The CONMEBOL Libertadores 2023 final takes place on Saturday, with six-time champions Boca Juniors of Argentina facing second-time finalists Fluminense.
Boca Juniors vs Fluminense: The Quick Hits
- Argentine giants Boca Juniors have won the Copa Libertadores on six occasions, yet Brazilian side Fluminense are predicted as the favourites according to Opta’s supercomputer, which hands the second-time finalists a 41.5% chance of victory inside 90 minutes.
- Fluminense and Boca have faced each other six times in the history of the competition – each side has won twice, with the other two fixtures drawn.
- If Boca win, they will go level with Independiente on seven titles – the most in the tournament’s history.
The Copa Libertadores might not feature teams of the same calibre or quality as its European counterpart – the UEFA Champions League – but you can’t argue with the romance of it. Indeed, of all the continental club competitions, the Libertadores arguably has the most allure and fanaticism. Those South American crowds certainly know how to make some noise!
This season’s final, which takes place on Saturday at the Maracana, sees one of South America’s biggest clubs – Boca Juniors – take on four-time Brazilian champions Fluminense, who will be playing at their home ground in Rio de Janeiro.
While Boca are aiming to join record-holders Independiente on seven Libertadores titles, Fluminense are featuring in only their second final. They are one of only two of Brazil’s 12 biggest sides not to have won the competition, alongside Botafogo.
Fluminense, who finished third in Serie A last year and are currently eighth in Brazil’s top tier, played their first Libertadores final in 2008. A Fluminense side featuring a young Thiago Silva lost a two-legged tie on penalties to LDU Quito, who remain the only Ecuadorian winner of the tournament; the second leg was played at the Maracana.
Without the financial backing of rivals such as Palmeiras or Flamengo, who have shared the last four Libertadores titles (two each), Fluminense’s recent success is down in large part to Fernando Diniz – a 49-year-old who is also standing in as interim Brazil boss. See, there’s that romanticism again.
Diniz employs a possession-based approach, similar to that of Pep Guardiola. Rather than deploy players in specific positions, Diniz tasks them with functions within the side, so expect plenty of positional versatility.
Should Fluminense win, they will become the 11th Brazilian Libertadores champions. This is the first final since 2019, when Flamengo defeated Boca’s fierce rivals River Plate, to feature a non-Brazilian team (Palmeiras beat Santos 1-0 in 2020; Palmeiras beat Flamengo 2-1 in 2021; Flamengo beat Athletico Paranaense 1-0 in 2022).
Boca will be making their 12th appearance in a Libertadores final. The omens are certainly good for the 35-time Argentine champions, though, as on the last four occasions a previous winner of the Libertadores has gone up against a side not to have won it in the final, the previous champions have come out on top: River Plate vs. Tigres in 2014, Atletico Nacional vs. Independiente Del Valle in 2016, Gremio vs Lanus in 2017, and Flamengo vs Paranaense in 2022.
While Boca are in the hunt for a record-equaling seventh title, they have not won the trophy since 2007 – a year before Fluminense’s sole appearance in the final – when they beat Gremio 5-0 over two legs at La Bombonera and Olimpico.
Boca last made the final in 2018, when they lost 5-3 on aggregate to River Plate in what was the last final to be played over two legs, and dubbed “The Final of All Finals” as the two gargantuan South American teams clashed for the ultimate prize on offer.
Originally scheduled to be hosted at River’s iconic Estadio Monumental, the second leg was switched to the Santiago Bernabeu – the home of Real Madrid – due to safety concerns following an attack on the Boca team coach ahead of the first leg at La Bombonera.
The key to Boca’s success in the Libertadores this season has been their defence, with former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero having been in outstanding form.
Though his signing was not initially welcomed by Boca fans, Romero – who has the most appearances for a goalkeeper for the Argentina national team – was pivotal in the Xeneize winning three penalty shoot-outs in the knockout stage.
