s 15th-minute opener for River after a game largely dominated by the Argentine side.

After turning the game on its head in a frantic finale, Barbosa then got sent off along with River’s Ezequiel Palacios.

River had never looked like relinquishing their lead against the surprisingly slugglish Brazilians after Borre had put them ahead.

But them came Barbosa’s late show. With barely a sniff all game from a robust River defence, the Flamengo striker popped up at the far post in the last minute to tap home after good work on the left by the tireless Bruno Henrique. 

Two minutes into injury time he latched onto a long ball out of defence, moving into the box before firing crisply past River keeper Franco Armani and sending Flamengo’s fans delirious.

Palacios, River’s best player, was then sent off for kicking out at Henrique, quickly joined by Inter Milan loanee Barbosa, who had sarcastically applauded the referee.

Flamengo’s first Copa Libertadores victory in 38 years mean they will go to the Club World Cup in December.

The Brazilian side only really got going late in the second half, having shown nothing of the attacking verve and fluid passing instilled by new Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus that had swept them to the final and to the cusp of the Brazilian championship.

Pressing high and aggressive in the tackle, River dominated the opening 45 minutes, time and again getting in behind Flamengo’s 34-year-old full backs Rafinha and Luis Felipe.

Borre put river in front when he rifled in a shot on the turn from the middle of the penalty area after Flamengo failed to clear a cross.

De la Cruz could have doubled their lead five minutes later after being picked out at the near post by Matias Suarez. Palacios went close with a long range strike soon after. 

Before Barbosa’s double, the closest Flamengo had come to an equalizer was in the 67th minute when Henrique cut back from the byline and Barbosa’s shot was somehow blocked on the line by flying defenders, before being saved in the end by a grateful Armani.

It was the first final in the competition’s 60-year history to be decided in a one-off match.

The South American showpiece was originally set for Santiago, but the venue was switched to Lima because of the last month’s deadly social protests in Chile. 

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