Fluzão surge into first final
Fluminense checked into their first Copa Libertadores final on Wednesday evening after producing a late surge to beat Boca Juniors 3-1 in front of nearly 90,000 delirious fans at the Maracana. The comprehensive victory completed a 5-3 aggregate win for Renato Gaucho's side, who became the first Brazilian side in 45 years to knock Boca out of the continent's elite club competition.
Lining up against O Fluzão in the two-legged final are LDU of Ecuador, who ended America's hopes in the other semi-final on Tuesday. The two sides, who crossed swords in the group phase, have never ventured this far before and whoever emerges victorious in early July will see their name engraved on the much-coveted trophy for the very first time.
"We've made history," declared Washington, scored of his side's first goal, moments after the final whistle had sounded. "We came through a very tough group and then beat Sao Paulo and Boca. We deserve to be in the final."
While paying tribute to a battling Boca side who, if anything, played the better football on the evening, Flu's Argentinian playmaker Dario Conca was in no doubt his side are in the final on merit. "That's football for you and we got our reward. We put in a good performance, we never let our heads drop and we've beaten a very good side. I think we deserve to be in the final."
"Sadly we've missed out on the final and I thought we deserved better," lamented Boca coach Carlos Ischia. " We were far and away the better side over the two games. We created a lot more chances but we didn't put as many of them away as we should have. And in football the team who makes all the running doesn't always come out on top."
A gripping occasion Despite holding the advantage from the first leg, Fluminense went on the offensive from the off. The first chance of the evening fell to Washington, who shot over from close range after expertly chesting the ball down.
But even on the back foot, Boca carry plenty of threat and with the likes of Juan Riquelme, Jesus Datolo, Martin Palermo and Rodrigo Palacio in their ranks, it was not going to take long for the visitors to launch a response, which duly came when Palermo shot wide. Emboldened, Boca emerged from their shell. Finding plenty of space down the flanks, the visitors began to carve out some meaningful chances and Fernando Henrique had to be alert to deny them on three separate occasions.
The pattern remained unchanged after the break as Boca continued to probe away. Their reward came just before the hour mark, when Datolo scampered away down the left and picked out Palermo at the far post with a precise cross. The former Real Betis man's header gave Henrique no chance.
To their credit, the hosts got down to the job of finding an equaliser, which came when Washington arrowed home a textbook free-kick. And just 12 minutes after falling behind, Fluminense took the lead when Conca's drive took a deflection off Hugo Ibarra to leave Pablo Migliore stranded.
Boca were not done yet, however. Several times they came close to levelling the tie only to be denied by Fernando Henrique. But with the holders committed to all-out attack, Fluminense had chances of their own and when Dodo intercepted a misplaced pass from Palacio in injury time, he made no mistake.
Having disposed of the six-time champions, the Brazilians now have LDU and a possible place at December's FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 in their sights. Their long wait for continental glory may just be coming to an end.