CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football, has condemned “acts of violence and racism” after arrests were made in Rio de Janeiro following clashes on the iconic Copacabana beach ahead of Saturday’s Copa Libertadores final.
Argentina’s Boca Juniors play Brazil’s Fluminense in South America’s equivalent of the Champions League final and on Friday CONMEBOL pleaded for calm between the two sets of supporters.
“CONMEBOL calls on the fans of Boca Juniors and Fluminense to share together the moments of joy and celebration that our football gives us,” the statement read.
“The values of the sport that we are most passionate about must inspire behaviors of peace and harmony. For this reason, we repudiate the acts of violence and racism that may occur within the framework of this final.”
Rio de Janeiro’s Military Police said in a statement to CNN that three people – two Argentines and a Brazilian – were arrested on Thursday following an incident which had begun in the “Fun Zone area” of the beach.
“Immediately, the agents surrounded the area, controlled the situation and two men, Argentine tourists and a third man, a Brazilian, were taken to the 12th Police District,” the statement read.
Later that evening, a further five Argentine fans were arrested after a second incident in the city, the Military Police said.
A final like no other
Saturday’s final takes place at another of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic landmarks: the Maracanã.
Copa Libertadores finals are among the loudest and most colorful in world football and Fluminense will have the considerable advantage of contesting the match in its home stadium.
The club, which has only reached the final once before in its history, back in 2008, will surely never have a better chance of winning its first Copa Libertadores title than this.
Led by innovative tactician Fernando Diniz, Fluminense has enjoyed success playing a brand of football that has much of South America raving – and has also led to comparisons with legendary coach Pep Guardiola.
While both managers enjoy a possession-based style of play, Diniz himself admits that’s where the similarities end.
Diniz has described Guardiola’s style as “positional” and his as “anti-positional,” with his players encouraged to roam closer to teammates while the Manchester City manager prefers his to remain in designated areas of the pitch.
“The dream is to win this historic title, the biggest title in the careers of many here,” midfielder Felipe Melo told FluminenseTV.
“Some titles may seem bigger to some people, like a national team title or a Champions League, but winning a Libertadores for the first time, for a club as great as Fluminense, will certainly be on par with any other achievement at world level.
“Let’s mark our name, for all eternity, in a club as beloved and gigantic as Fluminense.”
Standing in Fluminense’s way is South American giant Boca Juniors, which is aiming to match fellow Argentine club Independiente’s all-time record of seven Copa Libertadores titles.
Boca Juniors has struggled domestically of late, currently sitting 10th out of 14 teams in Group B of the Argentine league’s second phase.
The team’s journey to the Copa Libertadores final has hardly been a pretty one either, surviving penalty shootouts in the last-16, quarterfinals and semifinals after drawing all six legs to make it to the Maracanã.
For fans of European football, a familiar face has been the hero for Boca. Sergio Romero may have only made seven Premier League appearances in six years at Manchester United, but he has been a goalkeeper reborn since returning to the Argentine club in 2022.
In total, Romero has saved six penalties in three shootouts – two in each – and has kept four clean sheets in eight knockout matches.
“We have the same desire: to give the people of Boca the seventh title, which is what they have wanted for so long,” Romero said, according to FIFA.
“The last Libertadores [Boca won] was in 2007 and we want to go after Fluminense, to win it and bring the trophy to the people so that they can enjoy it. I have faith that things are going to work out for us, that we’re going to win it.”
With Romero’s seemingly charmed gloves between the posts, that confidence certainly doesn’t seem misplaced.
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