Brazilian clubs leave Copa Libertadores rivals in their wake

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For the first time since the South American equivalent of the Champions League was created in 1960, three teams from the same country have made it through to the semi-finals.

In 1966 the Argentine trio of River Plate, Boca Juniors and Independiente all took part in the semi-final stage, but that was split into groups and so cannot be compared to 2021.

This season’s semi-finals kick off next week, with the first leg of the all-Brazilian affair between Palmeiras and Atletico Mineiro in Sao Paulo on Tuesday being followed on Wednesday by Flamengo welcoming Barcelona of Ecuador to the Maracana.

If Flamengo, the Rio de Janeiro giants who won the Copa Libertadores in 2019, make it to the final in Montevideo on November 27, it will be another all-Brazilian showdown, just as it was last year when Palmeiras beat Santos.

Brazil’s population of over 200 million is almost half that of the entire continent and so it is hardly a surprise that its teams should do so well, but there are other explanations for the country’s current pre-eminence.

“Brazilian football is evolving, leading players are coming back to the country and the league is becoming more and more competitive,” said Brazil midfielder Lucas Paqueta, formerly of Flamengo and now of Lyon in France, recently.

Big-name Brazilian players have been returning to the top flight, the Brasileirao, with Atletico Mineiro bringing back Hulk earlier this year and last month signing former Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa, a Spanish international but who was born in Brazil.

Centre-back David Luiz, released by Arsenal, has returned home to sign for Flamengo. Fellow former Chelsea and Arsenal star Willian has gone back to Corinthians.

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