SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil great Zico, who captained Flamengo to the Intercontinental Cup against Liverpool in 1981, told Reuters that the Brazilian side’s midfield will be key to them repeating the trick in the Club World Cup final on Saturday.
Zico ran the show when Flamengo destroyed Liverpool 3-0 in the final of the Club World Cup’s forerunner and he is optimistic they can cap a superb season by adding the world title to the Brazilian league and Copa Libertadores trophies they won in November.
“In a one-off game like this they can win, especially if they do a good marking job on Liverpool’s three forwards,” Zico, who was arguably the world’s best player in the late 1970s and early 80s, told Reuters.
“Flamengo are excellent collectively and they have a great attack,” he added. “Bruno Henrique, Gabigol (Gabriel Barbosa) and (Giorgian) De Arrascaeta have scored something like 100 goals between them all season so their forwards are as strong like Liverpool’s are. But I think Flamengo have more creative midfielders.”
Three of those midfielders — Everton Ribeiro, Gerson and De Arrascaeta — were selected for the Brazilian league’s team of the year and a fourth, Diego, has been a hugely influential presence from the bench.
Flamengo have long been one of the biggest clubs in Brazil but even their most fanatical supporters have been blown away this year by a dazzling string of performances.
They have lost just one game since early August and broke league records for their points total, goals per game and attendances.
Liverpool, nevertheless, are still favourites to win the title in Qatar.
The Club World Cup is perceived as far more important in South America than it is in Europe and in that sense not much has changed from 38 years ago, when Zico and internationals such as Junior, Leandro, Mozer and Nunes, picked Liverpool apart with three goals in a brilliant first half.
Former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson remembers how unprepared the English club were compared to the Brazilians, having taken a 18-hour economy flight via Alaska to get to Japan for the match.
“We simply didn’t take the game seriously,” he told the Times.
“The Brazilian boys had been there for ten days, training and acclimatising, and it was a big deal for them...
“They... absolutely battered us. Zico was sensational.”
Zico remembers the Japanese crowd that day as knowing little about football, and he shivered recalling the cold, exacerbated by Flamengo’s thin shirts designed for use in the tropical climes of Brazil.
A victory for Flamengo on Saturday would put the 1981 side in the shade but boyhood fan Zico would still love to see his team win this title for a second time.
“Nothing is eternal in football,” he said. “If we win I will be celebrating along with every other Flamengo fan. That doesn’t mean that what we did will be forgotten.”
Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Toby Davis