Romero heads into the final with an 87% save percentage through Boca’s Libertadores’ campaign, making 34 saves from 39 shots on target faced – it is the best save percentage of goalkeepers to have played more than six matches in the last 10 seasons. Those saves have prevented nearly four opposition goals, based on Opta’s expected goals on target model.
Luis Advincula, Marcelo Weigandt, and Luis Vázquez have been the standout attackers for Boca, though they have hardly been free scoring. Advincula is their leading scorer in the tournament with three goals, with Weigandt and Vázquez having grabbed two each.
On the other hand, Fluminense have the Libertadores’ leading goalscorer in Germán Cano, who has netted 12 times, including three opening goals. Only four players have managed to surpass the goal tally of the 35-year-old Argentine forward in a single edition of the tournament: Palhinha in 1976 (13 for Cruzeiro), Norberto Raffo in 1967 (14 for Racing Club), Luizão in 2000 (15 for Corinthians) and Daniel Onega in 1966 (17 for River Plate).
Their goalkeeper, Fábio, is in line to play his 100th Libertadores match. He is set to become the third player to reach the milestone, following Ever Almeida (113) and Sergio Aquino (107). He already holds the record for the most victories in the tournament’s history (56).
Plenty of eyes will also be on Fluminense midfielder André, who has recently been linked with a move to Premier League clubs Liverpool and Arsenal. He has averaged 74.4 passes per 90 in the Copa Libertadores this season, with an accuracy of 93.2%. No player to have played at least six games in the competition has had better passing accuracy.
Boca Juniors vs Fluminense Head-to-Head
Fluminense and Boca have faced each other six times in the history of the Copa Libertadores, with two victories for each side and two draws.
They have met twice in the knockout stages of the tournament: the 2008 semi-finals (with Fluminense advancing) and the 2012 quarter-finals (with Boca winning).
On both occasions, the team that went to the next round ultimately finished as the runner-up of that edition.
Fluminense have not lost any of their last seven matches in the Libertadores, having won four of those and drawn the other three – it is their longest unbeaten run in the competition.
Boca are on an eight-game unbeaten streak in the tournament, though six of those games have finished all square. All of those draws have come in the knockout stage; they are the first team to reach a final without winning a match since the round of 16.
They do have the best defence in the competition, having conceded only five goals so far. Only one side has won the Libertadores – since the introduction of the last-16 stage – and conceded fewer goals. That was Corinthians in 2014 (four).
Boca have performed poorly domestically, finishing seventh in the 2023 Primera Division, while they are also struggling in the Copa de la Liga Profesional, and their coach Jorge Almirón is under some pressure. Indeed, if matters were to go south on Saturday, it might prove the final straw.
In their last six matches in all competitions, Boca have won three, lost two and drawn one – with that stalemate coming against Estudiantes last week. They scored eight and conceded nine over that period, scoring first in two of the six contests.
While Boca defeated Palmeiras 4-2 on penalties in the semi-finals, with Edinson Cavani having scored in the second leg, Fluminense beat Internacional 4-3 on aggregate.
Fluminense are in even poorer form domestically than Boca, having won just one of their last seven Serie A fixtures, losing five of those matches.
They have won one, drawn one and lost four of their last six, scoring eight and conceding 12 over that period.
Opta Power Rankings
The Opta Power Rankings are a global team ranking system that assigns an ability score to over 13,000 domestic football teams on a scale between zero and 100, where zero is the worst-ranked team in the world and 100 is the best team in the world.
Ahead of kick-off in this final, here is the Opta Power Ranking for both sides.
Boca Juniors vs Fluminense Prediction
It is Fluminense who are the favourites, with our model giving them a 41.5% chance of getting their hands on the trophy for the first time within 90 minutes. The likelihood of Boca making it seven Libertadores titles before extra time is 29.9%, while there is a 28.6% chance of the game going to extra time and potentially a penalty shootout.
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