SAO PAULO (AP) — Veteran coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will aim for a perfect sendoff on Saturday in the final of the Copa Libertadores, which features two Brazilian teams for the third edition a row.
Scolari's Athletico takes on Flamengo, whose striker Pedro is hoping to strengthen his case for a spot in Brazil's World Cup squad by helping his unbeaten team to its third trophy in South America’s most prestigious club tournament.
Flamengo, from Rio de Janeiro is looking to lift its second crown in four years after losing last year's final.
Underdog Athletico is going for a first title, which would mark the perfect end to the 40-year career of the 73-year-old Scolari, who led Brazil to the World Cup title in 2002 and has said he intends to hand over coaching duties to someone else next year.
Uruguayan forward David Terans and teenage sensation Vitor Roque will be key for the club from the city of Curitiba to put up a fight in the final at the Metropolitano Stadium in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Pedro is the tournament's top goal scorer with 12 goals in 12 matches. His form has been aided by midfielders Arturo Vidal of Chile and Giorgian de Arrascaeta of Uruguay, plus his attacking partner Gabriel Barbosa, who also retains some hope of going to the World Cup.
Flamengo coach Dorival Jr. said after Tuesday's 3-2 win against Santos in a Brazilian championship match that almost all his players are fit for the South American decider.
“We did all that we could. Now it is up for what happens on the pitch,” he said.
A first Copa Libertadores title would likely make Dorival Jr. one of the top contenders to replace Brazil coach Tite, who is leaving the job after the World Cup in Qatar.
Last week, Flamengo lifted the Brazilian Cup at the Maracana Stadium in Rio with a win against Corinthians on penalties.
Scolari said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that winning on Saturday would be the pinnacle of his decorated career, which already includes two Copa Libertadores trophies: one with his boyhood club Gremio in 1995 and another with Palmeiras in 1999.
“The power that Flamengo, Palmeiras have is much bigger than ours. Our payroll is smaller than about 12 clubs in Brazilian soccer,” Scolari said.
Athletico reached the Copa Libertadores final in 2005 but lost to Sao Paulo.
On its way to the final, Flamengo knocked out Colombia's Tolima, Brazil's Corinthians and Argentina's Velez Sarsfield, winning all its matches. Athletico eliminated Paraguay's Libertad, Argentina's Estudiantes de la Plata and defending champion Palmeiras of Brazil.
Local authorities in Ecuador have struggled to sell the 60,000 tickets for match. Guayaquil is about 6,000 kilometers (4,000 miles) away from Rio and Curitiba. That means some local fans will get to watch the match for free.
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Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press