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Flamengo, Independiente del Valle get Copa Libertadores preview in Recopa matchup

Everton Ribeiro looks on during Flamengo's Brazilian Supercopa final against Athletico PR.
Flamengo will meet Independiente del Valle in the Recopa, a preview of the pair's matchup in the Copa Libertadores.

Across the next two Wednesdays, South America plays out its Recopa -- or Super Cup, pitting the winner of the Copa Libertadores against the champion of the Copa Sudamericana.

The winning side will doubtless perform an enthusiastic lap of honour. They will have got their hands on a trophy. But this is one of those titles that barely qualifies as such. Unless something extraordinary happens, the games will not live long in the memory.

It is, after all, an uneven fight.

The Libertadores is, by a massive distance, the more prestigious of the two tournaments. Nothing will change that whatever happens in these games. Some might argue that this trophy should take place on a one-off basis on a neutral ground. That would be to forget, though, that the two continental competitions have recently adopted this format. At least the Recopa gives the fans a chance to see their team play a final on home ground.

Moreover, there are plenty of reasons to engage with this year's clash.

First there is a delicious contrast of clubs. The Libertadores was won in dramatic style by Flamengo of Rio, the biggest club in the continent's giant country, with a nationwide support base that they have learned to turn into revenue.

Independiente del Valle, meanwhile, are a tiny side from the outskirts of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. They play in a little stadium; for Wednesday's home match, they will move to the centre of town and use the Atahualpa, the traditional base of the Ecuadorian national side. Their main aim is not even to win supporters and titles; they are a club dedicated to producing a conveyor belt of top class players to be sold, but they have been doing it so well that they are able to challenge the big boys. In 2016 they got all the way to the final of the Copa Libertadores. They sold the entire side, brought the next lot through and kept on impressing. Last year they were worthy winners of the Sudamericana, handing out lessons to many more traditional teams.

And there is particular interest in these two games, because the clubs will be meeting each other again in this year's Libertadores. They have been drawn in the same group, and it looks highly dangerous. Also there are Junior of Barranquilla, the outstanding Colombian side of recent years, and the winner of the qualifying-round tie between Cerro Porteno of Paraguay and Barcelona of Ecuador, both tough opponents. It is a group with little margin for error.

This Recopa, then, is fascinating reconaissaince for the battles ahead.

And the games themselves are intriguing. Flamengo should be the better-prepared side for the first leg. Their full-strength side have played four games this year, where the Ecuadorians have only played once. But they should be fresher. Independiente del Valle debuted in the domestic championship on Friday. Flamengo played in the Brazilian Super Cup in blistering summer heat at midday on Sunday and face a long trip to Quito, where the altitude -- 2,800 metres above sea level -- is a real handicap for players who are not acclimatised.

There is a chance to see how the teams have evolved from last year, and as an interesting side line, it is striking that both are following the trend of bringing in European coaches. Flamengo are directed by Jorge Jesus from Portugal, while Independiente del Valle have Miguel Angel Ramirez from Spain.

Flamengo have been shopping. Jorge Jesus finally has his target man centre-forward, Pedro from Fiorentina. Michael, a quick, gnat-like winger who was the revelation of the last Brazilian championship, has signed from Goias. One-time great hope Thiago Maia, a tall, left-footed central midfielder has come in from France. One of these will surely get a game on Wednesday. Gabriel Barbosa, the hero of the Libertadores final, is suspended and has not made the trip. But the early signs.are that the team is finding it hard to replace Spanish centre-back Pablo Mari, who has joined Arsenal in the Premier League. His experience at organising the high defensive line was vital, and the new defence will be tested by opponents looking to stretch the play to their rapid wingers, especially last year's star Jhon Jairo Sanchez.

As a supply line, Independiente del Valle have added the cultured Argentine midfielder Lorenzo Faravelli, who made a splendid debut on Friday.

The stage is set, then, for Independiente del Valle and Flamengo to contest a trophy, and have a long hard look at each other in preparation for the competition that really matters.

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