There was a time when South American football ruled supreme, and the greatest stars in the world would line up in the Copa Libertadores final to battle it out in one of the most hotly-anticipated clashes of the year. 


Sadly, the game has moved on, and instead the prestigious final is having to battle with the ever-increasing pulling power of Europe, and the global scouting networks that each top club possesses. 

Flamengo v River Plate Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores Final Around Rio de Janeiro

Players who previously made their name as a breakout star in the South American competition are now being cherry-picked before they even make their Copa Libertadores debuts, and as a result, the quality and stature of the tournament have dropped somewhat. 


There will always be the doubters and the nay-sayers, who only watch the Premier League because 'it's the best league in the world.' Or there are those who don't understand the historical appeal of the Copa Libertadores and its significance outside of the European bubble in which we often find ourselves. 

And then there'll be those who simply choose to reject the competition like Neil Custis – the man who hates train companies, The Athletic and South American football with equal venom – who referred to the historical tournament as the 'Copa de Hipster', simply because some football fans are prepared to take an interest in the sport away from our money-fuelled game here in Europe. 


So, in honour of the grand Copa Libertadores, 90min takes a look at why this tournament should be for everyone, and not just for the many. 


Blasts From The Past


Ronaldinho. Cafu. Dida. Carlos Tevez. ​The list of legends that have lifted this trophy is endless, and we were fortunate enough that these stars also graced our European shores. South American players will always hold the Copa Libertadores with great affection, and a return to their roots in the twilight of their career is the fairytale that all stars deserve. 

Rafinha

Saturday's winners Flamengo boasted a host of players who had made the trip to Europe, then decided that home is where the heart is, and returned to bring glory to their country of birth. Felipe Luis was rubbish at Chelsea, and he's become an absolute legend. Who's laughing now, ​Chelsea fans? 


Heart-warming stories are what it's all about.


​Football Manager Scout

Although the modern-day scouts tend to hoover up the very best South American talent as it exits the womb, the Copa Libertadores still gives viewers the occasional opportunity to research their next Football Manager wonderkid. 

Aldosivi v River Plate - Superliga 2019/20

Saturday evening's unearthed gem was 21-year-old Exequiel Palacios. The River Plate star was part of the victorious side in 2018, and he dominated proceedings for the Argentinian club until their implausible late collapse to Flamengo. The midfielder was equal parts tenacious and technically gifted, and he'd make a lovely trequartista in your new FM save. 


Last-Minute Drama


When pundits and supporters recall the greatest Champions League moments, ​Manchester United's two-goal turnaround in 1999 comes up in every conversation. A team under the cosh, a goal down and seemingly heading to a painful defeat, suddenly sparks into life and mounts the comeback to end all comebacks. Historic. Unthinkable. Unrepeatable. 

FBL-LIBERTADORES-FLAMENGO-RIVER

Well, Saturday's Copa Libertadores final proved that anything Man Utd can do, Flamengo can do just as well. Two sucker-punches in the dying seconds snatched the victory for the Brazilian side, and the reigning champions were knocked off their perch in the most memorable of fashions. 


"And Gabigol has done it...." 


Gabigol​


If you didn't know who Gabriel Barbosa was before last night, you do now. If you had told ​Inter fans that Gabigol would bag a brace and Inter would win 3-0 on Saturday night, they would have probably assumed that the two events occurred in the same match. 


However, the Serie A flop left Italy and has now become a bonafide legend in Brazil, bagging twice in the 90th minute to overturn the one-goal deficit and bringing Flamengo back from the dead.

Gabriel Barbosa

Gabigol had the cojones to touch the trophy as he entered the field before kickoff, and thanks to the 23-year-old's skills, he was able to lift it at the final whistle, too. 


Stormtroopers ​


Because... why not? 


Nothing screams 'biggest competition on earth' like a set of Stormtroopers protecting the space-age trophy as the players take to the field. 

Personally, I'm all for this. And if it means that the Black Eyed Peas don't get the chance to perform before kickoff, then I think all of us should get behind this form of entertainment. 


Controversy ​


Is it a Copa Libertadores final if there isn't any pre or mid-match drama? We thought we'd already had our fill of drama when the game was moved from Chile to Peru only a matter of weeks before the big kickoff, and the elected referee was then suspended after giving an unauthorised interview, in which he confessed to be analysing players' diving methods. 

Roberto Tobar,Gabriel Barbosa

The climactic final didn't let us down either, as two late red cards capped a typically feisty affair at the very top of South American football. 


South American Limbs ​


The word 'limbs' has leaked into the footballing vocabulary recently, and the entire nation is on the lookout for the best 'limbs' in the land. When celebrating crucial goals however, we need look no further than South America. 

Fito Paez

In Brazil and Argentina, football is bigger than ​anything we can possibly comprehend. Each goal is celebrated like its the last of its kind, and the players respond with equally passionate reactions. 


'Propa pashun' is hard to find, but I bet there wasn't a phone in sight in Peru, just people living in the moment.