The 2020 Copa Libertadores is finally set to come to a close on January 30 when Brazilian giants Palmeiras and Santos meet at the Maracana.
The pair saw off Boca Juniors and River Plate in the semi-final to book their place in the final, which was initially scheduled for November but had to be pushed back because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s the biggest stage in South American club football, and matches at this stage of the competition rarely fail to live up to expectations. So without, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the game.
When is kick off? Saturday 30 January
What time is kick off? 20:00 (GMT)
Where is it played? Maracana
TV channel/live stream? BBC (UK)
Palmeiras’ quest to reach the final began in March 2020, when they picked up a 2-0 win over Tigre to kick off their group stage adventure.
They went unbeaten in the groups, with a 0-0 draw with Paraguay’s Guarani the only blotch on a perfect record which saw them score five goals in two separate games and earned them a top seed for the knockout stages.
Delfin and Libertad didn’t put up much of a fight, and it looked like River Plate wouldn’t either when Palmeiras roared to a 3-0 win in the first leg. However, the Argentine’s nearly pulled off a stunning comeback, but their 2-0 win in the return leg wasn’t enough to overturn the deficit.
Here’s Palmeiras’ run to the final.
Tigre 0-2 Palmeiras
Palmeiras 3-1 Guarani
Bolivar 1-2 Palmeiras
Guarani 0-0 Palmeiras
Palmeiras 5-0 Bolivar
Palmeiras 5-0 Tigre
Delfin 1-8 Palmeiras
Libertad 1-4 Palmeiras
River Plate 2-3 Palmeiras
Santos also went through the group stage unbeaten, earning victories over Delfin, Defensa y Justicia and Olimpia.
Like Palmeiras, Santos also had a 0-0 draw of their own to spoil the prospect of a perfect group stage. It was Olimpia, who ended up finishing bottom of the group, who held the Brazilian’s to a goalless draw.
Cuca’s side didn’t have it all their own way in the knockout stages, however. Away goals got them through the round of 16 against Liga de Quito, and they needed to rely on big second-leg victories to edge past Gremio and Boca Juniors.
Here’s Santos’ run to the final.
Defensa 1-2 Santos
Santos 1-0 Delfin
Santos 0-0 Olimpia
Delfin 1-2 Santos
Olimpia 2-3 Santos
Santos 2-1 Defensa
Liga de Quito 2-2(a) Santos
Gremio 2-5 Santos
Boca Juniors 0-3 Santos
Palmeiras don’t have too many injury issues to contest with for this one. Former Inter and Juventus midfielder Felipe Melo remains sidelined with a knee injury, while young forwards Wesley and Alanzinho are also set to miss the game.
The biggest concern, which will also be shared by neutrals, will be the fitness of exciting winger Gabriel Veron. The 18-year-old, who is seen as one of the country’s brightest prospects, missed the semi-final with a thigh injury and faces a race against time to make it back.
Similarly, Santos have a good bill of health for this one. Midfielder Carlos Sanchez and forward Raniel remain sidelined, but Cuca will still have most of his big guns to rely upon.
Neutrals should keep a close eye on 18-year-old striker Kaio Jorge and 23-year-old winder Yeferson Soteldo, but most of the goals come from the right-sided Marinho, who sits towards the top of the Brazilian Serie A goalscoring charts.
Palmeiras: Weverton; Gomez, Empereur, Luan; Menino, De Paula, Danilo, Vina; Scarpa, Rony; Adriano.
Santos: Vladimir; Para, Verissimo, Peres, Jonatan; Pituca, Alison, Braga; Marinho, Jorge, Soteldo.
Out of the two sides, it’s Palmeiras who have looked the strongest up until this point in the competition, so Abel Ferreira’s side will come into this one as pre-game favourites.
However, these two sides have played out some close games recently. Of their three meetings in 2020, two ended up as draws, with the other going down as a Palmeiras victory, so all the signs suggest this could be a tight affair.
It’s a tough one to call, but Palmeiras should have just enough to get the victory in this one.
Prediction: Palmeiras 2-1 Santos