RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Edinson Cavani could win his first club continental title on Saturday, when his Boca Juniors plays Brazil's Fluminense in the Copa Libertadores final.
The Argentinian giants will play for their seventh title in the tournament, while the hosts at the Maracanã Stadium will push for their first with the key help of multiple Champions League winner Marcelo.
Brazilian clubs won every edition of the Copa Libertadores since 2019 with Flamengo and Palmeiras. Boca, who would tie Independiente with a record seventh title, will play its first continental decider since 2018. Five years ago, the yellow and blue club lost the final to archrival River Plate, with the last match played in Madrid because of fan violence in Buenos Aires.
The 36-year-old Cavani and the 35-year-old Marcelo will have the support of younger attacking players who have made the difference in the knockout stage of South America's main club tournament; 19-year-old Argentinian midfielder Valentín Barco is a big hope of creativity for Boca, while Fluminense trusts the speed and strength of 21-year-old striker John Kennedy to win.
Boca also counts on goalkeeper Sergio Romero, who has so far saved 12 of the 23 penalties taken against his team since he joined last year. Fluminense has big hopes on 35-year-old Argentinian striker German Cano, who scored 80 goals for the Rio-based club in 124 matches in the past two years.
The Argentinians had their first practice session in Rio on Thursday at the Vasco da Gama training ground. Esequiel Barco was spared before the trip, and journalists were not able to see whether he had been once again replaced by Luca Langoni two days before the final.
Boca reached the tournament's decider without winning a single match in regular time. Romero put his team forward in the ties against local Uruguay's Nacional, local rivals Racing and in the semifinals against Brazil's Palmeiras.
“We are hoping to give Boca its seventh. That is what everyone wishes for such a long time," Romero told the South American soccer body CONMEBOL in an interview. “I trust and I have blind faith that things will go our way and we will win it.”
Fluminense knocked out Argentinos Juniors, Paraguay's Olimpia and its countrymen of Internacional in its path to the final, which also includes a 5-1 win against River Plate in the group stage. Supporters of local rivals Flamengo and Vasco, who have already won the tournament, have been joining Boca's fans on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema since Wednesday. Thousands of Argentinians as expected in Rio.
Fluminense reached its first Copa Libertadores final since losing the 2008 edition on penalties to Ecuador's Liga de Quito with a squad that is not among the richest in Brazil. Its coach, Fernando Diniz, is also in charge of Brazil's national team until July of next year, when local soccer executives expect to bring Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti to take that role into the 2026 World Cup.
Boca is coached by Jorge Almirón, who played a Copa Libertadores final with Lanus in 2017. Diniz is in his first continental decider.
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The Associated Press