Brazilian champions Flamengo have secured their place in this weekend’s Club World Cup final after beating Al Hilal 3-1 in Doha.
The Saudi Arabian outfit cruised to a 1-0 lead and looked good value for their opening goal, battling defiantly in the first-half and producing some exceptionally slick football.
However, like true champions, the Scarlet-Black came out with the bit between their teeth after the half-time interval and conjured up three goals from Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Bruno Henrique and an Ali Al-Boleahi own goal to cancel out Salem Al-Dawsari’s opener.
And so, Flamengo now have the chance to cap off a quite remarkable year when they take to the final later this week, but what did we learn from this encounter?
1. Rapid response shows Flamengo’s ruthless edge
This was an exceptionally atypical Flamengo performance, lacking the zip, verve and panache that caused a storm in South America’s flagship knockout competition earlier this year, but their sheer devastation and cut-throat approach after the restart shows that this side who can win games even when not at their best – the mindset of champions.
And that should worry whoever triumphs between Liverpool and Monterrey in tomorrow night’s second semi final. If the first-half version of Flamengo pitch up at the Khalifa International Stadium this weekend, then they will struggle to create openings and cause too many problems, but if their second-half incarnation decides to make an appearance then we should be in for a treat.
Gabriel Barbosa was uncharacteristically quiet, but his attacking teammates stood up to be counted with Bruno Henrique in particular coming alive after the interval, netting a fine finish before turning provider, with his cross being converted into the Al-Hilal net by Ali Al-Boleahi for an own goal.
Jesus will no doubt have some stern words in the dressing room after the match, and he will now be scratching his head as to how he can coax a more clinical and consistent performance out of his side. But the second-half will certainly bring optimism to the Portuguese tactician.
2. Sebastian Giovinco: A career unfulfilled?
When the diminutive magician first burst onto the scene as a precociously gifted attacking midfielder for Juventus over a decade ago now, those of a Bianconeri persuasion would have been forgiven for thinking they had stumbled across the latest star to emerge from their esteemed production line.
However, the fleet-footed forward wasn’t quite able to follow in the fabled footsteps of Juve’s illustrious alumni; there would be no Alessandro Del Piero 2.0. Giovinco went on to amass over 100 appearances for the Serie A giants, but by the time he turned 27 he was off to the MLS with Canadian outfit Toronto FC.
The North American division has naturally garnered a reputation as a retirement home for waning European stars, but at 27, Giovinco was in the prime years of his career. Now 32, the Turin-born attacker can be found plying his trade with Al-Hilal, and tonight he showcased just why he was so highly regarded during his formative years.
Giovinco was stunning against Flamengo in the first-half, playing with a bravado and intellect that allowed him to pull the creative strings in the final third and act, almost as the release valve for the Riyadh-based club. He didn’t prove quite as effective after the restart and eventually came off with 20 minutes to play, but his innate talents were manifest every time he touched the ball – not to mention his side’s capitulation coincided with his withdrawal from the pitch. A bizarre move from Razvan Lucescu.
3. Flamengo flair goes missing
It almost seemed a foregone conclusion that Flamengo, the darlings of Brazilian football this season, would contest in the CWC final against European champions Liverpool, but this evening in the Qatari capital Jorge Jesus’ side failed to produce the kind of scintillating football that has attracted the attention of football fans across the globe.
The Copa Libertadores champions have received huge plaudits for their slick, aesthetically pleasing brand of attacking football, but they struggled to string together two passes in the opening 45 minutes, before coming out of second gear after the break.
In fact, it was the Saudi Arabian outfit who produced the more free-flowing football in the opening sequences of this match, spearheaded by the brilliant Giovinco who, as mentioned, evoked fond memories of his former glory days in the immaculate strip of Juve.
Flamengo managed to get over the line in the end but Jurgen Klopp – if Liverpool beat Monterrey – needn’t fear if this version of the Brazilian champions turn up this weekend.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
4. Gabigol comes up short
The anticipation and excitement around this match was naturally centred around Jesus’ insatiable attack, notably the goalscoring exploits of Barbosa, who has been in red-hot form since returning to his homeland on loan from Inter Milan.
However, tonight the Brazilian goal-getter was unnaturally lukewarm and at times, anonymous. Flamengo ran riot in the end with three goals but the scoreline unequivocally paints a different picture to the reality of this contest, which was rugged and lacked a rhythm for the most part.
Of course, Gabigol like most of his teammates looked more influential in the second-half, but for a player of his talents, Jesus would have been expecting more. If he saves a big performance for this weekend, however, all will certainly be forgiven.
5. Could Pep have used Mari?
With the ongoing injury problems pervading the Etihad this season could Pep Guardiola perhaps have retained the services of Flamengo centre-back Pablo Mari, in an effort to alleviate the substantial void created by the absence of long-term absentee Aymeric Laporte?
The Spaniard became the first ever player from his nation to lift a Copa Libertadores crown earlier this year, forming a formidable partnership with Rodrigo Caio. He has been imperious since leaving Man City for the Brazilian giants in July and you now have to wonder whether his services could have been utilised in the North West of England.
Tonight, Mari looked susceptible in the first-half as Al-Hilal exerted a high press and Flamengo struggled to protect their back four, but once the dust settled in the second half Mari looked a composed and a cool head in the centre of defence as his side mounted a superb comeback.